Apple chief executive Tim Cook called the introduction of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus over the weekend the “best launch ever.” He may have spoken too soon.
Just three days after announcing that Apple had sold a record 10 million new iPhones during the opening weekend, Cook was faced with multiple snafus related to the bigger-screen handsets. The company pulled a new mobile-software update, it called iOS 8.0.1, after the program caused some people to lose cellular service Wednesday, and promised a fix soon. Scores of consumers also took to social media to criticize the 6 Plus and how it can bend if sat on or if enough pressure is placed on it.
The stumbles blemished what had been a carefully choreographed product unveiling that was meant to put Cook’s stamp on Apple. Executives at the Cupertino, California-based company had for months teased the introduction of the new iPhones before finally debuting them on Sept. 9. The devices had spurred a frenzy of demand, with preorders topping 4 million, the record weekend sales and a thriving gray market for the smartphones in China and elsewhere.
Now Cook’s rollout of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is marred, recalling incidents that the CEO has faced with other product debuts. Last year, Cook apologized for the iPhone’s warranty and repair policies in China after receiving criticism from state-run media over customer service in the market. In 2012, Cook also said he was sorry for Apple’s malfunctioning mapping software, which was faulted for misguided directions and inaccurate landmark locations.
“I just wish that Tim Cook had a better handle on things,” said Jason Nochimson, 34, an iPhone 6 owner who spent 2½ hours on Apple’s customer support line after downloading the software upgrade Wednesday and finding it stopped his cellular service. “I was worried that my daughter’s school was going to call me today, and I wasn’t going to be able to get them.”
Apple said in an emailed statement that it has devised a workaround for iPhone 6 users who lost voice service or other features. Users can reinstall the previous version of iOS to restore past functionality, and Apple plans to release a new version of the operating system, iOS 8.0.2, in the next few days.
“We apologize for the great inconvenience experienced by users,” Apple said in the statement.
The new iPhones are crucial to Apple. The devices generate more than half of the company’s annual $171 billion in revenue and precede a swath of other products, including new iPads, an Apple Watch and a mobile-payments system called Apple Pay.
Yet while Cook deals with consumer criticism over his handling of the iPhone rollout, the issues may have little impact on Apple’s sales. Demand for the new handsets has the company poised to sell more than 61 million iPhones in the December quarter, surpassing last year’s record 51 million sold, according to Barclays.
Sales are also set to pick up -- not decelerate -- as the new iPhones become available in more countries. On Sept. 19, the first day the handsets went on sale in stores, Apple rolled them out in 10 countries. The company is set to introduce the gadgets in another 22 countries on Sept. 26. In total, the iPhones will be in 115 countries by the end of the year, Apple has said.
“It will do nothing, I don’t suspect it will dampen any demand,” said Tim Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies Inc., about concerns over bending phones and iOS problems.
Apple shares were down 3.5 percent to around $98.25 in midmorning trading on Wall Street. Shares closed $101.75 Wednesday. The stock is up 27 percent this year.
Still, some consumers are thinking twice about buying the devices in the wake of the snafus. After having problems with Apple’s new software upgrade to his old iPhone, James Zahrt, a customer since 1989, decided to put off a new smartphone purchase.
“I was going to order one immediately” but now “I’m going to wait,” said Zahrt, 58, of Mount Prospect, Illinois, who’s had troubles with his iPhone 4s’s alarm clock working properly since downloading Apple’s iOS 8 software last week. “I think the bugs need to be worked out on this thing.”
The popularity tide turned against the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus earlier this week when reports began emerging that the 5.5-inch screen larger model was bending when people sat on it. Rivals including BlackBerry Inc. chief executive John Chen took a jab at the iPhone Wednesday, saying he “would challenge you guys to bend our Passport” device.
That was followed by reports from users that the iOS 8 software upgrade, which had been issued to address previous software bugs and add the health and fitness-monitoring application HealthKit, was causing some customers to experience dropped cell service.
Nochimson, the customer who spent 2½ hours on the phone with Apple customer service Wednesday, said his representative was unaware there would be a software update.
“He told me that he was not made aware that Apple was releasing 8.0.1 today,” Nochimson said. “It was a shock to him that that happened. He said typically when they do software updates they know about it days in advance so they’re ready for it.”
Frustrations with iOS 8 had been mounting with users complaining that their devices’ battery life seemed to have dwindled after downloading the software, along with data showing applications were more likely to crash with the operating system. According to Crittercism Inc., an analytics firm, iOS 8 causes apps to crash about 3.3 percent of the time, or 67 percent more than last year’s version.
While glitches aren’t unusual for software updates, Apple attracts more attention, said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research.
“Apple is a bit of lightning rod or a focus because as a company, they inspire a lot of positive and negative passion and also because they are now this company with a global brand and global reach,” he said.