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Apple fight-back starts Friday

Maggie Shiels | 08:53 UK time, Thursday, 15 July 2010

Call it silly season if you like, with not a lot happening, but it has been a bad couple of weeks for Apple and its shiny new iPhone 4, which it recently declared the best-selling product in Apple's history.

iPhone 4The slippery slope started right after the phone went on sale in June when a number of users reported problems with dropped calls and poor signal strength.

The issue seemed to occur if users put their finger over the antenna, and for those holding it in their left hands it was particularly bothersome. Steve Jobs suggested "just avoid holding it in that way."

Apple's own investigation revealed the problem related to an error on how the signal bars are displayed, rather than the signal.

They changed the formula for calculating how many bars to display for a given signal strength.

An e-mail exchange with a user looking for a fix to the problem upped the ante and resulted in what was seen as an arrogant reply from Mr Jobs.

In a copy of the e-mail exchange obtained by BoyGeniusReport, the Apple co-founder wrote "you are getting all worked up over a few days of rumors. Calm down".

Consumer Reports delivered a blow right to the solar plexus this week when it said it couldn't endorse the phone or recommend users buy it because its own tests found a problem with reception.

Since 2 July, Apple has maintained radio silence on the matter. Their lack of comment has only seemed to fuel the fire.

A number of brand experts I spoke to said they believed that this has been a problem of Apple's own making and had they gotten out in front of it, it would not have escalated to the level it has with demands for a recall of all iPhones.

Olivier Blanchard of Brand Builder Marketing said that Apple is also something of a target:

"When people talk about brand management and brands that 'get it', they are the super brand, the rock stars of the branding world.
"By the same token, we have put them on such a pedestal but there is really nowhere for them to go but down. That means every little mistake is going to get criticised and over analysed and blown out of proportion. If they had remained the underdog they were five years ago, this would be something of a non issue."

In the cold light of day a recall of all iPhone 4's does seem an extreme measure.

One analyst estimated that the bill for this would top out at around $1.5billion. Ponying up for bumper cases, which seems to be a solution, would cost nearly $180m.

But you know things are really bad when software giant Microsoft has a pop at you.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that," said Kevin Turner, Microsoft's chief operating officer, in a keynote speech at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference.

Vista has a somewhat tarnished image after being heavily criticised by users and even by the company's own senior executives as revealed in a series of e-mails. The feeling was, and is, that Vista was one of Microsoft's worst operating systems.

While Apple is far from that scenario, they have now come out of their bunker and called a surprise news conference for this Friday.

Spokesman Steve Dowling will only say that it concerns the iPhone 4 but it is surely a safe enough bet that the briefing will address the phone's reception problems.

Apple may well be king of the hill when it comes to marketing products and creating hype, but the company has stumbled in the past.

Its handling of Steve Jobs' health following pancreatic cancer is a case in point. For months the company said this was a non-issue despite Mr Jobs' thin and gaunt appearance which eventually resulted in him taking a medical leave of absence.

With the tech world now gearing up for big news on Friday, it will be interesting to see how well Apple take charge over this issue and what effect it will have on their image and reputation as something of a stellar brand.

It has already become late-night TV fodder, resonating as a topic of fun outside the world of technology.

Late Show host David Letterman played it for laughs when he made the phone's problems the topic of his Top 10 list as you can see here.

Entitled "Top 10 Signs You've Purchased a Bad iPhone" Mr Letterman said:

"[A]pparently there is something hinkey about the new iPhone's.
"They are not hooked up right. There is a problem with the signal's sensor. There is a problem with the antenna. They don't like to be my first wife."

Boom! Boom!


  • 1. At 10:30am on 15 Jul 2010, FawltyPowers wrote:

    As an experienced radio-frequency (r.f) and electronics engieneer I found it amazing that someone had the incredibly silly idea of laying an antenna around the periphery of a hand-held case where these ultra-high r.f energies can be so easily attenuated by the hand that's clasping it. These signal frequenice are already beset with the degrading effects from reflection within nearby objects and buildings and shadowing from landscape etc. I watch with immense interest to see how such a large and surely well-equipped organisation will try and resolve in what I believe is an unresovable problem, given the current product-design form.

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  • 2. At 11:47am on 15 Jul 2010, AB45 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 3. At 12:03pm on 15 Jul 2010, Fwd079 wrote:

    hahaha loved this blog, lets wait for the Friday :D

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  • 4. At 12:06pm on 15 Jul 2010, douchebag2000 wrote:

    Every little mistake is criticised not because some have put Apple on a pedestal but because they charge so much over the odds for their phones.

