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what if apple had not disabled the iphone 4 before gizmodo got it ?

July 22, 2010

Once upon a time there was a struggling company that designed and built innovative computers, this firm was universally regarded as having the best hardware running the slickest and most user-friendly operating system and yet although somewhat successful, reputation alone could not guarantee sales and so for years and years the company released new and better computers with success and acclaim but not the domination they desired. Until one day it decided to dip its toe in the murky waters of mobile phones and as it had done with computers it released the most revolutionary mobile phone ever before seen. The world now had the iPhone the rest is history and now this company that is now worth more that its arch rival Microsoft also can proudly say that domination is now a word also synonymous with Apple Corp.

I have been reading a lot in the technology press lately about the woes inflicting Apple Corp and of the antenna issues currently affecting the newly released iPhone 4. Apple is a contentious company and normally features heavily in the tech news but most usually the news has a positive PR type spin and is so tightly orchestrated from the people at Cupertino that you would almost think that they are writing the press themselves. So obviously is quite rare to see so much press on Apple and with so much of it having a negative spin. It begs the question what went wrong and why did they not catch it early?  And now the proverbial has hit the fan why can’t they accept that they have erred, accept, fix and move on? I personally think that Apple could have and still should be handling things a lot differently and I think that at all the pivotal moments in this saga they either ignored the signs or was so arrogant to not anticipate the outcome and that because of this and the way Apple have reacted it may find that it will be judged harshly, rather than accept that they have erred, they continue to act like this is really only the media turning on them, and so it would appear they can’t write the history only make it.

I actually think that Apple made another pivotal mistake that to my knowledge has been not been explored the by press at all, it’s some thing that is one of those could have been situations that is, if this had not occurred then that would not have happened that lead to that this happening type thing, a big what if, if you please.

You would all be familiar to the event surrounding the now famous loss of the iPhone 4 prototype if not Newsweek has an excellent article on the whole affair here.

On March 18, an Apple engineer named Gray Powell was celebrating his 27th birthday at Gourmet Haus Staudt, a beer garden in Redwood City, Calif., about 20 miles from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino. Powell carried with him a prototype next-generation iPhone, and somehow left it at the bar.Another patron, Brian Hogan, 21 years old, found the phone, which looked like a regular iPhone but had some unusual bar codes stuck on the back. He took it home and realized that the case was a fake, and that inside the plastic shell was an entirely different phone. According to Gizmodo, Hogan contacted the blog, a negotiation took place, and Gizmodo ended up buying the device for $5,000. Gizmodo wasn’t sure the phone was a genuine Apple prototype; it could have been a fake. But when the editors took the phone apart they discovered it contained parts stamped with Apple’s logo. On Monday, April 19, Gizmodo ran its story, by reporter Jason Chen.

Now the one thing that is pretty evident in this whole saga is that neither Brian nor the journalists at Gizmodo either used or were able to use the phone prototype, most likely because Apple had utilized MobileMe to deactivate it. MobileMe allows users to deactivate their phones and computers if they are lost or stolen. I believe that it allows options such as temporary lock or a complete system erase; these options are more about pissing the criminal off than actually retrieving the stolen item; however sometimes both outcomes are can be achieved. The features listed on the apple website advise it can do the following;

Locate your iPhone

If you lose your iPhone or iPad, MobileMe can help you find it with Find My iPhone. Just enable Find My iPhone in the MobileMe settings on your iPhone or iPad.* Then sign in to me.com from any computer or using the Find My iPhone app on another iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to display its approximate location on a full-screen map.

Display a message or play a sound to help you find it. Say you’ve just used the Find My iPhone feature, and it turns out you left your iPhone or iPad at the doctor’s office. Not to worry. You can write a message that will be displayed on your iPhone or iPad. Something like, “Oops, left my iPhone behind. Please call me at 408-999-9999.” Your message appears on the screen, even if it’s locked. And if the map shows you that your iPhone or iPad is nearby — say, at home under a pile of laundry — yet you still can’t find it, you can tell MobileMe to play a sound that overrides the ringer volume or silent setting on your device.

Set a passcode lock remotely. Once you realize you haven’t simply misplaced your iPhone or iPad at home, you may want to protect its contents until it’s safely back in your hands. Sign in to your MobileMe account and remotely set a four-digit passcode lock to prevent people from using your iPhone or iPad, accessing your personal information, or tampering with your settings.

Protect your privacy with Remote Wipe. Addresses, phone numbers, email, photos. Your iPhone or iPad contains important and personal information — information you probably don’t want in the hands of a stranger. So if you lose your iPhone or iPad and displaying a message on it hasn’t resulted in its safe return, you can initiate a remote wipe to restore it to the factory settings.* If you eventually find your iPhone or iPad, you can restore your email, contacts, calendars, and bookmarks by enabling your MobileMe account on your device. Or connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer and use iTunes to restore the data from your most recent backup.

Now we all now know the way it actually went down with Apple demanding the phone back accusing Gizmodo of theft and eventually the police being called in and a raid occurred at home of the reporter who had written the piece after that the story spiralled out of control, with people lining up to comment on it. “Jon Stewart of The Daily Show lashed into Apple, saying Steve Jobs and his team were behaving like “appholes.” but by then Apple already had the phone back and its all in limbo now with Apple looking a little precious at the time but with the recent events causing the angst that is little more than a glitch in time. But the questions that I propose could it all have been different? , like in National Geographic television show “Seconds To Disaster” there are always pivotal events and happenings that lead inexorably to the disaster, however if at any of these pivots or actions and inactions had been not taken place a different outcome would have resulted averting the disaster or at the very least mitigate the impact reducing the harm suffered.

What if the phone prototype had not had been deactivated by MobileMe, what if for some unknown reason the world was per chance a little friendlier and that no one had ever thought for the need to remotely lock a mobile device to prevent unauthorised access and there for there wasn’t an app for that. I know it’s a stretch but bare with me on this, what if instead of a review of a disassembled iPhone 4, Gizmodo had been able to run the phone through its paces and actually publish a true exclusive pre release review of the new upcoming iPhone 4. Would have a full-blown review have been able to identify antenna issues prior to the iPhones eventual release? Could we have had Gizmodo come out like Consumer Reports did in the USA just recently and announce that they can’t recommend the forthcoming Phone 4 due to problems with the phones reception? That their engineers found that when you touch the gap in the antenna on the phone’s lower left side, “the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you’re in an area with a weak signal.” Could have Apple avoided the whole antenna disaster way make in March? Could they have learnt of the issues prior to release and be able to include the bumper as well as mitigate the concerns with PR and spin? Could have Apple avoided the drop in its stock price? I don’t know but as I said if only one thing had been different the whole outcome could have changed. I hope Apple learns from this experience and that they can avoid the same mistakes in the future.

It is pretty obvious that one of the reasons that issues with the antenna were not identified in the field was that the phones were disguised to look like an ordinary iPhone 3 and that this disguise meant that compromising the new antenna was not possible. So all I am saying if Apple had been at least alerted to this possibility prior to release then much of the current harm could have been mitigated. Now this is a big what if I know but it makes you think that the irony is that if Apple had not been so secretive and suspicious of others then maybe they might have looked outside of their own locked gates for testing and this issue may not be the talking point that it now is.

What do you think? Can Apple be their own worst enemy? Leave me a comment love to hear you thoughts

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