Here’s the news: Mark Papermaster, the engineer Apple fought so hard to pry away from IBM, is out at Apple. Papermaster led the team responsible for the iPhone 4. And, to be blunt, the iPhone 4 has had some issues.
Papermaster, however, may not be the problem. The iPhone 4 may not even be the problem. The real problem: can Apple still afford to take the risk of introducing just one new phone a year?
For the past several years, of course, Apple has simply pushed last year’s model down in price as it introduced newer models. That kept the focus on Apple’s newest handset. And it’s been a good plan, obviously. In just three years Apple’s iPhone has redefined the smart phone market.
Yet the iPhone 4 is a good example of what can go bad, largely because you can’t argue the iPhone 4 is that bad itself. It’s just a little… jinxed. To recap: an early model of the phone got into the hands of a tech blog; Apple has struggled to produce a white version of the phone it promised customers; the first demo of the new phone was plagued with glitches; and then there’s an issue with the antenna.
Yet even that might only be getting the attention it does because the iPhone 4 is, presumably, the only phone Apple will introduce this year. It appears that if you hold the phone in a certain way, you may experience a loss of signal thanks to the phone’s external antenna.
The Ford Pinto, this ain’t. Consumer Reports may be withholding its valuable “recommended” label, but it still gives the iPhone 4 the highest rating in the smart phone category. On top of all that, the new iPhone is selling well.
So, if this were one of two or three new models Apple introduced this year, would we be talking about it? Clearly Apple Chief Steve Jobs wants the spotlight to shine brightly on Apple’s newest handset, and he wants to cram that new handset with first-of-its-kind features.
The downside is that if the new phone isn’t flawless, it will get talked about. That’s okay when you’re introducing an edgy new product — such as the ill-fated Apple Cube — into an already strong lineup of computers. And Apple has shown it’s a risk worth taking when launching an entirely new category of gadgets, such as the iPod or the iPad.
At some point, however, Apple’s handset business might be so big that it causes Apple to take fewer risks with its new handsets. That would be a shame. Another option: they could introduce new models, tailored for different kinds of users. They did that with the iPod, and it’s worked out well.
So will Apple do that? And if so, when should Apple do it? Will we see Apple roll out a fresh variation on the iPhone when — and if — it starts selling its handset through Verizon? What do you think?