Apple's Reputation Tested by Latest Revelations

For Apple, this week has been a storm of bad news. And, based on recent events, the company's image could be starting to take a hit. Here are the main lowlights.

  • It's been revealed that Apple reportedly knew that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus would bend before their 2014 release, even though the company claimed there were no issues with the handsets when customers complained. Those complaints turned into a class-action lawsuit.
  • Apple just rejected Valve's Steam Link app, after initially approving it, citing "business conflicts with app guidelines." The app lets users access their Steam library of PC games from a mobile device.
  • A growing number of iPhone X owners are saying that the back camera lens is cracking without warning, and the only way to fix it is to have the whole unit replaced at their expense (if you don't have AppleCare+).

Credit: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Getty

(Image credit: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Getty)

The biggest red flag is the revelation by Motherboard that Apple knew that the iPhone 6 was 3.3 times more likely to bend than the iPhone 5s, and that the iPhone 6 Plus was 7.2 times more likely to bend, based on internal documents made public through a court filing.

MORE: Apple Knew iPhone 6 Would Bend Before Its Release (Report)

This is troubling because Apple denied that there were engineering issues with the handsets. What's more, behind the scenes the company started reinforcing the part of the phone related to the bending and the touch screen failing a year and a half after the phones were released.

At least for now, Apple isn't commenting on the issue, which is understandable given that it's part of an ongoing legal matter, but the controversy raises serious questions about the company's transparency and integrity.

"Apple is going to be sued over ridiculous things. But if the legal discovery process is going to show that Apple knew about an issue – even if it didn't consider it serious – why hide that?" said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at GlobalData. "Just state up front that all designs have different potential failure points, and that most consumers should never have a problem with it."

According to Harry McCracken, the technology editor at Fast Company, it's not about how bendy the iPhone 6 was but how Apple communicates with its customers, especially in light of Apple recently admitting that it was throttling older iPhones  to prevent random shutdowns.

"The throttling issue clearly has had an impact on Apple's reputation in that a lot of people heard about it and concluded that something fishy was going on,"  McCracken said. "It's not as simple as that: If the company hadn't implemented the throttling and left the phones more prone to crashes, that would hardly have been a satisfactory outcome."

MORE: Rejected! Apple Nixes Steam Link App

Apple's reputation isn't in the best of shape overall. According to the most recent annual Harris Poll Reputation Quotient study, which surveyed 28,000 adults, Apple dropped from No. 5 to No. 29. However, according to a Reuters report, the Harris Poll CEO attributed the fall to a lack of attention-getting products.

Meanwhile, Apple also just rejected the Steam Link app for iOS, which could be seen as an anti-competitive move. Already available in beta on Google Play, the app lets you stream Steam games  over a local network only in tandem with a gaming PC.

Apple had accepted the app on May 9, but it revoked its approval two days later after Valve promoted its release. The explanation? In a press statement, Valve said it was "business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team."

"It seems like yet another example of a matter as old as the App Store itself: Apple rejecting apps for reasons that are arbitrary and inconsistent and in some cases driven by Apple's self-interest rather than what consumers want,"  McCracken said. “The only good news is that sometimes they eventually get to the right outcome — especially after a bout of bad publicity — and perhaps that will happen here."

Although Apple doesn't specify the exact business conflicts, it could be that the Steam Link app connects to a store other than Apple's App Store. But it's also clear that Steam Link would cause iOS users to buy and play fewer iOS games.

"I can see why Apple might consider this a way to sell apps outside its own Store, which does violate Apple's terms, Greengart said. "But the ability to stream PC games is a use case that Apple should want to enable."

As for the iPhone X back camera cracking, the disturbing part is not that the sapphire lens isn't as durable as once believed, it's that users are reportedly being asked to fork over upward of $549 for a full replacement (without AppleCare+). This is clearly stated in Apple's repair policy, but if iPhone X owners in Apple's own forums and on Reddit are to be believed, the lenses are cracking on their own, without the phone being dropped.

If that's the case, it would seem unfair to levy such a penalty. However, it's not clear how widespread the problem is.

"Apple is in a unique position where it sells products in enormous volume, yet the company is such a magnet for press attention that any problem quickly goes viral," Greengart said. "It can be difficult to know whether problems are just normal manufacturing variations or a genuine design flaw."

MORE: We Dropped $18,000 Worth of Phones, and These Are the Toughest (and Weakest)

Apple's image is still recovering from the way it handled performance-throttling on older iPhones last year. The company claimed it was slowing down devices running updated versions of iOS to protect them from random shutdowns. But users countered that Apple was forcing obsolescence on them.

Apple apologized for the fiasco and offered a $29 battery replacement program to try to make up for it. (Customers who replaced their battery before the $29 offer went into effect found out this week they're eligible for money back from Apple.) You could argue that this response came a little late, and out of fear of litigation, but at least Apple made some corrective steps.

