Crisis expert gives Apple a 'C' for iPhone 4 response

News conference gets an A- or B+, but slow reaction to three-week event less impressive

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In today's climate, where bloggers seize on stories and consumers can quickly flood Twitter with negative comments, it's critical that companies react quickly, if not immediately, when issues arise.

"They didn't have to have a solution, but they needed to get out in front of it with a statement that they were working on it," Kerley said, when asked what he would have told Apple if they had been a Levick client. "They should have simply acknowledged the fact that the iPhone 4 has reception problems, said 'We're getting reports of problems, and we're invesitigating,' then sit on that message throughout," said Kerley.

Not everyone agreed that Apple blundered in its handling of what Jobs himself called "Antennagate" on Friday.

"One of the worst things you can do is appease bloggers, especially when it's a technical issue," countered Michael McGuire, an analyst with Gartner Research. "Apple had to be very careful about how to position [the iPhone 4's problems] and how to disclose them."

That was important because of posts by people McGuire called "amateur engineers" had made all kinds of technical claims about the iPhone 4's ability to make calls and hold a signal. Apple had to have hard technical data in hand before it went to consumers.

And moving too fast, argued McGuire, risked making a bad problem worse.

"Reacting too quickly risks exacerbating the situation," he said, using -- as an example of how notto deal with a crisis -- Sony's 2005 response to news that BMG Music Entertainment music CDs planted a rootkit on unsuspecting users' Windows PCs.

"I think it's difficult, frankly impractical, to respond immediately," McGuire said. Apple needed to collect data -- which he said Apple showed it did in the numbers Jobs cited of support call and iPhone 4 return rates, and was as on top of the PR emergency as anyone could have expected.

"They identified the problem early on, and then acknowledged the problem with the [signal strength] algorithm," McGuire said.

More importantly, both Kerley and McGuire agreed that Jobs did the right thing by expressing early in the press conference Apple's commitment to customers. "Jobs did what was more or less expected," said McGuire. "He put customers before anything, and got the message on that to customers."

Not everyone was as sanguine about Apple's response as McGuire.

Consumer Reports, for example, called the case giveaway a "good first step" in a message on its Web site Friday, but reiterated its no-recommendation position.

"Apple has indicated that this is not a long-term solution, it has guaranteed the offer only through September 30, and has not extended it unequivocally to customers who bought cases from third-party vendors," the publication said. "We look forward to a long-term fix from Apple. As things currently stand, the iPhone 4 is still not one of our Recommended models."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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