It’s easy to forget people still make calls with phones, since that’s not what most people buy them for. Now there are reports Apple’s iPhone X is falling down at that particular task, and that the problem is spreading.
9To5 Mac reports hundreds of users have reported an increase in problems, with a typical 6-8 second lag before they can answer calls. Other reports suggest the gap is as long as 10 seconds, and that some calls are missed because the phone doesn’t wake up and display unlock controls. The issue appears to stem from excessive lag between when a call is received and when it can be answered. While the reports seem to focus on the iPhone X, it may not be completely isolated to that handset; ZDNet claims the issue may go back as far as October and reports from an iPhone 6 user running iOS 11.0.3.
This is just the latest glitch to hit Apple devices, after reams of bad press over its decision to throttle phones to preserve battery life and general concerns over how well the iPhone X is (or isn’t) selling. iOS 11 is troubled enough that Apple is once again pushing back from introducing new features or capabilities in iOS 12, so they can keep patching the iOS version they already released. The iPhone 7’s components are failing in some cases, to the point that Apple has had to begin replacing phones due to component failures. And Gizmodo catalogs how the iPhone X’s screen apparently scratches extremely easily (we can’t confirm this, not having used an iPhone X).
Then there’s the unresponsive cold bug that appears to hit iPhone X’s hard, the faster burn-in seen on OLED panels, the iPhone 6s’ battery life problems after components were exposed to air for too long in a Chinese factory, and even claims that the iPhone X’s and iPhone 8’s batteries may hit their 500 cycle-time limit much more quickly than anticipated. In short, there’s a lot of not-great news about Apple’s iPhone family swirling around the iPhone X and to a much smaller extent, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 7.
Ever since Steve Jobs died, there’s been no shortage of people willing to write lofty think pieces about Tim Cook, his leadership of the company, and how he compares with Jobs. In many cases, these comparisons aren’t particularly useful. We don’t know how Jobs would’ve responded to various changes in market conditions and we certainly don’t have all the information necessary to compare any given decision Cook makes. Jobs himself was far from perfect. Devices like the G4 Cube and the famous iMac “Lump-Stick-Rectangle” design didn’t exactly set the market on fire.
I don’t want to say that Steve Jobs would have avoided these problems, because that’s simply not clear. Jobs may have put an extremely high bar on product quality, but that was quality as defined on his terms. “You’re holding it wrong,” and the iPhone 4’s antenna issues are exhibit A for this kind of thinking on his part. I don’t think we can say, categorically, that he simply would’ve avoided the problem, or that he would’ve responded to it differently.
But even if this problem resists a simplistic “Jobs would’ve done better” analysis, I think we’ve got enough data points in hand to draw a line. Smartphones are complex and can absolutely have problems. You can even argue that most of these issues are small, compared with devices like the Galaxy Note 7. But the trend here isn’t positive. Starting with the iPhone 6 Plus and Touch Disease, Apple seems to have real, sustained problems with building devices that aren’t hit by a major defect or problem. It hasn’t exactly been distinguishing itself on the software front either, if the legion of complaints about iOS 11 are any indication. And OS X macOS fans haven’t been thrilled with the company’s direction, either.
The smartest thing for Apple to do might well be to take a year off launching hardware to polish designs, the same way it has periodically taken a year off launching major new software versions to polish its OS. But that’s not going to happen. While the company’s overall iPhone sales did fall in Q1 2018 (that’s Apple’s fiscal Q1, not the calendar quarter), they only dropped from 78.3 million units to 77.3M units, a fractional decrease. Meanwhile, revenue grew 13 percent, thanks to dramatically higher ASPs on the iPhone X.
In short, financially, the company’s strategy is working brilliantly. And that’s all the reason Apple needs to keep right on doing what it’s doing.
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