Can Product Flaws and Bad Publicity kill the iPhone Brand?

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Apple iPhone is perhaps one of the greatest brands of all time among mobile phones. It is to phones, what Harley Davidson is to motorcycles or Ferrari is to cars.

It isn’t surprising then why Apple demands such a high premium over competing phones. But amidst the glories of iPhone and the promise of high quality and exclusivity, lies the disappointments of the new iPhone 5.

There is no technology blog, newspaper or critic who hasn’t given their thoughts on the recent Apple fiascos, including introducing a half-baked Maps service, criticism over purple haze over photos in their camera and the apparent decline in product quality as far as the body material is concerned.

Considering the iPhone 5 price in India is over Rs 59000 (Grey Market and Online stores), would users buy an apparently flawed device just for the brand name?

Can product flaws and bad publicity kill the iPhone 5 and with it the entire iPhone brand itself?

The Brand Ethos

Apple iPhone for many stands for ‘high quality, top of the line specifications and premium user experience’.

The phone is testament to how design, hardware specifications and a robust yet simple operating system can make a truly remarkable device. Users and potential buyers expect the best out of every iPhone and with iteration the iPhone is supposed to take that expectation even further and then beat those expectations. With the iPhone 5 however, users were greatly disappointed with the overall product as it is not ‘perfect’ smartphone which people wanted to buy.

While the taller and thinner body gave the phone a great ergonomic advantage, the phone adds little over the iPhone 4S. With the iOS 6 update available for all devices from iPhone 3GS upwards, the new iPhone 5 had to have exclusive capabilities thus far absent in previous phones.

A look at the table below shows quite a different story.

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In capability, iPhone 5 offers almost nothing in addition to the iPhone 4S.

Save for a bigger screen, the device as such, has no additional hardware that cannot be used with the iPhone 4S. Which begs the question, can the user truly claim the iPhone 5 as the top of the line device that previous devices were able to claim?

Bad Publicity and its after effects on Brand

Apple is not really new to bad publicity. The iPhone and especially Apple isn’t new to criticism and public outcries. Apple had in this year alone had to answer questions raised at its corporate policies from manufacturing and marketing (Foxconn and working conditions of its workers), employee welfare (massive firing of Apple Genius Store employees for greater profitability) and environmental responsibility (Removing EPEAT ranking for environmental safety).

The iPhone 4 had issues with its antenna as well that has been famously dubbed as the “Antenna gate”. While Apple has faced these criticisms head on and has seldom been ruffled by it, never has a product launched by Apple received as much negative publicity regarding features as the iPhone 5.

Apple has always prided them at producing complete products with top of the line design features, great hardware and software that “just works” perfectly as popularized by Steve Jobs’ keynotes. Even when Apple has been caught on flaws, the approaches has been that of “fix and repent” or “deny and rectify” than to issue public apologies and face flak.

Whether this recent stint of Public Apology about unfinished maps is a positive step or one that will eventually affect the Apple brand is to be seen. Bad Publicity has always hurt international brands, be it Toyota in their famous braking failure, Sony’s mobiles for their exploding batteries.

It is difficult to imagine that Apple is above criticism or that the negative publicity will not hurt the brand in the long run. For now however Apple’s burgeoning fan base seems unfazed by these flaws.

The Promise of iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 has sold over 5 million units in just 3 days pre booking window.

This figure although below certain estimates is still phenomenal considering that companies like Samsung had a longer pre-ordering window and managed only 9 million pre orders and total sale estimate of up to 30 million units in its first year. This is perhaps the greatest indicator of the brand value of the iPhone.

Users are simply unfazed by the bad publicity/criticism and realize that the flaws that exist with the new iPhone 5 are perhaps temporary and matter less to the overall product quality. Users generally don’t use Maps as prolifically on their iPhones as expected, the photographing issue has already been defended by professional photographers and even Nokia.

The body being prone to scuff marks has been accepted as a reasonable payoff to having fragile glass backing. For now, the faith in iPhone and the promise the brand makes to consumers seem to have hardly taken a hit

Conclusion

Apple has always been compared to a cult or a religion by many. Be it the ardent following and the ferocity of the belief of its users or the blind faith (often followed up with evidence by Apple) that users show to just about anything Apple produces, Apple users are one of a kind and yet many in number.

It will take a little more than few forgivable flaws and constant anti-Apple campaigns to get the Apple user to jump ship.

However, for Apple, the next steps and coming years are going to be crucial. With the departure of Steve Jobs, the aura of Apple may begin to wane as it did in its dark days between 1987-1996.

Should Apple survive, the iPhone 5 will remain just another footnote in Apple’s history. Should Apple fail, the iPhone 5 will be known as the phone that killed iPhone brand maybe even Apple?

  1. Gaurav Jhamb says

    Products make a brand and with iphone5 Apple CEO Cook has failed in an art which Jobs perfected. Consumers are amazed but this time, for all the wrong reasons. Miss you Steve!

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