    The actually hardware is not really any different to numerous other phones on the market and in terms of features the iPhone lags behind some others so what you are paying for is something else.

    Quality, reliability however you define it that is what that extra money is supposed to be for so when it fails to deliver that people are going to criticise and that is not going to be helped by Apple trying to turn the blame on the user, you are holding it wrong, or come up with unconvincing explanations about the formula used.

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  • 5. At 12:42pm on 15 Jul 2010, imaginarynumber wrote:

    Apple treat you like children; "no you can't have root access", "no you can't install whatever you want", "no you can't have flash", "no you can't look at porn", "our phones run on Magic", "when you are older we will update your software so that you can have the same features that your old phone had (copy'n'paste, record video etc)"

    What do they care- they've got your money and there are still enough muppets out there that will buy the iphone because they think it make them look cool.

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  • 6. At 12:55pm on 15 Jul 2010, Aidy wrote:

    I predict that on Friday Steve Jobs will announce that the strength of signal actually goes up two bars when held, and not down. Then on Saturday internet forums and blogs will be filled with vindicated Apple zealots shouting "HA! Told you so!"

    BTW congrats on yet another blog about Apple and the iPhone. It's such a shame that nothing else is happening in the world of technology.

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  • 7. At 1:11pm on 15 Jul 2010, blabb wrote:

    the only solution is to recall all iphones with a problem - how can this be an extreme measure, what about us who bought the phone - its unacceptable for apple to expect us to keep a phone which cuts off our calls. the phone has to be fit for purpose - it may cost them to recall but it cost me £179 and a 2 year contract at £30 per month, thats a lot to me, (plus £25 for the bumper which i bought) i really thought the phone was worth it, until it started cutting calls off in mid conversation, i rang apple as i heard that a bumper would resolve this and they were giving them free, - i was told that yes it would definately solve the problem but no they're not free, i went ahead and ordered a nice blue one from apple web, it arrived last sat - its just like a blue rubberband, its been on since sunday and i've been cut off twice since then, so giving these out as a resolution would not be good enough, if not for this problem i would love this phone, so much that i am considering upgrading my pc to an apple notebook - all depends now - if there is a recall, i will feel confident about upgrading - if not - no chance.

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  • 8. At 1:27pm on 15 Jul 2010, blabb wrote:

    ps - its also been a bad couple of weeks for us owners of our lovely shiny iphones, we paid good money for a faulty product and cant use our rights to get it exchanged, good couple of weeks for apple - they have our money,

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  • 9. At 1:33pm on 15 Jul 2010, Uplah wrote:

    Summary of today's upcoming briefing + fanboy comments:

    * This phone is awesome.
    * Google is evil.
    * This phone is awesome.
    * Version 4.1 will be out in a few months to address some kind of signal problem that a handful of people are having - owners will get a fantastic 25% discount. In the mean time, you can boost reception from providers giving poor coverage by using our new adapter of just $40 that you can plug into your iPad.
    * This phone is awesome.
    * Adobe is evil.
    * This phone is awesome.
    * Did I mention that this phone is awesome?...

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  • 10. At 1:38pm on 15 Jul 2010, Jimmy James wrote:

    Here's a novel idea; why don't we all wait to see what Apple says tomorrow before criticizing them?

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  • 11. At 1:43pm on 15 Jul 2010, wolfeii wrote:

    Interesting blog, but it could really do with a proof read from an editor.

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  • 12. At 1:48pm on 15 Jul 2010, CoalitionOfTheWilting wrote:

    "Here's a novel idea; why don't we all wait to see what Apple says tomorrow before criticizing them?"

    Because last time we waited to see what they said on this subject they came out with a bare-faced lie?

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  • 13. At 2:02pm on 15 Jul 2010, MattC wrote:

    Free bumpers all round !

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  • 14. At 2:16pm on 15 Jul 2010, Jimmy James wrote:

    "Because last time we waited to see what they said on this subject they came out with a bare-faced lie?"

    Any proof to back up your bold statement?

    (crickets chirping)

    I thought not.

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  • 15. At 2:19pm on 15 Jul 2010, Chrisblindin wrote:

    Interesting Article Maggie.....

