iPhone 4 Flaw: Was It Design Or A Supply Chain Issue, Too?

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There are clearly more questions than answers right now about what's caused Apple's iPhone 4 design faux pas. With a company that size and with the command & control that comes with it, that's not surprising. I mean, these guys just KNOW how to manage a message.

BrokenChain(BTW, in case you've been living under a rock over the past couple o' weeks, Apple released their latest iPhone to much fanfare. With a design flaw in the antenna that causes its reception to seriously degrade if the user holds it on its sides. It's so noticeable that Consumer Reports recommended that we not buy it. Apple found out that if users put a bumper cover on the phone, it would fix the problem. Now, the issue for Apple is how to make it right - buy everyone a bumper cover, recall the phones or fix 'em at their stores.)

So far, the vast amount of press and reports point to poor design. As you may know, Apple's design takes place in the US, while its production takes place in China. Apple's primary Chinese supplier - Foxconn - is having its own problems around reputation and costs right now.

So here's my point - if Apple's controlling the message, and the story from them is it's a design issue (that it's speculated Apple design engineers were aware of a year ago), and the company's R&D and design arms are so far separated from its production, is anyone surprised about this? Really? What does this say for user testing - at a company with the highest reputation for user experience, didn't anyone think to look at the reception? Of a CELL PHONE? When held in the palm of the HAND?

Much has been written lately about backshoring work to the U.S. Many of its advocates point to several factors that contribute to unforeseen higher costs of offshoring production - among those factors are intellectual property risks, long lead times, rising labor costs and ... wait for it ... QUALITY CONTROL ISSUES.

By separating its design and production processes, isn't it possible that Apple pulled a Toyota here? A VERY large and VERY successful company that began pushing product to satisfy its own sets of internal standards ends up overlooking basic quality issues? Has Apple's supplier become distressed to the point of distraction? How is it that a supplier - a PARTNER - didn't turn on or test the phone themselves?

Like I said, there are more questions right now than answers. But here's something to look for - if Apple decides to be transparent about what caused this, we're likely to find that this wasn't just poor design.

Apple's supply chain failed.

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