The Apple iOS debacle and PR consequences

iOS 8.0.1 downloading

Whether you’re an iPhone user or not, you can’t have missed the headlines in recent days reporting on the fiasco resulting from Apple’s botched operating system update 8.0.1 for iPhones and iPads, released on September 24.

For the first time in some years, I have an iPhone courtesy of Arena Media, mobile operator Three UK‘s media agency, who sent me an iPhone 6 for review (that review is coming soon) which arrived on the 24th – the day of the 8.0.1 software update.

And so I did: allowed the iPhone to install the update. And, as you do, I tweeted that.

In pretty short order, I started getting tweets from Twitter friends about the problems with the update.

Sure enough, the iPhone 6 had lost its ability to make or receive phone calls and text messages, the problem at the heart of the matter, one that seemed to  affect only the two newest iPhones, the 6 and 6 Plus.

So for the past 36 hours or so, along with thousands of other iPhone 6 users, I’ve had a smartphone with no ability to use it as a phone. Luckily, in my case, it isn’t my primary phone and it otherwise functioned just fine including connectivity via wifi. And so I was able to kick its tyres, as it were, during the Simply SMiLE conference in London yesterday, using many of its features.

And what about fixing the botched update? How hard was Apple on the case?

I imagine this was being treated with the utmost importance by Apple. I visualized their engineers working round the clock to get a fix done in the shortest time possible.  And I guess the shortest time possible was the 36 hours or so from 8.0.1 to the 8.0.2 fix that I saw appear in my iPhone 6 early this morning UK time.

ios802update

iOS 8.0.2 Learn More

And once the installation reached a successful completion, the iPhone 6 had its cellular capability restored and the fixes mentioned in the ‘Learn More’ text applied.

iOS 8.0.2 up to date

And all’s well that ends well, right? Everyone will breathe a sigh of relief. No doubt by this time next week, all this will be just a bad memory, a little one at that (although #BendGate is still ‘an issue’).

And what of Apple the company, one that is the maker of probably the most desirable tech gadgets on the mass market today? Has something gone a bit wrong there where we’ve seen a succession of missteps in recent months: the current issues with the iOS fiasco, for example, and celebrity nude pics in the iCloud a month or so ago?

I expect Apple will continue to feature high up in lists of the world’s best brands. I imagine the rosy glow of success will continue to embrace the company once more news and information emerge about Apple Watch and its launch next year.

So events such as I’ve mentioned may be just a blip on the PR radar to Apple, ones relatively easy to consider and address purely as issues to manage.

Yet I think such events have tarnished Apple’s reputation somewhat. The share price has fallen. The gloss has dimmed a bit on a company which has often in the past said that they make technology that just works.

Not this time, Mr Cook!

Apple share price

I believe there is a cumulative effect over time where things like this add up to a negative sum when it comes to trust and reputation. And, eventually, that will impact you, your products and services and your market position. Not to mention shareholder value.

Not a good place to be, Apple.

Time to create engaged voters

85% voter turnout

The referendum on independence that the voters of Scotland participated in on September 18 was a close result. But the nays had it in the end by a ten percent margin.

What struck me most about this referendum was the voter turnout – almost 85 percent of the 4.2 million Scots registered to vote actually did vote. I’ve seen it reported that this was the highest voter turnout in any election of any type in the United Kingdom since 1918, the year that women won the right to vote.

Clearly there are significant differences in a rare event that can radically change the very nature of a country compared to an election in which you vote your political representatives into a parliament every five years. But surely there are lessons to be learned (the favourite phrase of politicians!) in not only the outcome of this referendum but also the campaigning beforehand and how the passionate minority – politicians and citizens alike – influenced the views of many in the voting majority to actually get out and vote never mind vote in a particular way.

Of all the politicians I saw and heard in the run up to last Thursday’s voting, none had an impact on my thoughts as much as Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, in a passionate speech supporting the Union between England and Scotland that he gave the day before voting.

You can listen to it here, see what you think:

(Audio extracted from the BBC News video report available on YouTube.)

I was never impressed with Brown as Prime Minister. But what an orator! In this speech, there was no script in his hands, no prepared statement he read. Just the power of his words and how he spoke them.

Would such passion – believable passion at that, genuine not scripted – make much difference in what voters think and do as politicians make their cases to those voters? Some might say that’s what they already do. I don’t support that view at all, certainly not from watching and listening to almost any politician today.

I think politicians of every stripe should be examining what happened in Scotland last week and considering what they need to do to aim for such high voter turnout when the general election arrives in May 2015.

Do we really want to repeat the dismal showing that saw UK voter turnout of just 36 percent in the European elections earlier this year, and even worse elsewhere in Europe? Surely not. But you have to make it interesting enough for voters to believe they want to become engaged, want to have their say.

You have to persuade voters to believe.