    It would be interesting for the discussion to move away from the Antenna issue as this problem (in my opinion) is being over hyped. I have tested holding the phone in the left hand and it does not result in many call disconnects from my experience. In my opinion the reason why the phone disconnects is the proximity sensor for the screen, my phone is constantly dialling, disconnecting just holding it to my ear (no I do not have big ears).

    The other major gripe I have with Apple is my old 16G 3G is now absolutely useless. It was recycled (given to the wife) with the new OS4 loaded but is almost unusable at times with processor / screen lag. Try typing an email or SMS message and the wait can be 30 seconds between characters. I logged onto the official Apple website forums and guess what? Over 100,000 posts of people with the same issue on a 3G, what is Apple going to do for those existing customers.... other questions for the journalists at the press conference.

    I worked on the Apple Computer (as they used to be known) System 7 launch in the late 80's and that was difficult with incompatibility issues but at least we prepared for the worst as we knew there would be issues. Apple are so big now they do not seem to care until the analysts criticise.


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  • 16. At 2:37pm on 15 Jul 2010, Aidy wrote:

    @JimmyJammy #14

    > Any proof to back up your bold statement?

    Lack of proof doesn't mean it wasn't a lie. Argumentum ad ignorantiam.

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  • 17. At 2:38pm on 15 Jul 2010, afraidofheights wrote:

    Ultimately the free market is going to win out. If it is Apple's long-term financial interests, they will do a full recall. If their finance and strategy folks think that they can get away with something less costly than a full recall and not harm the brand in doing so, they will.

    Customers will simply want a new phone though, not a repaired one. Also, no customer is going to be willing to go without a phone while the fix is made. Expect 2M refurbs to be on the market selling for $50 lower than a brand new one after this.

    Or maybe the announcement is just to say that Mel Gibson is going to endorse the new iPhone. That is the rumor I read here.


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  • 18. At 2:41pm on 15 Jul 2010, Jimmy James wrote:

    @Aidy #16,

    Lack of proof also doesn't mean is was a lie, so what's your point?

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  • 19. At 3:09pm on 15 Jul 2010, Aidy wrote:

    @JimmyJammy #18

    I thought my point was quite clear. You were implying there was meaning in the fact that there was no proof that their previous statement was a lie, and I was pointing out that this isn't necessarily the case.

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  • 20. At 3:28pm on 15 Jul 2010, CoalitionOfTheWilting wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 21. At 3:34pm on 15 Jul 2010, Jimmy James wrote:

    @Aidy #19,

    I was responding to someone else who implied that Apple had told a bare faced lie. My original post still remains valid, let's wait and see what Apple say tomorrow before jumping to conclusions like our little chum CoaitionOfTheWilting keeps doing.


    "'s plainly a hardware issue..."

    Again, got any proof to confirm this wild speculation? Maybe with your expertise you should ring Apple and tell them how they can sort it. After all, since you are quite sure it's a hardware issue, you will know what the fault is and also know the solution to it.

    Fanboy, very good argument (sarcasm).

    I'm no fanboy, I just can see that this is a completely overblown issue. It might have something to do with this:

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  • 22. At 3:38pm on 15 Jul 2010, CoalitionOfTheWilting wrote:

    "Again, got any proof to confirm this wild speculation?"

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  • 23. At 3:40pm on 15 Jul 2010, CoalitionOfTheWilting wrote:

    "I'm no fanboy"

    Noooooooooooooooooooo, of course not.

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  • 24. At 3:42pm on 15 Jul 2010, Jimmy James wrote:


    An exert from one of your articles:

    "who is not authorized to speak on Apple’s behalf and asked not to be identified."

    Very reliable.

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  • 25. At 3:43pm on 15 Jul 2010, CoalitionOfTheWilting wrote:


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  • 26. At 3:50pm on 15 Jul 2010, Aidy wrote:

    @JimmyJammy #21

    > Again, got any proof to confirm this wild speculation?

    The fact that a physical bumper around the phone solves the issue is proof that the issue is hardware and not software.

    @JimmyJammy #24

    > Very reliable

    And what about the other article? Or will no proof ever be good enough for you as you'll find a minor issue in any of them which makes you think they can be completely discounted?

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  • 27. At 4:01pm on 15 Jul 2010, marcdraco wrote:

    I don't think Apple so much as dropped the ball on this one, but it actually slapped the referee and took it home.

    I think this is what the kids call an Epic Fail.

