Ive never been a big fan of evaluating public apologies—which range from Harvey Weinstein’s one-of-the-worst-of-all-time, “I’m sort of sorry but I will sue you,” to one of the best, Andy Yeatman’s heartfelt everyman apology after being fired by Netflix for an off-guarded comment while coaching his daughter’s soccer match. Either you are genuinely sorry or you’re not. Parsing words to determine “degree of sorry” always seems like a fool’s errand.
And then comes Apple and its Johnny-come-lately apology for slowing down the speed of its iPhone 6 phones. Apple’s handling of its disclosure that certain older phones were “slowed down” to accommodate aging batteries has hardly been flawless, primarily because the king of tech forgot that customers are sophisticated and have bullhorns, too. But compared to the nightmarish stories that have plagued other Silicon Valley icons in recent months (see Uber and Facebook), Apple’s failure to disclose was overcome by an effective apology, which offered not only solace but a solution.
In truth, an overriding commitment to bring customers the best in technology has always been integral to Apple’s brand reputation. By failing to inform consumers that the batteries installed in older phones were deficient, Apple fell short of its own standards.
Yet Apple more than made up for its failure to disclose, starting with a battery replacement program that will save iPhone 6 users $50 and last for an entire year. Apple also unveiled a new software update program that enables iPhone users to monitor the health of their batteries. Ultimately, leadership won out—and job well done. If you want to judge an apology, look at the level of sacrifice. Saying your sorry is easy. Meaning it at a cost is integrity.
But to me, the bigger issue than the wording of the apology is the conversion of Apple and other Silicon Valley firms from gods to mere mortals, increasingly perceived as the robber barons of our new Gilded Age. A few years ago, few would have parsed Apple’s apology (see the failure to disclose Steve Jobs’ illness, Foxconn, and even Antennagate, where Steve Jobs’ initial blame-the-customer response was quickly forgotten).
Apple—as are all tech companies now—is increasingly seen as much a potential force for evil as it is for good. Tech companies, and particularly the FAANG, must embrace the fact that they are no longer given a pass or perceived by Google’s old motto, “Don’t do evil,” but more like Samyaza, the fallen angel. With each trespass, winning trust will take ever-greater humility.