As a long-time iPod and recent iPad owner, as well as an iMac and iPhone admirer (maybe someday…), I’ve always experienced satisfaction with the Apple products I’ve owned. The rare technological glitches I’ve encountered over the years have been immediately rectified by the incredibly qualified staff in the Apple stores. Best of all, I find myself frequently awing an audience with a “watch this!” iPad party trick. Quite frankly, the products are nothing short of phenomenal. Apple products are cool and they make me feel cool.

(Note: Apple’s advertisers, who are without question reading this post, please contact me for my address as you will no doubt wish to send me a free Mac Book Pro to thank me for the plug.)

The newest version of the super-company’s iPhone was championed as a tremendous technological success. Among other cool features, the phone boasts antennae built into the sides of the phone to make room for the battery. Well, that feature was cool, that is until users started to lose reception if they held their phone too tightly or hit a certain spot on the side panels. Lefties had an especially hard time keeping calls (life is so hard for us lefties sometimes).

Enter Apple’s claim that reception issues were the result of “faulty software” which displayed two more signal-service bars than there actually were. While my conspiracy theory cynicism has a hard time digesting this claim, users nonetheless found that the problem is not an AT&T service issue, but a flaw with the iPhone itself. The problem is fixable by covering the antenna outlet with a strip of duct tape. Who wouldn’t want their brand-new iPhone 4 covered in duct tape?

So Apple screwed up. It happens. Any practical observer could guarantee that tried-and-true crisis management techniques could have quickly and efficiently put the issue to bed, and in part, Apple did just that. However, Apple is not a company used to being wrong. And, boy, did it show.

After consumer complaints started to hit the Internet airwaves, Apple went on the defensive. They quickly pulled down negative comments. Users trying to reach Apple message boards found them deleted. I’d liken this to the rarely effective “duck and cover” method of crisis management.

Last Friday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the stage to address the iPhone “Anntenagate” scandal. While ensuring that the no-questions-asked return policy would continue until the end of September and offering all iPhone 4 users a phone case (hopefully more aesthetically-pleasing than the duct tape) Jobs utilized a “give it with one hand and take it back with the other” apology.

Jobs stated that the problem was not unique to the iPhone and cited HTC and RIM (I’m sorry, who?) as smartphones that experience similar malfunctions. While the PR panel on the stage adeptly dodged hardware malfunction questions, Jobs asked rhetorically if we’ve learned to trust Apple after 34 years. He ended by saying, rather petulantly, “I guess it’s just human nature. When you see someone get successful you just want to tear it down.”

I’m sorry, Apple. You may be putting it down, but I ain’t picking it up. You screwed up. But you know what? It could have been okay. Companies make mistakes. After 34 years Apple does have loyal consumers who do trust it and its products. But if you sold a faulty product, step up and take responsibility. Say you’re sorry, fix it, and then be quiet and continue to do what you do so well. This mistake is yours and not the consumers who are trying to “tear you down.” There’s a big lesson in crisis management here, and unfortunately it’s more of a “what not to do.”

Will this define Apple’s reputation?  Of course not. Life is about learning lessons and it looks like Apple learned this one the hard way. So buck up and take it in stride, Apple. After all, I still think you’re pretty cool.

Posted by Lindsay Vehr, Marketing Assistant, 7.20.10

The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not reflect the views of Vehr Communications, LLC.