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  • 28. At 4:03pm on 15 Jul 2010, Jimmy James wrote:

    Funny, my original post asked why people don't just wait until the Apple announcement tomorrow. Suddenly I'm attacked from all angles by myopic individuals who then have the audacity to call me a "fanboy" simply because I am of the opinion it's better to wait and see instead of speculating like all these so-called experts are doing.

    If Apple say it's a hardware fault, then so be it. I have never said it was or wasn't, again I am saying wait until tomorrow and see what Apple say about it, then draw conclusions.

    All these armchair mobile antenna experts who are adamant it's a hardware fault make me laugh.

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  • 29. At 4:05pm on 15 Jul 2010, The_Hess wrote:

    @ JimmyJammy

    If it was a purely software issue, then there would be no effect on the signal when a purely physical event takes place (hand over antenna does not cause the software to perform a function) therefore the issue is at least partially hardware based. Most phones have a similar effect when holding them in a particular way. For instance I can cut off WiFi and mobile reception on my phone as well by gripping the various points where the antennas are located. However this is not a natural way to hold the phone. Unfortunately for Apple, a number of people have found that their natural way of holding the phone has this effect. Is that enough proof that the problem is hardware related? What proof/expertise do you have to say otherwise?

    If I wanted to help Apple all I would say would be to either test the phone properly or redesign the antenna properly.

    As for why the antenna is located where it is, there is a government ruling (at least in America) that the antenna for mobile reception must be located at the base to keep it as far away from the ear (and brain) as possible due to the POSSIBLE risks posed from mobile phones.

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  • 30. At 4:06pm on 15 Jul 2010, Rich Indeed wrote:

    Regardless of whether the algorithm for signal strength is correct or not, the fact remains that covering the antenna when holding the phone clearly affects the signal. If the problem was solely the algorithm, surely how you hold the phone shouldn't make a blind bit of difference? Any right thinking person should be able to see that Apple's explanation just doesn't make any sense.

    I'm not biased against Apple (I recently got a 3gs and I love it), but what worries me about Apple's explanations is that they seem to take their customers for idiots. The arrogance in the alleged emails from Jobs and Co is astounding, and surely if the company have any sense they'll use this press conference to apoligise to their customers and explain how they're going to properly rectify the problem.

    However, if their current attitude to their clients is anything to go by, it wouldn't surprise me if in this press conference they re-branded the little black strip as a unique 'truthiness bar', exclusive to the iphone 4, that, wonder of wonders, makes the phone display the correct signal any time it is covered.

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  • 31. At 4:30pm on 15 Jul 2010, Mark_MWFC wrote:

    "Suddenly I'm attacked from all angles by myopic individuals who then have the audacity to call me a "fanboy" simply because I am of the opinion it's better to wait and see instead of speculating like all these so-called experts are doing."

    No, it's cos you got nothin'.

    If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck it's a duck.

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  • 32. At 4:35pm on 15 Jul 2010, Aidy wrote:

    @JimmyJammy #28

    > Funny, my original post asked why people don't just wait until the Apple announcement tomorrow.

    I don't think anyone had any problem with your first post.

    > Suddenly I'm attacked from all angles by myopic individuals who then
    > have the audacity to call me a "fanboy" simply because I am of the opinion
    > it's better to wait and see instead of speculating like all these so-called experts are doing.

    That's a non sequitur as what has caused you to be attacked by "myopic individuals" (ad hominem) was your subsequent posts where you are indicating that you are firmly in the Apple camp and seem unwilling to admit that Apple's stance might be at fault. When fairly compelling evidence is put to you, you move the goal posts with some and just ignore the others...behaviour that was earned you a "fanboy" label.

    > If Apple say it's a hardware fault, then so be it.

    And if they do say it is a hardware fault will you admit that their previous statement on the issue was a bare-faced lie?

    > I have never said it was or wasn't

    ...yet mere words later you write

    > All these armchair mobile antenna experts who are adamant it's
    > a hardware fault make me laugh.

    Brick wall, meet Mr JimmyJammy. JimmyJammy, brick wall.

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  • 33. At 4:56pm on 15 Jul 2010, Sipi69 wrote:

    So Apple are holding a news conference this Friday.

    What happens if they don't hold it correctly?

    (all credit to CatVegas)

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  • 34. At 6:11pm on 15 Jul 2010, Mick wrote:

    ""Apple is probably one of the most important brands of the last 50 years," said Olivier Blanchard, president of Brand Builder Marketing.

