Apple puts a lot of effort into being opaque, especially lately. Recent software updates, such as iPhone 2.0.2, provide only "Bug fixes" as their release notes, and problems with the MobileMe launch and extended email problems were either not acknowledged or done so halfheartedly. (See "Comparing Apple's MobileMe Contrition with Google and Netflix," 2008-08-19.)
Perhaps that's why it's so surprising that a helpful back-channel of communication has emerged, one which provides straight answers that Apple's spokespersons can't offer: Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
A TidBITS reader shared with us that she received a personal email reply from Jobs concerning an iPhone issue that some people are facing. After updating to the iPhone 2.0 software and iTunes 7.7.1, she was unable to load any third-party applications, and iTunes showed the iPhone's memory as being empty. Subsequent iPhone updates haven't resolved the issue. (For more customer reaction to the problem, see this Apple Support Discussion thread.)
Jobs's single sentence reply to her email is direct and helpful, acknowledging the problem and providing a time frame for its resolution: "This is a known iPhone bug that is being fixed in the next software update in September." (We've seen email from Jobs before, and this telegraphic, direct style is his trademark. In January 2007, a reader shared a response from Jobs after the reader complained via email to the CEO about the odd $5 charge for a Draft N enabler to turn on a hidden Wi-Fi capability in many Mac models: "It's the law.")
Jobs clearly isn't bound by the secrecy he has imposed upon his employees, and, frankly, it's refreshing - not necessarily because a customer can email firstname.lastname@example.org and receive a reply, but because the reply is substantive. If he were to follow the current Apple modus operandi, Jobs could have replied with the type of non-reassuring fluff that comes from most companies: "Thank you for your email. Apple works hard to make its products the best they can be..." Blah blah blah.
We hope Jobs will foster a more open level of communication at Apple. We understand the need for secrecy to protect unannounced products, but the company's recent stonewalling is counterproductive. Instead of projecting the image that no news is good news, the stubborn silence from Cupertino makes Apple's customers and those of us who follow it start to wonder just how bad things are behind the curtain.