The iPhone 4S is one of the year's highest-profile tech products, from a company with a slavish devotion to getting every detail right. How does this happen?
Apple finally acknowledged Wednesday what iPhone 4S users have been saying for weeks: Something is rotten in the state of battery-ville. The company's mea culpa was limited and, many users immediately noted, late. In a statement to AllThings D, an Apple spokesperson said "A small number of customers have reported lower than expected battery life on iOS 5 devices. We have found a few bugs that are affecting battery life and we will release a software update to address those in a few weeks."
A few "bugs"--and a few weeks wait for a fix. There are two ways to look at these two pieces of information. The first is: Mobile is complicated; wireless networks are constantly changing animals; vendors goof; be patient and all will be better in a few weeks. The second is: This is one of the most anticipated, discussed, planned--and I would assume, tested--products of the year, from a company that has a slavish devotion to getting every detail right. How the heck does this happen?
Consider this comment in that Apple forum from LeftyPBJ: "All I can say right now is that this is completely ridiculous. I've tried to read many of the postings/hints by other discussion board members (which I do appreciate). However, I've had to spend time turning off this setting and that setting and this one and that one ... and changing this one and that one. It's crazy that I have to have a device with 75% of the functionality turned off in order for the battery usage to be at a semi "normal" level."
"Besides shutting off data and phone service, or just shutting off the phone completely ... I don't know what more I can do," he continues. "I feel like I have purchased a device which is MAJORLY FLAWED. I will try to be patient until this "fix" is released by Apple ... but my patience is really wearing thin. I don't think I would be half as annoyed if I could buy a replacement battery to have as a back-up. Since Apple's devices are sealed, I need to make sure I have an adequate charge AT ALL TIMES. Any other phone, you can easily swap-out batteries and have a fully-charged one ready to go as a back-up."
I can't help but wonder what the public reaction would be if this were a Microsoft mobile device, not an Apple one.
Apple has done a public relations favor for every phone maker for the next year. The next time battery life on a hot new device stinks, people will now say, "Well, this is hard. Even Apple messed it up."
We'll be staying on the batterygate story as it develops. Some bloggers are already obsessing with comparisons of how Apple handled this compared to the previous iPhone "Antennagate" crisis.
But the truth is, that's inside baseball. Users just want a reasonable explanation of how this could have happened, and a quick fix. Was Apple so up against a wall timing-wise that it pushed a phone with serious, known battery-draining software issues?
By the way, another company made a mea culpa Wednesday and got considerably less grief. Google released, then quickly pulled, its iPhone and iPad app for Gmail, due to what the company called a bug. No word yet on when the fixed version will return to the App Store. In its Gmail Twitter feed, the company said, among other things, "Sorry we messed up."
We have come to expect Google to be in some state of constant beta testing, it seems. Apple, however, has never had that reputation.
Laurianne McLaughlin is editor-in-chief for InformationWeek.com. Follow her on Twitter at @lmclaughlin.
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