Apple’s Recent Bruises

Tech giant’s quality issues mount in recent months

Like Bigfoot, the antenna issues involving Apple’s latest iPhone have received plenty of attention and just as much debate over their existence.

Regardless of whether you think the "death grip" is a fatal design flaw or overblown by people who don’t have a handle on the realities of cell-phone technology, the innovative tech giant has entered foreign territory recently, coming under scrutiny for a series of quality issues.

For all the press the iPhone 4 has received—good and bad—it remains available for purchase in its standard black form. The same can’t be said for the white variant, which was introduced along with its obsidian version June 7, with an announced shipping date of June 24.

A few weeks later, Apple released a statement saying the white models "have proven more challenging to manufacture than expected" and gave a shipping target of the "latter half of July."1 Apple CEO Steve Jobs echoed those plans at a July 16 news conference to discuss the antenna issues, only to have the company issue another statement a week later, saying the white version would be unavailable until later this year.2

According to news reports, explanations for the delay have ranged from: an attempt to fix the antenna problems;3 a supplier struggling to find the perfect combination of paint thickness and opacity;4 or light leaking around the edges of the glass and through the back.5 Regardless of the reason, the iPhone 4’s launch has been anything but seamless—an unusual development for a company known for its design quality.

After receiving reports of first-generation iPod Nano MP3 players overheating, Apple’s Japan unit last month offered to replace the batteries of models sold between September 2005 and December 2006. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said it received reports of 27 overheating incidents—some dating back to 2008. It also said Apple brought 34 other incidents to the ministry’s attention, but it waited until the week before the battery-replacement offer to do so.6

Five days later, a commuter train was delayed after passengers complained about a burning smell. The rail operator said when an official investigated, "a passenger came over showing him that the iPod she was listening to had burst apart."7

Apple isn’t standing pat in the face of its recent troubles, promoting Jeff Williams to the role of senior vice president of operations. The company said his primary concern will be ensuring its products meet "the highest standards of quality."8

—Brett Krzykowski, assistant editor


  1. Frank Michael Russell, "Apple’s iPhone 4: White Models Won’t Be Ready Until Late Next Month," San Jose Mercury News, June 23, 2010, www.mercurynews.com/business-headlines/ci_15359270.
  2. Associated Press, "Apple Delays White iPhone to ‘Later This Year,’" July 23, 2010.
  3. Jay Yarow, "Apple Delaying the White iPhone 4 So It Can Fix the Antenna Problem?" July 23, 2010, www.businessinsider.com/is-apple-delaying-the-white-iphone-so-it-can-fix-the-antenna-problem-2010-7.
  4. Richard Lai, "White iPhone Delay: The Challenges Faced by Apple’s Glass Supplier," July 18, 2010, www.engadget.com/2010/07/18/white-iphone-4-delay-the-challenges-faced-by-apples-glass-supp.
  5. Scott Moritz, "Apple Grapples With White iPhone Light Leak," July 28, 2010, www.thestreet.com/story/10819663/apple-grapples-with-white-iphone-light-leak.html.
  6. Lance Whitney, "Apple Japan to Replace iPod Nano Batteries," Aug. 11, 2010, http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-20013293-37.html.
  7. Reuters, "Overheating iPod Delays Tokyo Rush-Hour Train," Aug. 16, 2010, www.reuters.com/article/idcntoe67f05c20100816?rpc=44.
  8. Caroline McCarthy, "Apple Promotes Jeff Williams to Senior VP," July 22, 2010, http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-20011347-37.html.

Standard Aimed at Space System Manufacturers

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has issued a new standard designed to help space systems manufacturers and operators improve the quality of their products and work more efficiently.

ISO 16192:2010—Space systems—Experience gained in space projects (Lessons learned)—Principles and guidelines, will help the aerospace industry decrease errors, improve working methods and decrease risk of nonconformity.

For more details about ISO 16192:2010, visit www.iso.org/iso/pressrelease.htm?refid=Ref1342.

ISO has also released a new international standard to clear up dashboard symbols used to alert drivers about problems under the hood or happenings in their vehicle.

