Forget The iPhone: What Can Apple Teach Product Mangers?

The Apple iPhone 3G had a power adapter problem: recall or not?
The Apple iPhone 3G had a power adapter problem: recall or not?

Ah, to be a product manager at Apple – working for a company with very good mojo, cool products that everyone wants, and probably a really good bonus program! What more could any of us want? If, for just a moment, we could push the product hype, the speculations about Steve Jobs’ health, etc. off to the side and focus on some of the normal day-to-day stuff that we all deal with – but see how Apple product managers handle it.

It always helps if we have a good case study, and what do you know we do: Apple’s iPhone 3G power adaptor. The iPhone ships with a ultra-compact USB adapter that is shipped with all iPhones sold in the U.S., Japan, Canada, Mexico and several other Latin American countries (it looks like pretty much everyone who uses 110V household current). It turns out that its prongs can break off in power outlets and cause a risk of electrical shock to iPhone users. Oh, oh – what’s a product manager to do?

The challenge here is that apparently the problem was showing up in “… a very small percentage of the adapters sold…” as reported by Apple. Additional, no injuries have been reported to date. Hmm, this is always one of those big product manager moral problems: it looks like it is a possible problem; however, it has really turned into a problem yet. Just to make things a little bit more interesting, there is a work-around. It turns out that the iPhone 3G can be charged by connecting it to a computer via a USB cable, using a car charger adapter, or even by using a different model of the USB power adapter.

Hmm, which road should a product manager take? This is not like the big Tylenol scare, or even the Intel Pentium math error issue. Instead, it is a possible product issue that has the possibility to either quietly go away or blow up in a product manager’s face. W.W.A.D? (What Would Apple Do?)

You’ve probably already guessed the answer, the Apple product manager(s) have decided to exchange the power adapters for new ones without the prong-breaking-off-issue. Here’s what their press release said:

Customer safety is always Apple’s top priority, so it has voluntarily decided to exchange every ultra-compact power adapter for a new, redesigned adapter, free of charge.

Now how’s that for making lemonade out of lemons? Once again, perhaps there is something about taking the high road that we can learn from the product managers at Apple…

Has a product that you were managing ever had to have a recall? Was the issue a serious issue or a probably-really-doesn’t-impact-the-user issue? What did your company decide to do about it? Who lead the decision making process – was it the product manager, legal, sales, or somebody else? Leave a comment and let me know what you’re thinking.