Apple's shiny image has become tarnished over the last few years. There are perceptions of an ongoing software problem. The inevitability of iPhone sales have taken some crushing blows, even though the product line could eventually stabilize and reestablish growth.

The latest news is the establishment of an invitation-only bug bounty program announced at the annual Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, as Macworld reported. The program is only available to certain researchers and developers for some types of vulnerabilities found in iOS and iCloud. Top fees can run $25,000 to $200,000, although many could be far lower.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It wasn't so many years ago that Apple rode a war horse of brand excellence. Public perception, well-engineered by Apple through marketing, advertising, and leveraged media relationships and reinforced by die-hard fans, had it that Apple products always worked out of the box, every time, and were nearly invincible to hacking.

Time, and reality, have undercut these brand conceits. Year after year, significant problems would pop up in Apple products. The Faithful didn't waver and would challenge doubters in public online forums or in friendly press, but average people had to wonder if the usual Apple price premium was worth it.

Even though the front sometimes slipped and Apple actually apologized for problems, the game face usually stayed in place. But there were prices to pay, and the current bug reporting program is one of them. As the Wall Street Journal wrote: "Apple is going to pay researchers who find bugs in its products. What took them so long?"

Tech companies had, on the whole, long admitted their fallibility and welcomed -- and paid -- experts to point out significant vulnerabilities. Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have done it for years. Even the Department of Defense beat Apple to the punch.

To take help, you have to admit you have a problem, and that itself is a problem when your brand includes the intentional projection of being perfect. After all, why wouldn't people want perfect products?

But no company can keep such an image in place forever. It's amazing that Apple got away with it for so long, though even now it shows the strain, as the bug program is only for people it specifically invites. What happens when someone outside of the holy orders discovers a problem? Will they sell it to hackers instead, putting hundreds of millions of people at a security risk?

Maybe a lesson to learn is that brand shouldn't be about something you already have in hand, but principles you strive toward. You can never accomplish perfection, and it's both arrogant and self-defeating in the long run to claim that you have. It also devalues the most important people in business relationships, the customers. They may not agree that your work is beyond reproach. Are you going to try to tell them that they are at fault, as Steve Jobs did when, while addressing reception problems with the iPhone 4, he claimed that people were holding it wrong

Brand should be an expression of how you do business, and part of that must include your goals. Aim to offer the best product and customer experience possible. Strive to fulfill that vision. But get over yourself and let some air out of your ego, because you can never, ever arrive.

I've asked Apple to comment on the issue of brand and will include a response if one comes arrives.