REUTERS/Rick WilkingTim Cook must be furious.
The word "outraged" — not a term normally seen in an Apple press release — was notable for its presence in the company's statement on the iCloud naked-celebrity photo hack.
The launch of Apple's iPhone 6, set for Tuesday, is now less than a week away.
It's Apple's most important event of the year — the entire company depends on the success of the three new products Cook is going to unveil there (two iPhone 6 models and a smartwatch).
Instead of quiet excitement, Apple is in disarray because hackers have been successfully trawling iCloud for photos of naked celebrities.
Instead of savoring the first all-new product from Apple since the death of company founder Steve Jobs, Cook is watching his brand take a beating.
Instead of putting the finishing touches on his script for the big media even next week, Cook has found himself dealing with a crisis:
- Tuesday night, Apple's iOS App Store, iTunes store, and iBookstore were offline for nearly six straight hours. Those products work with iCloud, but it is not clear whether the outage was linked to Apple's efforts to fix iCloud security.
- That came after Apple said it was "outraged" that iCloud had been hacked and confirmed it was working with the FBI to trace the hackers.
- Apple was also forced to fix the Find My iPhone app to prevent "brute-force" attacks that let hackers guess your iCloud password.
- Apple has barred developers using its Health app and HealthKit platform from storing data in iCloud.
- iCloud's brand has been completely sullied by the hack, and Apple is no doubt racing to bring new antihacking solutions to the security it asks users to pass.
Trust is a huge part of the Apple brand.
People use Apple because its products "just work" and because hackers and malware tend to operate on Windows and Android systems, not Apple's OS and iOS platforms. Cook actually mentioned this specifically at Apple's previous major product event, WWDC.
Now, Cook is in danger of seeing that trust slip away. He was just about to ask consumers to place even more faith in iCloud, which will sit at the center of ambitious plans to extend Apple's mobile payments capabilities (through NFC and Touch ID), its online e-commerce strategy (through iTunes, the App Store, and Beats), through improvements to its Mac operating system (OS X Yosemite will have an iCloud Drive storage system), and through Handoff, a new system that lets you switch your work between your Mac and an iPad seamlessly.
Instead of the tech media being filled with stories about how exciting this is all going to be, blogs are running "how-to" guides for people who want to switch off iCloud.
Cook can fix this, of course.
Two-step verification for password usage will most likely be introduced to all Apple products, and Touch ID's fingerprint technology will most likely go a long way to reassuring users that only they have access to their own stuff in the cloud.
But it will take time.
Cook doesn't have that time. He's got to walk on stage on Tuesday and either not make any mention of iCloud — which would itself be news — or mention iCloud in a way that reassures Apple customers that it's not a total disaster area.
Cook seems suited for the job. He radiates calm and reassurance. He's not a polarizing jerk. (Steve Jobs and his famous temper would be as likely to make things worse as make them better.)
In the long run, Apple will figure this out. This is not directly Apple's fault after all — the hackers are the culprits, not the technology. The Apple ecosystem is so good at locking in customers that even those people whose iCloud storage consists entirely of naked selfies will think twice about ditching their iPhones. Apple will be fine — it's a glitch in an underlying business that is ludicrously healthy.
But in the short term, it's about as bad as it can possibly be.
It will be an incredible high-wire act. Let's hope he pulls it off.
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