By Tim Hayes []

Playing word association, I think it’s fair to assume that one would be shocked if, in response to the term “Apple,” the response came back, “Alfred E. Newman.”

You know, the grinning, gap-toothed goober from Mad magazine, whose catch phrase is, “What, me worry?”  Yet somehow, almost inexplicably, that’s the stance being taken by Apple in the nasty backwash from its iPhone 4 rollout.

In the interest of transparency, let me say that I have never owned an iPhone.  I’ve seen them, I know they’re cool, and I am as guilty as anyone of some unresolved iPhone envy.  But I also know you’re supposed to be able to use the doggone thing to place phone calls, and that’s where the trouble seems to be starting with the latest iteration.

From what I’ve read, the iPhone 4’s antenna can drop calls if the user holds it in the wrong spot or if some other techie-type variable gets violated.  Okay, so what’s the big deal?  New tech products often have bugs that can’t be evaluated until regular users get a hold of them.  Just ask Microsoft after any of its new operating system launches, right?  If there’s a hardware or software problem, the manufacturer should acknowledge it, figure out how to fix it, then help consumers access that resolution.

Yet Apple has been alarmingly reluctant to admit it may have made a mistake here.  Could it be that things have been going so swimmingly for so long, and that the company has been reveling in its glory to such a degree, that it can’t even accept the notion that it may have screwed up?

Self-admiration and self-esteem can morph into self-delusion and self-destruction if you’re not careful.  Nobody’s saying Apple is close to crossing that line.  Not yet, anyway.  But the line is there, and it can be crossed, and Apple may be edging toward it.

Want proof?  How about the company’s apparent decision to delete discussion threads from its message boards regarding the results of a Consumer Reports article detailing the iPhone 4’s failures to hold phone call connections.  A communications strategy of, “If we don’t let people talk about bad stuff, they’ll stop doing so,” is nonsensical, irrational, and insulting – especially to the tech-savvy purchasers and longtime admirers of Apple products.

The tech blog “Appolicious Advisor” had this to say about the situation:  “Apple’s products have reached beyond the fanboys who tolerate the company’s flaws and into the mainstream, where grandparents and in-laws are mad because when they finally buy a smartphone, they expect the phone portion to work properly. Apple needs to address this problem head on, not blame software oddities. And the sooner it does so, the sooner it can move away from what has become a legitimate crisis for the company.”

Come on, Apple.  You’re smarter than this.  Yes, you sold a device that has flaws.  Guess what, you’re human after all.  So what?  By not owning up to the mistake, you’re throwing mud all over your good name.  Be honest, take your lumps, fix the problem, and move on.  Denying it only delays the inevitable.  You have enough goodwill stored up to ride this out, but there’s a limited supply.

What, you worry?  Yeah, Apple.  But get beyond worrying.  Act like a grown up and do the right thing.  Honest humility is just as attractive as earned swagger, but there’s a time and place for each.  After all, a phone can be fixed quickly.  A reputation takes a lot longer.

Copyright 2010 Tim Hayes Consulting