    "They are rock stars in that sense and I believe that this fiasco with the iPhone 4 is an excuse to attack a company that is becoming such a giant. Five years ago when they were the underdog this would have been a non-issue," Mr Blanchard told BBC News."

    Really? In that case then it should be quite alright for Iphone 4 victims to buy a second handset, one that can pull a good signal, maybe a Sony Ericsson or Nokia and just use the iPhone 4 to poke about with.

    Rock stars indeed, Mr Blanchard. Only they've just played half the concert without plugging their amps in.
    And the reason why it's all gone Tango Uniform for Apple is the fact that they came on like they'd saved the world from impending doom (again). Much like Microsoft did with Vista, but Microsoft did admit eventually that Vista was a big kludge that shouldn't have happened.

    A future tip for Apple. Don't over-hype. It's embarrassing for the consumer and you, and it ensures that you become a prime target if something does go wrong. Have a quiet launch like the rest of them, and let the consumer do the talking.

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  • 35. At 6:22pm on 15 Jul 2010, Rich Indeed wrote:

    Well said Mick - every time I hear the adverts telling me how an Apple product is 'magical' or asking me 'what is ipad?', rather than 'what is AN ipad?' I get a bit of sick in the back of my throat!

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  • 36. At 7:26pm on 15 Jul 2010, hon3stly wrote:

    Apple have been playing this game with consumers for years so it shouldn't come as too much of a suprise. Once they have got your money any bugs, flaws, or hardware errors are the fault of the consumer and attempts to claim otherwise are threatened with legal action. This time though the mob is so large and so angry that their spin is not working and it is becoming clearer to more people that they have to amend their strategy.

    Needless to say the BBC still have to blog about an Apple meeting that had not yet happened as they do blog about 'Iproducts' that have not yet been announced and product placing an IPhone to the media lens in almost every smartphone article as if they are worth their advertising, whilst generally ignoring and rarely discussing the much more exciting opposition.

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  • 37. At 10:07pm on 15 Jul 2010, DaveC wrote:

    I've been trying to work out whether the couple on the horrible Iphone 4 commerical are holding their phones correctly :-)

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  • 38. At 1:38pm on 16 Jul 2010, thezero wrote:

    Should the iPhone4 be compared with Vista or Windows ME? :) Windows ME is something Kevin/Microsoft would definitely want to forget!

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  • 39. At 9:50pm on 16 Jul 2010, i_cant _believe_it wrote:

    I find this really funny.

    The general public out there don't really know what goes on behind the scenes getting a handset ranged and approved for use on a network. Its not as straight forward as many think there are all types of approvals the handsets have to go through and self declarations to say the handset performs and works to the 3ggp standards.

    These don't happen over night it takes months and months of lab testing. One of the fundamental tests is to test the SAR rate which is basically the handset RF radiation performance.

    Now you see this really couldn't have been done correctly or they would have found the problems whilst testing and reporting. Or they knew about the problem and decided to ignore and release any how I will let you draw your own conclusions.

    Also everyone relying on a sw fix, this will not resolve the issue unless they try a underhand way and alter the RSSI to make the handset look as if it always has good level of service. However if they take this approach the newtorks will know as they record all drop calls they can tell between a network issue and handset issue.

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  • 40. At 10:15pm on 16 Jul 2010, Aidy wrote:


    Well, well, well. It seems us armchair experts, despite making you laugh, were right. It seems it is a hardware fault, it seems Apple's previous statement was a bare-faced lie. Now that we've done as you asked and waited for the announcement, maybe you can now admit we were right and that Apple have indeed lied. Do so or forever wear your fanboy badge :)

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  • 41. At 11:44pm on 16 Jul 2010, dogfight66 wrote:

    Olivier Blanchard of Brand Builder Marketing should perhaps learn to keep his trap shut when he clearly does not know what he's blabbering on about. This is not a marketing problem, regardless of how much the Apple brand is built on marketing hype - it's a TECHNICAL issue. And 5 years ago, it would still have been an issue, because the FUNCTIONALITY of an overpriced consumer product is seriously impaired. Perhaps because Apple have hyped up their brand so much they are now sitting ducks, but this is NOT an unjustified attack on an arrogant rock star, and it is absolutely NOT blown out of proportion. Blanchard talks of the "underdog" as if Apple is some kind of righteous freedom fighter, rather than simply a corporate machine raking in the profits.

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