Steve Jobs is finally doing the right thing. Fortunately, he didn't take as long as Toyota.
You know, I used to report on the auto industry from Detroit in the darkest days of the 1980s. The Japanese companies had good reputations for quality, Detroit had a deservedly bad rep.
The stupid thing was that the American automakers always denied any flaws in their vehicles, even as the government forced them into recalls over those imaginary glitches, from bad bumpers to mechanical glitches. The Japanese were smarter. They immediately and voluntarily recalled any vehicle alleged to have a design flaw. Guess which team was considered more trustworthy?
You see where I'm going with this.
A few decades later, Toyota president Akio Toyoda forgot that lesson when allegations arose of faulty brakes in some models. Questions of faulty brakes first arose in 2006. First the company denied the problem. Then it blamed the drivers, then floor mats, then a software glitch. It finally recalled cars for repairs early this year.
Steve Jobs started down the same path when alleged problems with the antenna in the iPhone 4 arose. First Apple denied the problem, then blamed customers for holding the phone wrong, then blamed a software glitch that made the phone claim there was better reception than you thought (without explaining why that glitch went away when you held the phone.) For a while, it looked like Jobs had his head up his muffler, and told customers to just buy a new $30 rubber bumper if they're so worried.
Today he got it (mostly) right: Free bumpers and a refund to customers who had already bought the casings. Apple is at last offering customers a fix, even if it doesn't solve the core problem.
Still, he denies there is a problem, despite claims that an engineer allegedly told him the antenna design could cause problems in the early design phase of iPhone 4.
Maybe the problem is blown out of proportion by the press (although Consumer Reports doesn't think so.) Either way, this isn't the way to handle this kind of problem.
The right way is to do extensive testing immediately, quit the denials, and do something, even if it means recalling the phones (or cars) and doing whatever fix you can come up with.
As Toyoda has learned, it's better in the long run. Nobody wants to think they're being cheated by an uncaring company. Bite the bullet, take a revenue hit, and get past it. Customers deserve respect. Even if the issue is overblown.