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Famous Flubs in Apple History

Rob Pegoraro
Contributing Editor
Yahoo Tech
Bent iPhone 6 Plus

(CBS)

Apple hasn’t been having its best week ever. There are iPhone 6 Plus users griping about the device’s unwanted flexibility. And then there’s the iOS update that can turn your iPhone into an iPod Touch. Of course, any tech company can ship a gadget with undiscovered flaws or botch a software release, but when Apple flubs one, it goes nuclear.

We know, because we’ve seen this story before. Several times.

Remember how each of these issues had people swearing they’d never buy from Apple again?

• iPod batteries: In late 2003, filmmakers Casey and Van Neistat posted a video, “iPod’s Dirty Secret,” complaining that they couldn’t get Apple to replace an iPod battery that had died after only 18 months. Apple soon launched a $99 option under which you’d get your iPod’s dead battery replaced by having Apple send you a replacement iPod. Which nobody I knew opted for, since the iPod’s rapid evolution made rocking out with a 2-year-old model so unpalatable. 

• iPhone price drop: Only two months after the original iPhone went on sale in 2007 at the briefly-seen-as-crazy price of $599, Apple cut the price to $399. Early adopters were unamused; after a brief outcry, the company mollified them with $100 of store credit and then went on to sell more than half a billion additional iPhones. What did you expect? That the aggrieved users would buy BlackBerry devices in protest?

• MobileMe meltdown: When Apple turned the free Mac.com service (formerly iTools) into the $99 MobileMe in 2008, it forgot that a paid cloud service should be more reliable than a free one, not less. But MobileMe’s sync feature was a disaster, stripping out parts of contacts and events or not displaying them at all. After years of users flocking to Google’s free and reliable services, Apple gave up on charging for MobileMe and turned it into iCloud. More about that in a minute.

• Antennagate: Days after the iPhone 4’s debut in 2010, users began complaining that left-handed use of the phone could result in its signal dropping to zero. After weeks of an intensifying media freakout, Apple said it would provide free “bumper” cases and let iPhone buyers return the devices for full credit within 30 days of purchase. And those who didn’t spent the next two years unable to make phone calls … wait, that didn’t happen. 

• Outsourced manufacturing: After years of stories about dangerous conditions in the Chinese factories that build Apple’s gadgets and only incremental improvements to Apple’s oversight of them, in January 2012 This American Life put a spotlight on the Apple contract-manufacturer Foxconn. The resulting outcry quickly led to Apple agreeing to independent audits of its outsourced factories. (TAL then retracted the entire episode after learning that playwright Mike Daisey had lied about some of his reports from China.) By the end of the year, The New York Times found that Apple had made genuine progress.

• Apple Maps: A second attempt by Apple to challenge Google’s supremacy in Web services ran off the road when its homegrown mapping application launched in 2012 with laughably inaccurate directions — for instance, it suggested I get to Dulles International Airport by hiking across multiple runways and taxiways. CEO Tim Cook apologized and suggested to users that they consider third-party apps, Google soon shipped an iOS version of its Maps app that remains better than Apple’s — and Apple went on to sell its 500 millionth iPhone this spring.

• iCloud hack: Apple’s sometimes-apathetic approach to online security led to some celebrities having their iCloud accounts hacked through fairly basic social engineering, and then having nude selfies taken from their iCloud backups and posted online. Apple has since made belated upgrades to iCloud’s security; people have continued to take pictures with their iPhones; and the sale of the 600 millionth iPhone gets a little closer every day. 

Meanwhile, Apple has continued to play elaborate financial games to minimize its tax burden (in 2011 alone, these tactics cut an estimated $2.4 billion from this massively profitable company’s tax), and nobody seems too outraged. That may be because tax avoidance isn’t something that hits a customer as directly as, say, an inoperative iPhone. But it may also be because, in this particular case, Apple’s transgression is hardly unique.

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