However, the revelation that Apple  released a phone it knew to be more brittle and divulged that information only under court order isn't exactly great optics. And while rejecting an app seems like small potatoes by comparison, Apple comes off looking like it's limiting consumer choice.

As for the iPhone X lens problem, the handset actually fared quite well in our recent drop tests, but spending $549 to fix a $1,000 phone that reportedly cracks on its own is bound to anger  some of your biggest supporters.

It remains to be seen whether Apple's  reputation is starting to crack, but this week's events won't help. What's most important now is how the company responds.

"I don't think it's clear that Apple did anything outrageous, but the lesson is still that being up-front would be in the company’s interest, since if the facts come out later, people will look at it as a cover-up,"  McCracken said. "I hope that Apple has drawn this conclusion and that we'll see it reflected in how it deals with future issues."

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • jamiemaloney80
    We’ve been able to purchase from Steam. PlayStation, and other companies for a few years now their apps are currently on the AppStore. I can buy Steam games from their other app on the AppStore right now, plus there are already many other pc mirroring apps on there but the consumers were extremely excited about the official Steam “Link” app because it would be a very clean professional build instead of using other unofficial mirroring apps that want you to pay to use. Apple messed up very bad, we, the consumers, got burned very bad by them banning this app, plus they lost a very good marketing tool that could of helped them sell more IPhone and IPads, more IOS units would of been more AppStore and ITunes purchases in the long run. Instead they just handed their competitors their biggest break. The news is all over the internet right now. If I had stock in Apple right now I would be getting a little nervous.
  • Harvey_14
    "For Apple, this week has been a storm of bad news."

    Here are the three "bad news" stories that are really no big deal at all:

    1) iPhone 6 and 6 Plus only bent if an unusual amount of pressure was applied to it. Bending only occurred if the user was doing something unintentionally destructive, such as putting the phone in their back pocket and then sitting on it full-force. We also saw intentional cases of bending the phones on YouTube, with the people bending the phone really had to apply extreme pressure using both hands. But in normal situations the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have had no bending problems, and millions of iPhone users are still happily using their iPhone 6 and 6 Plus iPhones WITHOUT any bending occurring!

    2) Apple rejected Valve's Steam Link app because the developers of that app DID NOT comply with the agreement and rules for submitting apps to the App Store. Other apps have also been rejected for not complying with the rules. Nothing new here. The rule that the developer broke was that an app must not attempt to "directly or indirectly target iOS users to use a purchasing method other than in-app purchase." All that the developer needs to do is to revise the app so that there are no direct purchases in the app, and then re-submit the app.

    3) It's unknown how many of the almost 50 Million iPhone X sold have had cracked lenses... But it is UNTRUE to say that "the only way to fix it is to have the whole unit replaced at their expense (if you don't have AppleCare+)". All iPhones are covered by a 1-year warranty, so any hardware problems like this one are fully covered at ZERO expense to the user. Also, as in the past, if a hardware problem arises that is caused by a deficiency, Apple has provided extended warranties to cover those problems even beyond the 1-year warranty.

    In other words, "Nothing to see here folks, move along".
  • Harvey_14
    One comment about Motherboard's "reveal" that iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were more likely to bend than the iPhone 5S...

    Of course this was known because the iPhone 6, and especially the iPhone 6 Plus are MUCH longer and thinner than the MUCH smaller iPhone 5s.

    Take a stick that is 12 inches long and 1 inch thick and bend and break it with your hands. Then, take a stick that is 6 inches long and 2 inches thick, and try to bend and break it... It would take a much greater effort to do that with the shorter, thicker stick. These are not the same proportions as the iPhones, but it is an example of how much more easily longer, thinner things bend and break than the same type of things that are shorter and thicker.
  • no1kilo
    Buying any phone at $1000 price point is just plain ludicrous. Any phone you buy does not come with any warranty. They claim there is a warranty but good luck trying to claim it. It's just plain false advertising and criminal.
  • Harvey_14
    20999989 said:
    Buying any phone at $1000 price point is just plain ludicrous. Any phone you buy does not come with any warranty. They claim there is a warranty but good luck trying to claim it. It's just plain false advertising and criminal.

    For your information, the iPhone X is covered by a 1-year warranty... As are ALL iPhones!

    How many of the approximately 50 Million iPhone X models have had cracked lenses, and did the cracks appear after an incident of misuse (for example dropping the phone, or subjecting it to extreme temperatures)?

    If it is a defect in the iPhone X that affects ALL owners of that phone, then that will be covered under warranty. If it is only a few people, and is the result of misuse, it probably won't be covered... Just like any other type of damage caused by the user.