That’s a great deal to do with communication, specifically:

  1. Having a compelling story.
  2. Understanding which media are the most effective means to connect with voters in every single instance of reaching out with your story.
  3. Being honest, open, authentic, credible.
  4. Telling your story really well, in such a way that it will stimulate an action – in this case, engaged voters having their say, too.

Is it possible that politics might get really interesting between now and May 2015?

Related post:

Scotland referendum results via WhatsApp and more

Yes / No

Tomorrow, the United Kingdom will not be the same no matter what happens in Scotland today as citizens there cast their votes in a referendum to decide whether Scotland will separate from the UK and become an independent country, or not.

The campaigning is done; now it’s up to the voters of Scotland to decide what they want for their country and the union with England that’s been in place since 1707.

Obviously media of all types – mainstream, social – and from all over the world are devoting huge time and resources to coverage of an event that has got the world’s attention especially in countries where the flames of separatism may be further fanned on the outcome in Scotland.

I’ll be following events as time permits during the day on TV and online. It’s once the polls close at 10pm tonight that interest will be most strong as the votes are counted with the first results to be declared expected sometime around 3am on Friday morning.

What appeals to me is the idea of key news as it breaks coming to me in a way that lets me focus just on that and gives me just the facts. I can choose whether to look for more detail, if I want, whether that’s online or via more traditional news channels.

So an idea from Channel 4 News in the UK is most interesting – broadcast breaking news on the results as it happens, directly to your smartphone via WhatsApp and Snapchat:

[...] We’re going to publish all of our best content, as well as live updates, via Snapchat and Whatsapp, from the moment the polls close on Thursday night right up to when the results are announced on Friday morning – ahead of publishing it anywhere else.

That last sentence is most interesting: “ahead of publishing it anywhere else.” Before TV?

My interest is WhatsApp; here’s how to set it up:

WhatsApp the message INDYREF to 07768555671 and add us to your contacts list to sign up for all of our best overnight news and analysis, pictures and video, delivered to you ahead of all the other social networks.
If you change your mind, WhatsApp STOP to the same number.

I’d added C4News to my WhatsApp and can’t wait to see how this plays out.

C4News

It’s great to see such innovation from mainstream broadcasters, especially communication methods that clearly show the broadcaster not only gets audience preferences by demographic according to social medium but also is able to execute an idea well.

Channel 4 is not alone in this. BBC News, for instance, announced this week that its content will be available on smartphone instant messaging platform LINE. Earlier this year, the BBC experimented with WhatsApp and WeChat in English and Hindi.

And Sky News launched its Stand Up Be Counted initiative, described as “a place for 16 – 25 year olds to safely upload and share the videos, pictures or blogs they make on the issues that matter most to them.” It’s been a very active place in relation to the Scottish referendum.

Innovation really is thriving.

(Via Journalism.co.uk; picture at top via The Guardian.)

The Apple Watch is very much in the fashion game

Apple Watch fashion

Until last week, “iWatch” was the name widely and wildly speculated about for months if not years for what Apple’s expected entry product into the wearables market would be called.

As Apple’s announcement on September 9 made clear, “iWatch” was just so much fancy by all and sundry as the firm broke with its use of the letter ‘i’ starting a brand name and announced the launch of Apple Watch.

Such name-guessing reminds me of what happened in the lead-up to the launch of the iPad in 2010.

Whether wearable tech interests you or not, I’m sure you can’t have missed seeing, reading or hearing about the Apple Watch this past week. It was the final (but, arguably, the most anticipated) of Apple’s three announcements on September 9 – the new iPhone 6, the Apple Pay contactless mobile payment system, and Apple Watch. Note that Apple Pay has no ‘i’ either.

While iPad created a new market – global sales of tablet computers including iPad grew from scratch in 2010 to over 195 million units in 2013 according to Gartner, just three years after iPad launched – the same isn’t really true with Apple Watch as there are quite a few smartwatches already on the market, with Samsung’s Galaxy Gear probably the name that you’re most familiar with.

While much of the reporting, commentary and opinion since September 9 has been on the technology of Apple Watch – especially its pros and cons versus what else is on the market – I’ve seen increasing views on the design and build quality of it.

And that’s what catches my attention most as when I first saw the Apple Watch on my computer screen during the live Apple event on September 9, my first reaction was seeing it as a desirable fashion brand more than simply the latest wearable tech.

I mean, just look at this picture of an 18-carat gold version (yes, there’s an 18-carat gold Apple Watch in two types of gold).

Apple Watch 18-carat Gold Edition

(Check the picture at the top of this page, too – it’s the watch the model is wearing, so see it in that context.)

It’s beautifully designed and looks the epitome of feminine elegance, class and minimalist style. It wouldn’t look out of place in the display cabinets of a Bond Street jeweller or among the luxury accessories you’d find in Harrods or Saks Fifth Avenue.

