Apple has screwed up. I don't yet quite know how, but one way or another it has. The question is: can it recover the situation?
The next few days could represent a threshold for the company in terms of customer relations. Will Apple retain its reputation as the innovative company that makes technology-based products that are elegant to look at and easy to use. Or will Apple start to be regarded as being just like all the rest.
Apple Inc. (Cupertino, Calif.) was always the opposite of Wintel. Whereas Wintel made technology products that encouraged you to take an interest in the deep secrets of computing, and sometimes made you jump through some arcane hoops, Apple prided itself on making technology simple for people who had better things to do with their lives than troubleshoot their tools.
I don't know what proportion of purchasers is having problems with the Wi-Fi connection on their new iPad. It may well be only a small fraction, but reading through 25 pages of frustration on the Apple support forum makes it clear that for the people suffering, the pain is very real.
The detailed and often highly scientific steps this group of disgruntled iPad users have taken to try and get a steady signal and the download speed they expect or just to understand the problem is humbling. These are real electronic and RF engineering and computer science experiments, albeit often done in the absence of the complete facts.
To be fair to Apple a number of the aspects of wireless connectivity are beyond its direct control. This reminds us why Apple has always liked to retain as much control as possible over hardware, operating system and applications. But the Internet and connection to the cloud is something which Apple must provide. The complexity of Wi-Fi standards and the number of modes of operation, the different security systems and 2.4-GHz versus 5-GHz and diversity signaling quickly produces scores of use cases which it can become hard to check comprehensively. But that's Apple's self-appointed job; to take that complexity and the tremendous bandwidth it promises and make it work reliably for the users of its products.
So either there is a engineering problem with some proportion of the Apple iPad production or, a significant number of early adopters of the iPad are just not up to making Wi-Fi work on their new toy. If the latter, then Apple has managed to make a product that is difficult to use and failed to meet a number of early adopters' expectations. And remember these early customers are Apple fanatics.