SHIFT: Apple's disastrous iPhone 3G launch, and why it matters

Roger Clemens and steroids allegations. Larry Craig and his Minneapolis men's room rendezvous. R. Kelly and child pornography.

It doesn't matter whether or not the charges are true. It doesn't matter the degree to which the charges are true. What matters are the charges, and the resulting stain on the reputation, the skunk stink that won't wash off. Regardless of staunch and heartfelt denials, fruitless investigations or clearance by jury, all future references for the rest of their lives and beyond will include the words "suspected" and "accused." Combine this public lynching with personal betrayal, say, catching your heretofore faithful and loving spouse in flagrante delicto.

Welcome to Apple's new reality.

It is impossible to calculate the long-term damage the monumental f-ups of Friday's iPhone 3G inauguration — the inability of AT&T and Apple's systems to sync up to upgrade and activate current customers, of turning original iPhones into iSlabs when installing iPhone 2.0, of iTunes playing hooky when millions tried to sync their new iPhones 3G — will have on Apple. In a day, the most spotless and sterling reputation in high-tech, years in expert caressing and molding, gone like a rainbow at sunset.

Apple's own hype machine raised impossible expectations. Jobs & Co. may have been blinded by their own klieg lights. Hubris and comeuppance are going to be favorite topics of deconstruction columnists, analysts and bloggers in the coming weeks. Like me. Lots more after the Continue jump.

Murphy's Apple
It's not just that everything that could go wrong went wrong for a lot of people who waited in line for a lot of hours to be among the first privileged few to lay their hands on the most anticipated device of the year. And it doesn't matter that AT&T shares some of the blame. AT&T is a cellphone carrier. Cellphone carriers already have an oily reputation somewhere between general contractors and personal injury lawyers. Cellphone carriers screwing their customers is almost expected.

And it doesn't matter if only a small percentage of users actually got screwed in one way or another. Those few, being first in lines around the country, are Apple's front-line loyalists, will be screaming the loudest. The greater the loyalty, the worse the betrayal. And the worse the betrayal, the more permanent the mark of Cain. Apple's humorous digs at Microsoft Vista in those once cute Mac vs. PC commercials now sound hollow and ironic.

What Would Jobs Do?
I know what you're thinking. "Geez, Stewart, why don't you tell us how you really feel?" Am I over-the-top? We'll see. I have been betrayed like the aforementioned cheating spouse. Over the years, I have been one of Apple's cheerleaders. Suddenly my hero not only has motherboards of clay but has made me look and feel like a fool.

Once I returned home shockingly empty-handed Friday afternoon from my own personal seven-hour ordeal, my anger and frustration fueled by hunger and lack of sleep, my journalistic analyst instincts kicked in. My punch-drunk imagination conjured a crumbling Cupertino Camelot and King Jobs' reaction.

Pulling at his graying hair, rending his black turtleneck, I can see Jobs' legendary passion explode. He's screaming at his iTunes team, fuming, ranting, palpitating and swearing at anyone who might have had a hand in this holocaust. But like me, Jobs is going to have to calm down. He and Apple are going to have to concoct a major PR coup to recoup a fraction of the passion of its most fervent proselytizers. I can't imagine what Apple will do, but as Bugs Bunny often murmured to himself in tight spots, "Think fast, rabbit!"

For me, though, once burned, twice shy. I'll never look at that one bite fruit the same way again.