It would also look at home gracing the wrists of women on the cover of the likes of Vogue magazine.

If 18-carat gold isn’t your style, there are plenty of other choices: this masculine-looking stainless steel model with a Milanese Loop metal mesh bracelet, for example.

Apple Watch with Melanese Loop mesh strap

Smart-looking, to be sure. None of that clunky tech look that is the hallmark look of most other smartwatches (although there is a version like that, too).

Seeing the full array of Apple Watches reinforces the fashion aspect in my mind of what Apple is introducing when these devices go on sale in early 2015 at prices starting at $349 in the US (and perhaps $1,200 for the gold edition).

The Apple Watch portfolio embraces three collections (note that word) offering over 30 model variants in two different sizes together with different straps.

In Apple’s press release, there’s much talk of personalization, with CEO Tim Cook saying the Apple Watch is “the most personal product we’ve ever made.”

And Jony Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of design – and designer of the Apple Watch – offers this:

With Apple Watch, we’ve developed multiple technologies and an entirely new user interface specifically for a device that’s designed to be worn. It blurs the boundary between physical object and user interface. We’ve created an entire range of products that enable unparalleled personalization.

Such talk of personalization reflects a prescient post last year by Om Malik after the news broke that Apple had hired Angela Ahrendts, CEO of luxury British fashion house Burberry, to run Apple’s global retail operations, embracing the bricks-and-mortar Apples Stores together with online.

Annual revenue from Apple’s worldwide retail operations exceeded $20 billion in 2013.

In his post, Malik talks about wearable technology like smartwatches as “intimate computing,” two words that are most apt when looking at Apple’s offering nearly a year on from Malik’s post and thinking about the words of Tim Cook and Jony Ive.

Malik states:

This new intimate computing era means that Apple has to stop thinking like a computer company and more like a fashion accessory maker whose stock in trade is not just great design but aspirational experience. And it has to do that at price points that are not quite luxury, which is going to be the challenge. The fact that Cook brought in YSL’s Paul Deneve tells me that the company is already thinking about the intimate computing future.

I reckon Apple is thinking like a fashion company. Who should be paying most attention – Samsung and other traditional technology competitors? Or Swiss watch-makers and luxury brands?

Probably all of the above.

The Apple Watch could kick-start the wearables market, one that just looks like it’s waiting for a proverbial boot (as in re-boot) with products that combine the latest in high technology in a package that appeals strongly to emotional concepts like desire and status, and is, well, reassuringly expensive.

See also:

  • A Watch Guy’s Thoughts On The Apple Watch After Seeing It In The Metal (Tons Of Live Photos): “I’m not even sure we can call it a watch. Okay, it goes on the wrist, and it happens to tell the time, but that’s about where the similarities between Apple’s just announced watch and the hand-assembled, often painstakingly finished mechanical watches we write about, and obsess over, end…”
  • Advertisers, Meet Apple Watch: “Imagine you’re walking down the street and you’re served a location-based ad or coupon for Sephora on your shiny new iPhone 6. You enter the store, pick up a product and bring it over to the checkout counter. If you use Apple Watch (or your phone) to pay, then the loop is neatly closed…”
  • How Apple Is Invading Our Bodies, TIME magazine’s take: “The Silicon Valley giant has redrawn the line that separates our technology and ourselves. That may not be a good thing…”

How transparent is wearable technology within the enterprise?

Wearable tech in the business context

In July, I took part in a public debate at the House of Commons about ethics in PR and wearable technology.

Organized by The Debating Group and sponsored by the CIPR, the debate served a highly useful purpose of bringing a timely topic to front of mind amongst a community of communicators which considered the arguments supporting two different points of view (that there is an ethical issue for PR about wearables, or there isn’t) in a lively debate.

On September 30, the CIPR is planning a further debate on the topic, this time as part of Ethics Month, an initiative led by the PRSA in the US on the broader subject of ethics in public relations. I’ll be participating in that one as well. Information soon on the CIPR website.

So the outward-looking perspective about wearable technology is getting a lot of welcome attention, enabling communicators to give their attention to what I believe is a topic well worth debating right now.

But what about the inward-looking perspective – inside the enterprise? Isn’t that a facet complementing the outward look, a mirror reflection of the same topic, from different but complementary angles?

That’s what I hope to find out when I host a table discussion at Simply SMILE 2014 in London on September 25. Organized by Simply Communicate, this will be the fifth such SMILE conference (SMILE = Social Media In Large Enterprises) and it’s being held as part of Social Media Week London, a week-long event framework that is the foundation for ideas, trends, insights and inspiration to help people and businesses understand how to achieve more in a hyper-connected world.

I’ll be one of a dozen table-discussion leaders during the day, so you’ll have plenty to choose from to be part of something that matches your interest or curiosity.

