Apple’s Gripgate saga deepens

Few things are as unnerving as an organization publicly improvising a PR strategy in the face of unexpected calamity. With BP, it took weeks to strike a sincere apologetic tone and admit wrongdoing. During the 2008 election when the Bristol Palin pregnancy story broke, it took the McCain camp a few days to refine the story of how the vetting process unfolded.

By most standards the Apple Gripgate saga that has Silicon Valley buzzing since the iPhone 4 launch is a mild calamity, but it looks to be getting worse. Consumer Reports unleashed an in-depth scientific test this week indicating the iPhone 4’s antenna is flawed in a way no other previous iPhone antenna has been, and is prone to dropping calls when the phone is gripped in the lower left corner. The reviewer would not recommend the phone and openly calls for Apple to provide consumers with free phone coverings (which does fix the problem) or some alternate solution.

Perhaps most alarmingly, the report calls Apple’s credibility and honesty into question. Until now Apple has gone through a series of explanations for the dropped calls, none of which jive with Consumer Reports’ findings. When the glitch first surfaced, Steve Jobs emailed a customer saying they were holding the phone incorrectly. Apple later shifted it’s stance, announcing the discovery of an incorrect formula in all iPhones which often leads phones to indicate stronger reception than they actually have.

All Apple’s statements imply the error is run-of-the-mill, more cosmetic than functional, and absolutely no cause concern. But if the Consumer Reports finding is accurate, and our guess is it may be, Apple should call it a check mate at this point. The only other line of defense left would be a new “discovery” that an Android developer hacked Apple’s computers and altered the antenna designs before they were sent to the plant.

Having a notable glitch in a high-profile release is an embarrassment, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster of Titanic proportions. iPhone and Apple fans generally exhibit extreme loyalty to a great brand that has reinvented the mobile phone several times over. As long as Apple comes clean, fixes the antenna for new phones and gives free coverings for those already purchased, they will achieve the most important goal– holding on to their fanbase. Any short term financial losses will be well worth the expense in the long run.