Apple bruised but unrepentant over iPhone 4 fiasco

19 Jul 2010

Siliconrepublic editor John Kennedy’s take on the last week’s news, from technology giant Apple’s bruised ego to how an island truly on the edge plans to become the innovation hub for Europe.

The showman that is Apple CEO Steve Jobs reappeared Friday at a press conference to give us all a master class in what it is that drives Apple.

As you all know, Apple has been in the limelight for problems associated with its latest iPhone device, with users complaining of signal loss whenever you hold the phone a certain way. As soon as this emerged, Apple wrote a letter that reeked of arrogance by telling the 1.5 million people who bought the phone they weren’t holding the device properly but if they wanted to, they could buy a metal band, described as either a case or a bumper for US$29 and the problem – which had something to do with skin in contact with the antenna – would be solved.

The PR problem – Apple thought – was also solved. And then – mid-week last week – Consumer Reports, after testing three different iPhone 4s, caused a storm when it said it could not recommend the iPhone 4 smartphone.

On Friday, Apple held a press conference to put the issue to bed for once and for all. Jobs said that Apple engineers, plus 18 PhD scientists, tested the iPhone 4 against other smartphones, like the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the HTC Droid Eris and the Samsung Omnia and said those devices also suffer the same problem. Jobs said that despite the negative press coverage about the antenna issue, calls to Apple Care about antenna or reception issues was 0.55pc. Comparing the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 3GS using AT&T return rates, Jobs said the 3GS return rate was 6pc, while for the iPhone 4 it has just been 1.7pc.

Nevertheless, after saying his statement would last 15 minutes – it lasted 30 – Jobs revealed that even though Apple doesn’t believe there’s a problem with the device it’s going to give users free bumpers up to 30 September or their money back. It was the right thing to do, even though Jobs couldn’t resist pointing out again and again the iPhone 4 is perfect.

The good news for Ireland and 16 other countries is the craved device will go on sale here from 30 July. Then the games can begin again over whether the phone works or not.

The innovation island

The hoopla surrounding the iPhone 4 almost overshadowed a week of smart economy announcements from the Irish Government where it revealed it was committing vast sums of money – no mean achievement for a cash-starved country following the economic crash – to making Ireland an innovation hub for Europe.

It began Monday last week with the Taoiseach arriving at Wall Street to announce that we’re creating a €500m venture capital fund aimed at attracting venture capital players into the country, as well as providing the supports to finally start supporting promising indigenous firms. The objective is to drive the creation of sustainable jobs in Ireland in the technology, life sciences, clean tech and financial services sectors.

This is a very good move because as Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe pointed out, venture capital is relatively underdeveloped in Ireland. It will hit two birds with the one stone – give Ireland the kind of advantage Silicon Valley has in terms of accessible venture funds and create high quality Irish jobs in the process.

It didn’t stop there. On Thursday, Communications Minister Eamon Ryan committed a further €5m to the next two phases of the Exemplar Network, which will see the Exemplar Network grow from circling Dublin in the second phase to being a nationwide entity by the third phase in 2013.

Ryan said the first phase of the Exemplar Network, in which the State invested €10m with Intune Networks, has already created 140 jobs and that by the time of the third phase thousands of jobs, from digital media to high-end computing, green tech and life sciences, could be created as organisations will be attracted by the speed and capability of the network.

Then on Friday, the Government revealed it was to make the single biggest investment in research in the State’s history with €359m going into PRTLI Cycle 5. The Government’s Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions (PRTLI) invests in physical infrastructure and research projects in our higher education institutions.

Construction work under the PRTLI Cycle 5 investment will provide more than 64,000 square metres of research space in new and refurbished buildings on our higher education campuses and create some 2,000 jobs in the sector. The research projects will create 379 direct jobs and a significant number of research studentships.

In this country we know all about being bruised and, while companies like Apple have had to eat humble pie over the iPhone 4 fiasco, the news that a Government that has had to eat crow over its handling of the property and banking crisis still has the presence of mind to invest in the science and technology infrastructure of this island is encouraging.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years