Here’s the detail of how I see the discussion format:

How transparent is wearable technology within the enterprise?

A public debate has been taking place this year around the ethical implications of wearable technology – the mobile devices you wear on your person, ranging from the esoteric (such as Google Glass), to the quantified self (think of health monitoring and results-sharing via wristbands), to the practical (smartwatches that connect to business databases).

While the public debate has focused squarely on public concerns surrounding ethics, and very much surrounding potential PR and reputational issues, there’s another debate we ought to be having that flips the coin on the public focus and consider wearable technology from the inside perspective.

In this session, Neville Hobson will lead a discussion that considers the ethical concerns and potential issues over wearable technology in the workplace, from employee use of devices, employer oversight, privacy, and individual responsibilities – and considers how best to prepare for a sea change in communication and information-sharing as wearable technology enters the mainstream.

I hope you’ll come along and share your points of view. The SMILE conferences are terrific events, always with outstanding speakers and discussion groups – see the agenda for the September 25 event – so why not sign up now to be sure of your place.

See you there!

The long vision of SpecSavers versus the short-sightedness of Boots

If Satisfied...

I’ve always believed that it’s the little things that really matter when it comes to excellent customer service.

I’m talking about the types of thing that don’t require a huge effort by an employee of a company, or a conscious thought that an action is required because of customer engagement training or a policy about customer service. It’s more about the willingness and ability of the employee to know instinctively that what he or she does to address a customer need, request or concern will have an effect in some way on the relationship with that customer.

In sum, it’s all about an employee with confidence – in his or her abilities, knowledge of the company and its whole ethos – to make a positive difference in how the customer feels about that employee and the company he or she represents, and vice versa. It can have a positive impact that lasts for years.

I have a perfect example to share with you, two contrasting experiences of my own.

Boots

A week ago, I visited a Boots store, one of the large out-of-town stores, looking for a case for my sunglasses. I wanted a soft case not one of those hard shell-type cases. They seem to be very hard to find but I figured surely Boots must have such things. They do glasses, after all, although this particular store didn’t have an opticians department.

But sure enough, I found precisely what I was looking for in a pretty logical place – the section in the store with a big sign above it saying ‘Sunglasses.’ The items had no price tags I could see but I thought they’d tell me at the checkout how much they cost.

So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the checkout and the cashier said he couldn’t let me have a case unless I bought a pair of sunglasses. It turned out that the cases were promo items, giveaways with the sunglasses. I asked him if I could just buy a case. That wasn’t possible, he said, as there would be no price reference to the case when he scanned the barcode.

As I was buying a handful of other products on this visit, I asked the cashier if I could have the case anyway. I said it with a big smile, even if it was a bit cheeky. But he said no, he wasn’t allowed to do that.

I noticed he hesitated before he said that – and I’ll swear he really wanted to say yes.

But it was ‘No’ that I heard so I paid for the items I had and left the store. On my drive along the motorway, I mused on that experience, one that will remain with me when I think of Boots and the service offered by its employees. The store cashier was polite and friendly enough but unempowered and without confidence, it seemed clear to me. Maybe such behaviour might be a major improvement focus after Walgreens completes its £6 billion acquisition of Boots.

Maybe they’ll import some good old-fashioned American style of customer service! Mind you, that doesn’t look like perfection at Walgreens either.

SpecSavers

Wind forward to Friday and a visit to London with my wife. Walking along Cardinal Walk, Victoria, my wife spotted a SpecSavers store and said “I bet they have a case!” It wasn’t entirely a random suggestion as SpecSavers is where we both had eye tests and bought new glasses (including sunglasses) in July, although not at this specific store.

So we went in and I asked the young man who approached us if he had a soft case. And he did. He asked me if I was a SpecSavers’ customer; my reply, of course, was yes although not this particular store, to which his response was, “Here you are, with our compliments” referring to the case. And he included a soft lens cleaning cloth for good measure.

Now that’s what I call service! Especially that final gesture, adding the lens cloth. Nothing earth-moving in terms of galvanising resources, a cost implied or otherwise, or making a huge fuss. Just one empowered employee with lots of confidence, a natural ability to engage and a winning smile.

These are two different experiences in two different stores from these two different firms. Each firm suggests excellent customer service is what each offers in all its stores, as you’d expect them to do, even if the corporate structure of each firm is different: SpecSavers is more of a franchise model than Boots. So I’m not suggesting my experiences reflect what you might expect in every store at each company, all the time. This is people we’re talking about, after all.

What I am saying is that these were my experiences with Boots and SpecSavers last week and on Friday respectively, experiences that, believe me, will influence not only my own behaviour when it comes to visiting a pharmacy or an opticians in future, but also in what I may answer to anyone who asks me what I think of each firm.

Like I said earlier, it is the little things that really matter.

(Photo at top via Frank Gruber under Creative Commons License)