Through ISO 2572:2010—Road vehicles—Symbols for controls, indicators and telltales, ISO hopes to reduce the confusion that could be created if multiple, conflicting symbols were used in vehicles.

For more details, visit www.iso.org/iso/pressrelease.htm?refid=Ref1343.


Report: New Healthcare IT Needs Thorough Testing, Monitoring

While new advances in health IT could lead to better and safer care, using these systems without monitoring and testing could lead to patient harm or even death, according to a report prepared by a national healthcare advocacy group.

In the report issued last month, the Leapfrog Group recommended actions for healthcare providers and computerized provider order entry (CPOE) technology companies to ensure these systems are of high quality and meet safety standards.

After conducting web-based simulations with 214 hospitals from June 2008 to January 2010, the Leapfrog Group determined health IT systems need proper monitoring and testing. During that period, the hospitals tested their CPOE systems for their ability to catch common medication errors, including those that could result in fatalities.

On average, the CPOE systems missed 50% of the routine medication order errors and 33% of the potentially fatal orders. After adjusting their systems and protocols, and running the simulation a second time, nearly all the hospitals improved their performance.

Even though these tests used fictitious patients and medication orders, the results should serve as an example of what could happen to U.S. hospital and IT companies, according to Leapfrog.

"The belief that simply buying and installing health IT will automatically lead to safer and better care is a myth," said Leah Binder, Leapfrog’s CEO.

"Hospitals and vendors must continue to work together over time to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of CPOE. When CPOE is implemented the right way, and hospitals and vendors follow up to monitor and improve it, the result is what every patient hopes for when a life is at stake: the perfect harmony of caregiver and technology working for them."

ASQ News

STUDENTS RECEIVE FREUND SCHOLARSHIPS Two students have been awarded the Richard A. Freund International Scholarship. They are Dawn Newman of St. Louis, who is pursuing a doctorate in organizational development at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL; and Aleksandra Stein of Honolulu, who is pursuing a master’s degree and doctorate in statistics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Each student will receive $2,500 to put toward their academic pursuits.

OTT CONFERENCE SET The 62nd annual Ellis R. Ott Conference, hosted by ASQ’s New York/New Jersey Metropolitan Section, will be held Oct. 1 at Fordham University in Manhattan. The one-day conference will feature four learning tracks: design/construction, management, auditing and lean Six Sigma. For more information, visit www.metro-asq.org/Documents/2009-2010%20Events/2010%20Ott/Announcement.html.

HEALTHCARE CONFERENCE CALL FOR PAPERS The 2011 Quality Institute for Healthcare conference is set for May 16-18 in Pittsburgh. The deadline to submit a presentation proposal is Sept. 13. For more information about submitting a paper, visit http://qihc.asq.org/call-for-presentations/index.html.

UNIVERSITY RECOGNIZES MEMBER The University of the Philippines has awarded the Philippines Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni of the Year for Science and Technology to Miflora Minoza-Gatchalian, ASQ’s country counselor for its Philippines chapter. Minoza-Gatchalian, owner of the consulting firm Quality Partners Co., has done extensive work related to food quality and safety.


ASQ Attends U.N. Leader Summit

Paul Borawski, ASQ’s executive director and chief strategic officer, recently attended a summit of business executives from 135 countries at the United Nations (U.N.).

ASQ was one of four associations invited as guests at the U.N. Global Compact Leaders Summit. Borawski and the other associations’ representatives listened to discussions related to the need for a strengthened set of standards for business practices and support for U.N. environmental rights and anti-poverty initiatives.

Borawski said he often noted hearing buzz words and phrases —such as "reliability," "elimination of waste," "metrics," "process" and "improvement cycles"—during discussions at the two-day summit in late June. He said he has followed up with U.N. Global Compact Executive Director George Kell to see how ASQ can contribute to future discussions.

For more details about the compact, visit www.unglobalcompact.org/index.html.


Quick Poll Results

Each month at www.qualityprogress.com, visitors can take an informal survey, and we post the results.

Here are the numbers from a recent Quick Poll:

"Which company was hurt most by quality issues this year?"

