In a current Apple (AAPL) Mac malware scam, a fake antivirus program tries to scare people into paying to rid their machines of a virus. But the business problem is not whether Macs can get infected with malware -- any computer can. Instead, Apple addressed the issue in its typical form: ignore something inconvenient until it goes away -- or until the problem is so large it can't be swept under the carpet anymore.
Although Apple internally accepts the existence of mistakes so it can correct them, the company is intolerant of public gaffes. Occasionally, sure, Steve Jobs blows a gasket, and the stories sometimes leak out. More often, though, Apple says nothing and even sometimes goes out of its way to bury any public discussion of issues with its products.
That may have worked when customers were devoted fans willing to forgive anything. But as the company expands rapidly beyond its traditional base, Apple's don't-tell-us-we'll-tell-you attitude toward bugs, product flaws and other issues is likely cutting its potential sales and promoting Google (GOOG) Android, its main market rival for a hardware-software-content ecosystem.
Malware? What malware?
The current malware attack and Apple's say-nothing response have received significant attention in the press, even as the Mac faithful gather to dismiss criticism:
- Ed Bott at our sister site ZDNet wrote about a serious Mac malware outbreak.
- Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber dismissed the report as a case of crying wolf.
- Bott snagged an interview with an AppleCare support rep and noted activity on Apple's own discussion boards, both of which suggested that there was a real problem.
- Finally, Bott posted yesterday about an Apple memo forbidding AppleCare support personnel from trying to remove malware.
Our fingers are in our ears and we can't hear you
Apple has long played up the notion of the Mac's invulnerability. Even if you think that blame lies with rabid Apple fans, the company has done nothing to discourage the view. And now it employs the the classic Jobs Patented Reality Distortion Field response: Redefine the world as you want it.
Sometimes Apple ignores what it's "supposed" to do with great effectiveness: look at the Apple Stores and the iPad. But too often, the company has tried to ignore and even cover up its errors:
- iPhone 4 antenna problems
- labor problems in China
- suppressing news of overheating products
- ignoring false product moisture indicator triggers and refusing warranty service
You could argue that it doesn't really matter, since Apple keeps growing anyway. Yet Android has already blown past the iPhone in market share. And even though Apple loyalists dismiss the chance of Google catching up in the tablet world, that's exactly what they used to say about Android's chances in smartphones.
Has Android pulled ahead because it's that much better or cheaper than Apple's products? Clearly not. But Apple has increasingly put its foot into heaping piles of crud. Consumers are unforgiving, and the shift we see in the market is at least in part a result.
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