Don't read too much into Steve Jobs' e-mails (updated)
Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs has allegedly answered yet another customer's e-mail with a terse reply, and this time the bespectacled corporate founder supposedly ended the exchange with some pithy advice on life itself:
Retire, relax, enjoy your family. It is just a phone. Not worth it.
On one hand, possibly defective products are serious business. Some iPhone 4 owners have filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple and AT&T over this reception issue. (Earlier in the reported exchange, Jobs reassured the customer: "Stay tuned. We are working on it.")
On the other hand, you don't see the same level of righteous indignation when it comes to other potentially buggy devices. A certain subset of the iPhone-using population seems to have determined that Apple's device is The. Best. Smartphone. Ever. And that may make the discovery of any flaw in it an agonizing, infuriating experience.
Jobs, in his own way, apparently was trying to let some air out of that overheated mindset with his "relax" comment. It is, after all, true: Sometimes a phone is just a phone, even if you waited hours in line to buy it.
Note all the weasel-worded adverbs in the above paragraphs? I can't prove Jobs wrote any of those lines, or any of the other messages supposedly sent by him -- many reproduced, with screenshots, on the "Emails from Steve Jobs" site.
And in this case, Jobs did not write that "It is just a phone" bit. BGR attributed it to the wrong person -- the customer, in a final bout of indignation, was suggesting that Jobs retire and relax. The site corrected its post this afternoon.
(To thicken the plot further, the Mac-news site AppleInsider reported that this individual, named as Richmond advertising executive Jason Burford, had offered his story for sale in an e-mail. Burford did not want to talk on the record about that when I called him this afternoon.)
Jobs could avoid this messiness by using a more public medium for his curt communications -- Twitter comes to mind -- but that doesn't seem to have crossed his mind.
I e-mailed Jobs myself for comment, but I'm not exactly checking my e-mail every 30 seconds for his response; he's a busy guy these days. I also e-mailed an Apple spokeswoman to ask whether she had any thoughts on her boss's habit of popping off in e-mail to random customers. Perhaps motivated by an intense desire to keep her job, she did not reply.
For all of those reasons, you shouldn't put too much emphasis on anything allegedly sent from Steve Jobs's iPad. Sometimes an e-mail is just an e-mail, and sometimes it's even less.
Update, 10:28 p.m.: And now Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt writes that Apple PR is denying the entire e-mail exchange, while BGR has added a series of iPhone screen captures of the alleged conversation to its updated post. As I was saying... Mr. Jobs, ever hear about verified Twitter accounts?
Update no. 2, 10:08 a.m. Friday: To my considerable surprise, Steve Jobs--or somebody with access to his account--answered my query with characteristic brevity late last night. (I checked the message headers; they all line up for an e-mail sent from Apple, though they don't match the pattern in recent messages sent from my usual contacts in Apple PR). I had asked Jobs "Is there any way to know that you wrote the message somebody else has reproduced on another site short of asking about each case?", and as you can see in the screenshot at right, he or his impersonator answered with one word: "Nope."
July 1, 2010; 5:28 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture , Mobile
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