  • Toyota 54.8%
  • BP 37.5%
  • Johnson & Johnson 4.3%
  • Apple 3.2%

Visit www.qualityprogress.com for the most recent poll question:

"Which lean basic best ensures project success?"

  • Lean is about people, not techniques.
  • Lean is a mind-set, not a toolset.
  • Lean is a journey, not a destination.

Back to School

QP has updated its guide to quality-related college and university programs. Look under the Tools and Resources menu at www.qualityprogress.com for an extensive listing of quality-related programs offered by higher education institutions, including a state-by-state breakdown.

If you notice anything missing from an entry or you know of a program you think should be included, e-mail QP staff at manuscripts@asq.org.


More Consumers Unhappy With Their Auto Insurers

Consumers’ overall satisfaction with auto insurance companies took a serious hit this year, according to a J.D. Power and Associates report.

The report measured customer satisfaction across five factors: interaction, policy offerings, billing and payment, price and claims. Overall customer satisfaction averaged 777 on J.D. Power and Associates’ 1,000-point scale, down 10 points from 2009 results.

The market research company called this decline "significant" and attributed it to more people being dissatisfied with the prices they are paying for insurance.

"Now that the market has stabilized, consumers are feeling more in control of their finances and have become more aware of and sensitive to the rate increases that have started to occur since the recent recessionary period," said Jeremy Bowler, J.D. Power and Associates senior director of the insurance practice. "As a result, customers are considerably less satisfied with their insurer and their rates, and have begun shopping for new insurers at high levels not seen since prior to the recession."

For more details on the report, visit http://businesscenter.jdpower.com/news/pressrelease.aspx?id=2010150.


Consumption of Manufacturing Technology Surges

Manufacturing technology consumption in the United States increased 35.8% from May to June, a sign that companies are spending more money on equipment used to produce goods.

June’s consumption of manufacturing technology was also up 71.1% from a year ago, according to the study by the Association for Manufacturing Technology and the American Machine Tool Distributors’ Association.

Companies that participated in the study—released last month—said they spent nearly $245.5 million on manufacturing technology in June. From January to June 2010, the total spent on manufacturing technology was $1.2 billion. That’s 56.1% higher than what was spent during the same six-month time period in 2009.

Manufacturing technology is tools that enable production of all manufactured goods. Analysis of these numbers provides a reliable economic indicator as manufacturing industries invest in capital metalworking equipment to increase capacity and improve productivity, said the groups that coordinated the study.

For more details, visit www.usmtc.com/news.aspx.

Who’s Who in Q

NAME: Surinder S. Bedi.


EDUCATION: Master’s of science degree in industrial and systems engineering from Ohio University in Athens and executive management training at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA.

CURRENT JOB: Vice president, global quality and customer satisfaction, at SunPower Corp., a manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels and solar systems based in San Jose, CA.

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: Vice president, global quality, reliability and customer satisfaction, at Applied Materials, based in Santa Clara, CA. Bedi developed and led quality initiatives that earned the company many customer quality awards, including Intel Corp.’s quality award.

INTRODUCTION TO QUALITY: Learning statistical process control in the semiconductor industry and using process control charts to drive continual improvement and world-class quality.

ASQ ACTIVITIES: Bedi has spoken at ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement on the topic of "Quality Strategies and Roadmap in the Global Solar Industry." He is a senior member of ASQ.

PUBLISHED: SPC Handbook, used at Applied Materials, and New Strategies for Quality Improvement, a publication for an Applied Materials conference.

RECENT HONORS: Bedi was the recipient of Applied Materials President Quality Award on four separate occasions. He also received the Quality Leadership Award from Intel Corp. and has been recently named the Distinguished Sikh Executive in California’s Bay Area.

PERSONAL: Married to Navneet. Two children: Raj and Namrata.

FAVORITE WAYS TO RELAX: Reading, listening to music and hiking.

QUALITY QUOTE: "Great companies excel in tough times, and in tough times, customers turn to great companies." The measure of great companies is driving quality harder in tough economic times, benchmarking with the competition and learning how you can emerge stronger at the end of it.

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