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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.

The subject of the exchange, as reported on the Boy Genius Report tech-news site Thursday morning, was Apple's responses to the iPhone 4's occasionally weaker reception when held left-handed.

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?

Screen shot 2010-07-02 at 9.53.21 AM.png

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."

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 1, 2010; 5:28 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Mobile  
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Next: Apple blames iPhone 4 reception issue on 'totally wrong' software

Comments

Seems a bit like professional jealousy... Jobs bypassing traditional media.

He's the CEO and can communicate however he pleases.

I think it adds a bit to Apple's magic and mystique. How many other multi-billionaires respond directly to their customers? It's much preferred to threatening your customers with C+D orders if they contact the CEO.

I'm sure that if an email was egregious and phony, Apple PR would call it out.

Posted by: rakeshlobster | July 1, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Of the unimportant things to happen in my lifetime, the iPhone ranks well below the Apple II, which was important only because of VisiCalc.

Steve Jobs is not the only American capitalist to make money by taking it from American consumers and jobs from American workers and shipping them to China in exchange for useless junk, but he is noteworthy because of the attention he attracts to himself.

I think the email allegedly written by Jobs is on the right track, only it doesn't go far enough. Steve Jobs isn't important, Apple isn't important, consumer electronics junk is just junk, and chatter about consumer electronics junk is just more chatter numbing the already atrophied brains of distracted Americans who no longer have any kind of perspective on anything.

Posted by: rbmyersusa | July 1, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for bringing reality into the picture.

No one truly know the origin of these published emails.

Regardless, Apple is doing its close-to-best to remedy the problem.

If the drop-call issue were as widespread as we may be lead to believe, then we'd see thousands of returned iPhones. This is not the case, and should be taken as at least suggestive evidence that there are a small percentage of users who find fault with the device.

Posted by: NYScientist | July 1, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

The fellow who wrote the fake emails is barely literate and contradicts himself within a half-page of remarks. Even lied about his name Any decent reporter or lawyer would not have taken him seriously. The loser works for his parents' ad agency, not writing copy thankfully.

BTW, there are good grounds for Apple suing Jason Burford. He has needlessly damaged the company's reputation.

Posted by: query0 | July 1, 2010 11:40 PM | Report abuse

I hear that if you forward the emails to 10 friends, you'll bring good luck to you and your family. And if the email circles the globe, you'll get $100 from Steve Jobs!

Posted by: jplefebvre | July 2, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Could you have imagined 10 years ago that the CEO of a major company will be forced to issue PR statements about posts in a blog? While it's good that all these blogs are out there but until they are held to the same standards as the traditional media, we'll always have incidents like this.

Posted by: tundey | July 2, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I have emailed Steve Jobs on several occasions, mostly comments on the Apple products I own. During his illness, I sent him a get well note and he responded to it with a nice thank you note. I have a friend in the Valley who has worked for, and known, Steve Jobs for many years who verified Steve's email address and told me Steve does indeed answer the occasional email from fans/customers. My wife was having a rather thorny problem with her MacBook Pro and fired off an email to Steve about it. She received a phone call from Apple support about and hour later! He does read and respond to email.

Posted by: BanjoBanker | July 2, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

You bet, Steve Jobs and Apple should he held accountable - They sell stuff and Apple Maniacs constantly rave about the superiority of their products over others.

No! It's not just a phone. It's a multi-billion dollar business based on touting how your devices are head and shoulders above the rest. Don;t apologize for Apple! You can't have it both ways! My products are superior to other products except when they aren't???

Posted by: sunil111 | July 2, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

And an iPad is just an ebook reader!

Posted by: docchari | July 2, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

On a semi-related note, my iPhone that I ordered on June 16 had a estimated ship date of July 14, with delivery of the 15-17th. Somewhere during the AppleStore order process, I saw a date of July 2, but the final docs had the 14th date mentioned above. Out of curiosity, I checked the order status, and found FedEx tracking info that indicated that the device was shipped July 1 from SHENZHEN CN, and is due for delivery on July 8.

On another note, I am disappointed with Apple as a company for deciding to manufacture its products outside of the US. After all, Apple products are sold at premium prices - justifiable if they were made in the US, not as much if made elsewhere.

Posted by: maus92 | July 2, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Now the inbox of "sjobs@apple.com" will be inundated with countless messages from fans and detractors alike.
Soon, if not already, a sender will receive an error stating the address is not a valid email address.

Posted by: RDSpeer | July 2, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Dish Network is doing its best big cable companies do their best to restrict the competition http://www.dishdtvdirect.com

Posted by: Ronnie1776 | July 2, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Are you dependent on somebody else? I'll
bet you are.

Posted by: n7uno | July 2, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

@RDSpeer:

More than likely, sjobs@apple.com is an email alias that goes to an Apple employee (or employees) whose job it is to deal with public emails, & his real email address (for example, sjobs.private@apple.com) has a whitelist that only allows email from certain addresses.

Posted by: ingod | July 7, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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