Bruised Apple: Buggy products and user censorship

The steady stream of problems with OS X Mavericks, iOS 7, Safari, and Retina MacBook Pros won't go away no matter how many forum comments Apple deletes

Apple share prices have been gyrating all week following the release of Q4 financials that showed iPhones up, iPads flat, and Macs down. Wall Street may be ambivalent about Apple profits, but users have a bigger beef: What's up with the parade of bugs hitting recent Apple products?

Of late, Apple users have experienced the torture of a steady drip of problems related to OS X Mavericks, an iOS 7 launch marred by multiple flaws, a new Safari version plagued by HTML5 defects, and new Haswell-powered Retina MacBook Pros that inexplicably freeze and hang up.

Ever since the death of Steve Jobs, Apple watchers have been quick to point out signs the company is in decline. Others mourn the loss of Apple's magic, but argue that innovation is still alive -- it just can't keep up with overhyped expectations. "What does it say about our odd modern age that an electronics company motivated primarily by profit could inspire a tribal fanaticism that most religions, sports teams, and politicians only dream of?" Lydia Depillis asks in New Republic. "And should we be so surprised when that brand fails to meet our expectations?" 

One of users' key expectations of Apple has been that it delivers products that work -- elegantly, out of the box, without pain, without compatibility or performance issues. Consistently meeting that expectation has justified the premium prices the company charges. So it's this recent spate of technical issues -- more than any angst over the lost magic of a Jobs-led launch event -- that spells trouble for Apple. Whether as a result of rushing products to market, or finding it harder to issue trouble-free updates across the ecosystem of laptops, tablets, and smartphones it has created, Apple must execute better or risk user disenchantment.

In addition to the spate of technology issues hitting Apple products is the troubling news that the company is suppressing discussion of these bugs on its support forums. InfoWorld's Serdar Yegulalp writes that Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons and friend to Aaron Swartz, "found himself being thrown into Apple's memory hole this week when he tried to draw attention to a way in which some Apple users could regain Wi-Fi functionality in the wake of iOS 7's problems." Lessig's post informing U.K. users of their warranty rights vanished from the forum, as did a subsequent re-post.

"When did it become inappropriate to inform people about legally protected rights related to technical issues?" Lessig declared in his blog. "Is talking about legal rights the new porn?"

ZDnet's Blue Violet writes:

Apple's policy to remove comments that lend legitimate help is little more than a display of censorship for the internet thought leader, who clearly understands that it is Apple's right to censor its forum users.

But it shows that Apple is well aware of the problem and the critical mass being reached over iOS 7's serious technical problems -- and is both refusing to help and actively removing solutions it simply doesn't like.

A parade of technical problems plus censorship of discussion could add up to a lot of user disillusionment -- and real trouble for Apple.

And in another heavy-handed move, Apple is telling app developers they cannot use the gold iPhone 5s in their ads, citing marketing guidelines which developers must agree to if they want to sell their apps in the only allowed venue: Apple's App Store. It seems that gold iPhones are reserved for Apple's own television and print advertising campaigns. The company also requires that developers' ads which show the iPhone 5c use only the blue or white models. It's hard to imagine a good reason for these color mandates, other than control-freakishness.

This story, "Bruised Apple: Buggy products and user censorship," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.