Apple’s iPhone Battery Problem: Bad News Travel Faster

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What’s the buzz on Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL)? Right now it’s negative, and that is the result of the battery issue that surfaced last month.

Some iPhone owners had noticed that older devices were running more slowly than before. It turns out that without any prior announcement, Apple had released power management smoothing code last year to address a battery problem on iPhone 6, 6s and SE.

It seems that older iPhones with old batteries may not be able to deliver the device’s power demands under certain conditions. The Apple code fix slowed down the iPhone’s processor to protect the device from the effects of an unexpected shutdown. This led to some claims that Apple was deliberately throttling the performance in iPhone 6s and 7 in order to drum up sales for the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X.

The incident was widely reported and media researchers at Morning Consult reported Thursday that negative buzz on Apple reached a high of 24% on January 1. The firm defines buzz as “whether poll respondents have heard either something positive or negative about a brand.”

Apple’s total buzz — that is, both good and bad buzz — reached an all-time high of 64% on Wednesday. The previous high was 62% on the day the iPhone X launched.

The negative reaction to “Batterygate” came not so much from the problem itself as from the way Apple handled it. Morning Consult cited a professor of communications at American University, Scott Talan, who said:

Their brand, and even the look of their website, is clear, simple and honest. The way they handled this was not on brand of clear, simple and honest; it was secretive and confusing.

Talan also noted that the high level of negative buzz in this case may reflect how high consumers’ expectations are for Apple:

Apple is Goliath. It would take a lot of cuts and knocks and injuries for them to really suffer, but they should learn from this. If you’re just upfront and honest sooner, it’s going to suit your purposes, even if there’s some initial discomfort.

Apple has offered to replace the batteries in certain older iPhones for $29, a discount of $50 from the usual price. If even a small percentage of the estimated 519 million affected iPhone owners take advantage of the company’s offer, Apple could lose the sale of 16 million new iPhones, according to an analyst from Barclays.