Hold the Phone: Gamers Go For Broken, Too

Written by Tim Latshaw, July 22, 2010, 1 Comment

Much more interesting than watching Steve Jobs’s recent defensive apology regarding iPhone 4 signal problems has been watching the range of responses to it.

Following Apple’s press conference, the Internet factions waged war on forums and comment threads long into the night. Parental basements turned into brick cages of emotion as terms such as “fanboy,” “sheeple,” “flamer” and “butthurt” were lobbed across the divide — which is where I stood and watched.

From the personal perspective of someone who owns no Apple products but doesn’t necessarily hate them, I believe Apple did the right thing offering free cases to their customers. The action in itself reminds me a great deal of Nintendo offering free strap replacements and “jackets” to Wii owners in response to hand-liberated remotes attempting to take flight, dodo-like, into televisions and neighbors’ skulls. Apple has even offered the cases in an impressive timeframe, just over three weeks following the release of the phone. Nintendo, by comparison, took about a month to start producing a thicker wrist band with newer Wii packages and begin offering replacements — and it wasn’t as widely publicized as Apple’s cases. The jackets didn’t even come until nearly a year later, although they are now permanently standard and have grown to *cough* magnum size to include Wii Motion+.

Publicity, however, can be a double-edged sword if you don’t know where you yet stand. No company wants to automatically acknowledge a problem when it emerges. For one, it may not be as severe or widespread a problem as it first appears, and second, acting too quickly might give the appearance that you knew these defects would happen and were expecting them. It’s a delicate dance, public relations. You want to show enough concern while your lackeys are running around in the back trying to determine just how much of the blame is on you.

In this respect, Apple blew it. It could’ve been all right if they had just denied or refused to talk until they knew for sure what was happening, but instead you had rumors of Jobs telling people to hold their phones differently followed almost immediately by an admission that their software was showing reception as higher than reality. So you tell customers you’re holding their phones wrong and follow it up with a big, “Oh, we’ve also been lying (although unintentionally! maybe!) about your bars!”? Not good. People who already think your company is egotistical jump on that. Nintendo — and I’d even throw in Sony, as well — have had better records of humility toward their customers. One note to Sony, though: don’t hold off and deny when people’s PS3s suddenly stop working; especially if it’s only going to be for a day.

So, I can understand why people would be against the attitude Apple presented through the past few weeks concerning some people’s unhappiness with the iPhone 4. And for a brief time I was in the camp of people who were directly criticizing the product and people’s seemingly mindless devotion to it, as well. But the more I thought about it, the more I realize that — if you’re a gamer — something should ring true to you about all this. In fact, it should red ring.

Yeah, I’m going to say it: If you own an XBox 360 — especially your third or fourth Xbox 360 — you shouldn’t be saying talking much smack toward people who are defending the iPhone.

How odd is it that the two sides of one of the corporate world’s greatest rivalries have found themselves in similar embarrassing positions regarding their hardware? Both released products that sold extremely well out of the gate, but began showing problems in some of their user base. Both initially downplayed customer dissatisfaction. Both have a committed core group that say their units have always worked perfectly fine and that it’s not as big a deal as media/fanpeople/media fanpeople make it out to be. And both have so many people who love and own their products that a recall would simply be ridiculous.

So maybe, just once, can all of us come together and agree that few companies are perfect? That, as long as low costs and high profits are keys to success, corners will be cut and mistakes will be made? And that, as long as there are enough of us willing to put up with defects because we have so much already invested in a company, these facts likely won’t change in the near future but companies know they’ll eventually have to cough up a solution to please the masses?

Or will you shred this piece into kindle and continue the flamewar? The smart money’s telling me to —wait, what? No, I didn’t just mention the Kindle, e-reader fanboys. Go toss teacups at each other on some other site.

About Tim Latshaw

Tim Latshaw proudly represents the USA's love of snack chips and passive-aggressive self-deprecation, operating out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He loves more pink things than he probably should.