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Apple, Can We Talk?

Rob Pegoraro
Contributing Editor
Yahoo Tech
Apple logo

(Rob Pegoraro/Yahoo Tech)

It’s been a quiet week for Apple, to judge by the company’s public statements. A press release noted the record number of iPhone sales on the weekend the 6 and 6 Plus debuted, CEO Tim Cook tweeted his support for action on climate change. And Apple’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts were silent. Because they don’t exist. And that’s about it for the news out of Cupertino.

Except, of course, it wasn’t: The tech headlines have been overloaded with posts about Apple shipping a buggy iOS update that could disable the phone part of an iPhone 6, a few iPhone 6 Plus owners complaining that their phones bent in their pockets, and whether a newly found bug in a basic component of Unix could affect Apple’s Unix-based OS X.

Apple’s PR people were busy dealing with those stories by talking to journalists one on one. But if you, a customer, wanted to hear directly from the company, making an appointment with the Genius Bar would be as close as you could get.

This is not a new Apple feature. The company has taken a few steps toward a more open existence some six years after I noted what I called “the opaque side of Apple,” but in most ways it remains the most strangely silent shop in the business.

Minimal social media
Consult any social-media best-practices list, and Apple will break just about every rule and recommendation on it. 

Apple’s Twitter presence is limited to some accounts that promote such Apple products as the App Store and iTunes Music, plus a few senior executives who have been remarkably consistent about not replying to tweets sent their way. There’s no official Facebook page for the company, either, although such individual products as iTunes have marketing outputs on the social network.

On Apple’s own site, there’s no official blog to follow for updates, just a “hot news” page that essentially duplicates the sparse content of the press-release index. And its tech-support forums are there for you to hear from other Apple users, not from Apple staffers. 

Yes, Apple is one of the most profitable corporations in America. But does this not look like a crazy way to talk with your customers? 

Consider how the past week’s Apple storylines have played out. Once again, the company has started out by providing a statement to one news outlet and then letting everybody else cite that report — which requires journalists to quote other journalists and leads to such weird phrasings as “Apple reportedly told iMore.”

If you’re the media outlet that got the quote, that’s great for you. But if you’re an individual Apple user and you don’t start your day by scanning the headlines at various tech-news sites, the company’s public silence leads to confusion and wasted time.

In most other industries, interacting with customers — at least providing information to them when necessary — is a part of what they call customer service

Signs of change?
It’s not that Apple is genetically incapable of opening itself up to its paying customers. 

Just this summer, for example, it invited users to try a beta version of the upcoming Yosemite release of OS X — something it had not done since the original OS X Public Beta made its appearance in September 2000. Good call: Inviting people to play with unreleased software on a variety of machines increases the odds of finding bugs that might have escaped internal testing.

And while the release notes that accompany Apple’s software updates can be marvels of obscurity (wow, “stability and performance improvements” again!), the separately posted notes about the security content of each update describe each vulnerability fixed and credit whomever brought it to Apple’s attention.

The people who find those flaws also don’t hit the same brick wall as before. “It used to be they were very unresponsive to security researchers, or would even route responses through PR,” said Rich Mogull, CEO of the security-research firm Securosis. “Now they have some top-notch security people there who can engage directly with researchers on technical issues.”

Finally, if you’ve got concerns about what human and natural resources went into the gadget you just bought, Apple provides a level of information far beyond what you can read on the average “corporate social responsibility” page. Want to know how the sleep-mode power draw of a 13-inch MacBook Air differs between the 2012 and 2014 models? Just look it up.

But if you want to know if you should worry about the software patch Apple just offered for your phone — or if you should be anxiously awaiting a patch for your laptop — Apple will often leave you with secondhand reports. This choosy distribution of information may help Apple’s PR strategy, and it may leave money on the table for tech-news sites that are first to fill an open info-void. But it’s not much help to the people who spend their money on Apple’s products.  

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.