Apple's iBrick Episode Should Be A Corporate Branding Disaster

| About: Apple Inc. (AAPL)
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It seems that it's possible to downgrade a bricked iPhone and get it back into its pre-bricked state, complete with third-party apps and everything. But really. Is this whole cat-and-mouse game really necessary? The geeks, the early adopters, the people who make incredibly enthusiastic videos and post them prominently on – is it really necessary to piss them all off like this? It might be true, as Jack Schofield says, that there are no user groups for Maytags and that Steve Jobs wants his products to be just that simple. But the worst that happens if you fiddle around with your Maytag is that you break it yourself: Maytag themselves aren't going to try their very best to break it for you if they find out.

Steve Waldman makes an excellent point:

Suppose, accurately, that I am a small software developer. Suppose I write a shareware application that includes a click-through license that states, ordinarily enough, that if you wish to use my application for longer than a 15-day trial, you must pay me. Suppose, ordinarily enough, my application periodically checks for updates, notifying users and offering to install the updates when they become available.
Now suppose that in the click-through installation process, I include a warning, in bold text even, that says "Warning: If you've been using this application for longer than the 15-day trial period and have not entered a license key, installing this update may cause your hard drive to be erased!" And, suppose the update does just that.
I would be in jail. Not in a month, or a week, but yesterday.

One of the weird things about the whole iBrick fiasco is that Apple has historically been quite good at turning a blind eye to the kind of things that the most enthusiastic and sophisticated parts of its customer base get up to. Its latest strategy seems to have lots of downside and negligible upside, so why are they doing it?

Apple is great at mocking Microsoft for selling crippleware: if you buy Windows Vista, there's a good chance you'll end up buying one of the cheaper versions which has been deliberately crippled by Redmond. But now Apple is going down the same road, and deliberately crippling the palmtop computers that it has sold well over a million of in the past few months.

Lord knows I don't always agree with Fred Wilson on matters iPhone-related. But he's right about this. The 1.1.1 update might have been great news from a billing point of view for those of us who aren't at the bleeding edge of technology. But from a corporate-branding perspective, it's a disaster – or at least it should be.

But here's the thing: Jack Flack says that this kind of anti-consumer behavior on Apple's part "never seems to dent Apple's groovy reputation, at least with anyone other than the truest of geeks". I'm half convinced. Thirty seconds playing with Google Maps on my iPhone convinced a technophobic English friend of mine this evening that he simply had to have one as soon as possible. Apple's design nous has always been its strongest selling point, the iPhone's user interface is its design, and so it makes sense for Apple to want to have complete control over that user interface.

But on the other hand, Apple has never been quite this unabashedly vindictive and vicious in the past. Maybe it's taking hints from AT&T.