Case Study: Apple Apology/Explanation Letter from December 28, 2017

January 9, 2018

By David B. Fogel, Ph.D.

Apple, Inc. recently experienced unfavorable news stories when a software update deliberately slowed down older phones in order to extend battery life. Apple issued and explanation and apology, which is posted here. A quick analysis with EffectCheck® indicates that when assessed in the category of apology letters, Apple’s evoked lexical emotions were fairly typical, as shown in Figure 1. Evoked compassion, however, was below typical, suggesting a more detailed examination of the use of this emotion. Evoked anxiety was above typical, and also deserved further attention.

EffectCheck Score

Figure 1. EffectCheck® histogram shows fairly typical levels of evoked lexical emotions in Apple’s communication, with the exception of low compassion, and perhaps high anxiety.

Evoked Compassion

Figure 2 shows a 100-word moving window and the evoked lexical compassion in the communication. Compassion peaks above a typical level only at the close and slightly earlier when addressing customer trust. Having compassion be at low levels during the majority of the communication appears as a missed opportunity to have a better connection with the intended audience. Even a sentence such as:

“Over the course of this fall, we began to receive feedback from some users who were seeing slower performance in certain situations”

could be written to evoke more compassion as follows:

Recently, we began to hear from some customers who were telling us of slower performance in certain situations.

Replacing “course of this fall” (which may have an unintended double meaning) with “recently,” replacing “receive feedback” with “hear,” and replacing “seeing” with “telling us of” would be helpful in this regard.

EffectCheck Score

Figure 2. Evoked lexical compassion assessed in a 100-word moving window.

An EffectCheck® analysis shows key differentiating uses of emotion throughout his address.

Evoked Anxiety

It’s atypical to find an apology or even an explanatory communication that evokes above-average lexical anxiety throughout (see Figure 3). Some simple revisions would help reduce this effect, such as replacing “users” with “customers,” and adjusting a paragraph such as:

“It should go without saying that we think sudden, unexpected shutdowns are unacceptable. We don’t want any of our users to lose a call, miss taking a picture or have any other part of their iPhone experience interrupted if we can avoid it.”


We think sudden, unexpected shutdowns are unacceptable. We want our customers to have a great experience every time they touch their iPhone.

Not only does this revision contrast the anxiety of the sudden, unexpected showdown, but it also removes the lexical “go without,” which is likely a lexical impact that would be better avoided here. In addition, it increases evoked compassion.

EffectCheck Score

Figure 3. Evoked lexical anxiety assessed in a 100-word moving window.


Much of the response to Apple’s letter has focused on whether or not Apple is “doing enough” to support customers by reducing the cost of battery replacement. For example, USA Today called on Apple to provide free battery replacements. However, Dan Frommer at Recode offered support for the overall approach in Apple’s letter, listing several key points about the effectiveness of Apple’s letter. From the EffectCheck analysis, some additional revisions may have helped it be more effective.