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The Freakout Cycle

April 4th, 2015

Gs6EdgebendIt seems we’ve come full cycle now. A video has been released showing that the Galaxy S6 Edge will bend not only as easily as an iPhone 6 Plus, but more catastrophically so.

Expect this to become a major PR scandal everyone will freak out over in 3… 2… 1… Never….

This comes after Samsung and others mocked Apple for making a phone that bent so easily. Nor was this the only time this kind of thing ever happened; in fact, it seems that every release of a new iPhone nowadays has some major, controversial “flaw.”

With the iPhone 3G, it was that cracks appeared in the back shell. With the 3GS, the phone overheated. With the iPhone 4, there was “Antennagate,” which topped the charts and became such a huge thing that Apple had to hold a special event just to address it. With the 4S and 5, there were issues with the screen and camera displaying yellow and purple, respectively. With the iPhone 5 there was “Mapsgate” (a more deserved embarrassment), while Samsung was mocking Apple for the fact that users would have to get all-new connectors. With the iPhone 5S, there was the “scandal” that the fingerprint sensor could be spoofed. With the 6 Plus, it was “Bendgate.”

Never mind that pretty much every single supposedly catastrophic flaw had been an issue with numerous other phones before or since. Apple was hardly the only phone to have antenna interference issues when held a certain way. Nor is it as if no phone had experienced display issues. Fingerprint sensors have always been vulnerable to someone with enough will and opportunity.

Samsung’s mocking of Apple usually turns out to be ironic, like when they hit Apple for changing connectors for the first time in ten years, and then we found out Samsung had changed theirs about a dozen times in the same time period.

No matter: it’s an iPhone that it’s happening to. So many people focus on how Apple fans go nuts over new releases, but few cover how Apple haters similarly go nuts when they find a flaw they can make a big deal over.

I even noted this phenomenon back in 2010:

The iPhone 4 antenna story is the result of a snowball effect, amplified by a media sector looking for a hot story to sell ads and Apple-hating crowd which live to puncture the inflated hype about Apple products. A few users note the antenna signal dropping when the phone is held a certain way. For a few days, most other people are like, “Really? I hadn’t noticed. Hey, how can I replicate that?” The story gets out, videos are produced, more people try to find the problem, and while most can’t, more than enough can make bars disappear and take more videos of that, causing more people to try it. Meanwhile, the media sees a story it can’t resist making a brouhaha about it. Rinse and repeat.

I think I have the cycle worked out even better now:

  1. Apple releases new iPhone
  2. A few users find a flaw
  3. There is a rush to post videos and images on blogs, as these will draw huge audiences and major ad revenue
  4. Most users don’t notice it and/or can’t reproduce it
  5. Some users, who didn’t notice the issue before, try as hard as they can to reproduce the issues in videos, wanting to get more traffic on their sites
  6. The media goes berserk, people who hate Apple have a field day
  7. Competitors pile on, usually with mocking ads
  8. We find out that other phones have had and/or will have the exact same issue and it was never a thing with them
  9. Apple goes on to sell record numbers of the new phone, despite “fatal” flaw
  10. Everybody forgets there was a thing in the first place, until the next time

Rinse and repeat.

There is a similar phenomenon when it comes to labor in Asia. When the media wants to highlight how American firms use cheap labor in Asian countries, the “go to” story is always Apple in China, and inevitably focuses on Foxconn employees killing themselves in droves. Despite the fact that they, well, weren’t really. And while Apple does exploit the cheap labor markets, they tend to demand better working conditions than most other companies and tend to run more frequent checks than other companies to make sure standards are not being violated.

But it’s Apple, and it’s something whiffing of scandal, and that’s what grabs the headlines. So.

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  1. Troy
    April 6th, 2015 at 08:12 | #1

    The weird thing is the OS wars don’t even matter any more.

    10 years ago the unexpected success of the iPod gave Apple a new lease on life.

    Apple’s iPod business went from under $400M in 2003 to over $5B in 2005.

    That funded quite a healthy warchest, which of course Apple used to move into the portable computing business, which (before ‘social media’) hardly existed in 2005 (the Danger Sidekick was about the only player in this space).

    In their FY 2014, Apple sold 240 million iPhones & iPads and 19M Macs ($24B worth of the latter), plus another 96M iOS and 5.5M Macs in the holiday quarter.

    I’m super-excited about the Apple TV rumors, an AppStore for that would be most interesting since Apple’s iOS gaming APIs are pretty damn good now, and no doubt even better in this year’s updates . . .

  2. Luis
    April 6th, 2015 at 10:01 | #2

    I keep telling my students that if they have $10,000 and a time machine, go back to April 2003 and invest it in Apple. (Well, OK, Qualcomm in 1999 would have been more spectacular. But whatever.)

    I have been waiting to buy an Apple TV for a few years now, waiting for the next upgrade… nice to see the rumors finally firming up for a preview at the developer’s conference in summer for a release later this year. Of course, watch them come up with an Apple TV which can’t work with VPN thus closing off U.S. TV for me…

  3. Troy
    April 6th, 2015 at 11:51 | #3

    If Apple can break open the TV market like it broke the mp3 and the mobile phone markets, man.

    Instead of paying $10+ for a CD, people paid Apple $1 or $2 for just the songs they wanted to listen to.

    Instead of paying $100+ for a cable bundle, people might be paying Apple $10 or $20 for just the shows they want to watch.

    This is the obvious evolution and Big Cable is fighting a rearguard action here.

    Comcast has a market cap of $150B, about the cash Apple has on hand, so while they’re Apple’s biggest enemy here, they’re not as big and bad as they’d like to be.

    Sony was smart to buy CBS 25 years ago of course.

    The stupid thing is that there’s probably enough available spectrum still to make all the “last mile” cable in the ground irrelevant, but it takes a lot of effort to move these property rights around, given the profit potential involved here.

  4. Luis
    April 6th, 2015 at 11:57 | #4

    people might be paying Apple $10 or $20 for just the shows they want to watch
    Sadly, all the reports I see say that it won’t be a la carte, but a $50 or $60 limited channel package…

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