The program, created in the late 1990s, is called early field failure analysis, or EFFA, and it’s about as fun as it sounds. The idea is to keep easily resolved problems from becoming punch lines for late-night comics. Often, they jury-rig a hardware fix, then coordinate a solution across Apple’s global supply chain. Sometimes the problems can’t be solved quickly—remember Apple Maps leading people astray. “Every day they don’t recognize a problem, they are potentially manufacturing more bad products,” says Michael Fawkes, the former head of supply chain for Hewlett-Packard (HPQ). (In his HP job he hired Tara Bunch, now Apple’s vice president for operations and the head of its returns program.) “When you mess it up, you pay an enormous price. You piss off customers, and then you have the economics of reworking your supply chain.”
…That paid off with the original iPhone in 2007, when many were quickly returned with faulty touchscreens, according to an engineer involved in fixing them. Some suppliers manufactured iPhones with a flaw near the earpiece that let sweat from a person’s face seep in, shorting the screen. The EFFA team added a new coating to shield the leaky area and told their suppliers to do the same on their assembly lines. Other EFFA workers, investigating the failure of early iPhone speakers, concluded that the problem was a lack of airflow that caused the speakers to build up pressure and implode during flights from Chinese factories to the U.S. The team relieved the pressure by poking holes in the speakers. Apple declined to comment.