Revealed: What Apple really thinks about its customers

Fury at firm's secret memo to staff over problems with new Phone

Its products are launched with more hype than a new Madonna album and generate small armies of fanboys queuing around the block. As far as they are concerned, Apple can do no wrong. Until now.

The company's messianic following has reacted with fury to problems with the latest iPhone. Now a leaked memo to the company's helpline staff over problems with the iPhone 4 reveal the company's remarkably jaundiced view of its customers.

The phone, launched in the UK 10 days ago, has a fault. Customers who have forked out up to £599 for the gadget find that it doesn't work properly unless they hold it precisely so as not to touch the aerial, which is designed into the casing.

Angry customers have been told that buying a rubber bumper at a cost of around £25 will cure the problem. This weekend it emerged that Apple staff have been instructed not to provide these bumpers even though the problem stems from a design fault. In a leaked memo, helpline staff for AppleCare have been told: "We ARE NOT appeasing customers with free bumpers – DON'T promise a free bumper to customers."

The memo suggests that customers should avoid covering the lower left hand corner of the phone when they hold it, and reminds staff to tell customers that the phone's wireless performance is "the best we have ever shipped". The news is a further blow to Apple's reputation, which has already been marred by a spate of suicides at the factory in China that produces its products.

The company is already facing lawsuits from at least three customers, relating to antenna problems with its latest model, but Apple's chief executive, Steve Jobs, insists that owners need to "just hold it right".

On Friday he released an open letter promising a software fix for ongoing problems with the way iPhones display the strength of their mobile phone signal and admitting: "Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong ... Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don't know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars."

Luke Peters, editor of the technology magazine T3, said: "We've tested it and the fact is there is a signal problem with the phone. The real question is, how did the phone leave their labs? This is a multibillion-dollar company that spends millions on development and they seem to have let something out the door that's not working.

"You can get a bumper to solve the problem, but that's another £25 on top of quite a lot of money you've spent already."

The news has prompted a further backlash against the company, which has come under fire for the quasi-religious fervour of its workers and followers. Nearly 6,000 people have signed up to the Facebook group "I hate Apple", which includes postings of Apple's cultish slogans next to photos of Hitler. One spoof video using shots from the film Downfall with subtitles suggesting Hitler is discussing the new iPhone fault has had more than 300,000 views on YouTube.

Apple expert Christopher Phin, deputy editor of MacFormat magazine, said: "This whole thing has been a PR disaster for Apple; it's shocking. That memo will fuel existing resentment about the company – there's a definite backlash against them."

Jonathan Geller, who runs the New York-based technology website Boy Genius Report, which leaked the internal memo from Apple, said many people were disappointed with the company. He added: "It's tricky because people do have an amazing obsession with Apple and it's become a cultural thing. So when you have a brand-new piece of equipment like that and it doesn't perform as it should, then you obviously react to that."

Apple was unavailable for comment.

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