Your Take on iPhone 4 "Antennagate"

Our survey shows little consensus on the iPhone 4 and Apple's press conference about it.

By  |  Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 2:39 am

It’s always nice when a survey shows a clear consensus–hey, it sure makes things easier if you’re trying to draw conclusions about the results. But the survey we conducted on the controversy over the iPhone 4’s reception and Apple’s response to it defies easy analysis.

The results to nearly every question we asked are a split decision. We heard from lots of happy iPhone 4 owners, and lots of unhappy iPhone 4 owners. People who think Apple’s handling the situation well, and people who found last Friday’s press conference profoundly unsatisfying. If you think this whole affair represents a catastrophe for Apple, you may be surprised by the percentage of respondents who say it’s no big deal. Then again, if you believe it’s a non-issue, you may be surprised by the percentage who are still bothered by it all.

Here’s a telling snapshot of the survey’s conflicted results: About two-thirds of respondents who have iPhone 4s say they’ve noticed the grip of death themselves…and about two-thirds say they have no plans to return their phones. In other words, the majority seems to be saying that the problem is real, but outweighed by everything that’s right about this phone.

Almost five hundred people participated in this survey over the past two days, eighty-two percent of who live in the US. Two-thirds have already bought iPhones–a handful of who have already returned their phones–and ninety percent either watched Apple’s Webcast of its press conference or followed liveblogs and other reports closely.

The standard disclaimers apply: The results you’re about to read represent unnormalized data from a pool of respondents whose opinions don’t necessarily map to those of iPhone owners and iPhone watchers at large. As usual, I still find what you had to say interesting…

Overall response (iPhone 4 owners and non-owners)

Do Apple customers think that Steve Jobs and company are infallible? Not in this case, at least: Only nineteen percent of the respondents who watched or read about last Friday’s press conference told us they had no concerns about the iPhone 4 heading into the conference. The rest were at least somewhat concerned. Steve Jobs’ reality-distortion field was apparently operating at less than full power–just seventeen percent say that the conference was completely satisfying. Another 29 percent say they’re at least somewhat mollified. And a third found the conference completely unsatisfying.

Jobs devoted much of the event to going over the results of tests Apple had performed showing other makers’ smartphones suffering from reduced reception when the phones were gripped.Twenty-nine percent of respondents find these results compelling, and just over half think they were worthy of consideration. Which left slightly under half who aren’t buying it.

About two-thirds of respondents think Apple’s decision to dole out bumpers and cases for free is at least somewhat acceptable; a third say it doesn’t cut it.

At Friday’s press conference, Steve Jobs told a bunch of representatives of the media that the media had exaggerated the seriousness of any iPhone 4 issues. Fifty-five percent of respondents agree with Steve. Thirty-eight percent say the press wasn’t blowing things out of proportion, and the rest aren’t sure.

People who own an iPhone 4

First the good news: 43 percent of respondents say they’ve had no significant problems with their new iPhones. Among those that have had issues, most said that they’d encountered glitches with all three widely-reported problem areas: voice reception, data reception, and the proximity sensor.

I doubt if there’s a sentient iPhone 4 owner who hasn’t conducted his or her own field tests by clutching the phone in the “grip of death” to see if doing so does indeed kill reception. About two-thirds of respondents say they’ve seen trouble first hand; a third report no problems.

Apple’s official stance is that lower left-hand corner aside, the iPhone 4’s wraparound antenna improves reception. A little over a third of respondents seem to agree, and a little over a third are unimpressed. Most of the rest say there’s no noticable difference. (These results don’t differ much if you restrict respondents to only those who were upgrading from an earlier iPhone rather than a non-Apple handset.)

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21 Comments For This Post

  1. jimlynch Says:

    Here's my take on it:

    The Death Grip Drama Queens

  2. Jim Jim Says:

    Not a great sample from a biased source of respondents. I don't think this really tells us anything either positive or negative point of view.

  3. Jo Jo Says:

    Bingo! The only way to get real data here would be to target KNOWN iPhone 4 owners and not a random sample.

  4. Harry McCracken Says:

    Boy, I specifically didn't want to survey only iPhone 4 owners; I wanted to seek opinions from both owners and non-owners. Both groups' take on all this is interesting, for different reasons.

    Within the survey, we asked respondents whether they owned an iPhone 4, and only asked questions relating to ownership of the phone if the person identified himself or herself as an owner.

    If you want to say that the survey is worthless because it's possible that trolls who don't own iPhone 4s claimed they did and answered questions about the phone anyhow, go for it. But there's virtually no third party that conducts surveys of product owners which can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that 100% of the survey takers do indeed own the product in question.


  5. MikePulsifer Says:

    It's a statistically insignificant and irrelevant sample. That's why it's worthless. Keep in mind, techies aren't representative of normal people.

  6. Harry McCracken Says:

    I know lots of statistics experts who are comfortable polling groups much smaller than 500 people–but again, we weren't trying to determine what iPhone owners and prospective owners as a whole think.

    Nor was the goal to determine what "normal people" think–I suspect that the average Technologizer reader is techie and proud of it.


  7. Ryan Says:

    This is very true. Techies are FAR more likely to know about the grip of death issue in the first place and try it out. None of my non-techie friends had even heard about it.

  8. David Bailey Says:

    How was the data collected? How were the respondents selected and how did they respond, was it a self selected sample? If so, self-selected samples are notorious for being inaccurate. Was there any means to check if those who responded own iPhones? Just trying to understand the discrepancy between these results and the return results publicized by Apple

  9. Harry McCracken Says:

    It was a self-selecting group who took our online survey–I invited Technologizer readers (and folks who follow me on Twitter) to respond, and about 500 did. To repeat what I said in the story, I wasn't aiming to collect projectable data.

    Interestingly enough, the percentage who say that they HAVE returned their iPhones is similar to what Apple has reported. The percentage who say they WILL return them is much higher–but that's not surprising; my guess would be that a lot more people say they'll do so than actually follow through.

  10. MikePulsifer Says:

    "It was a self-selecting group who took our online survey–I invited Technologizer readers (and folks who follow me on Twitter)"

    This attracts only the more passionate and/or those with an axe to grind, no matter the subject matter. That makes the results only of entertainment value as there's no validity to the results.

  11. Harry McCracken Says:

    Hey, I want people who are passionate about technology taking these surveys. Technologizer isn't for people who are blase about this topic, and the one and only thing this survey intended to do was to collect the thoughts of some members of the Technologizer community.

    Surveys been overrun by people with an axe to grind would be a problem–but this is the fourth survey of this type we've conducted, and the first that wasn't completely dominated by happy campers. (Strangely, the "everyone knows unhappy people take surveys in disproportionate numbers" theory didn't come up when 98 percent of the people who took our iPad survey said they were satisfied.)

    In aggregate, I've spent many hundreds of thousands of dollars and several months of my career working on surveys that aimed to collect projectable data. They're worthwhile (albeit far from perfect). But they weren't what we were trying to do here.

  12. Harry McCracken Says:

    I'm fine with the respondents to this survey being biased–Technologizer readers, who happen to be a smart, opinionated bunch of folks. I'm not trying to determine what all iPhone 4 owners and prospective owners think.


  13. David Bailey Says:

    Not trying to criticize because its interesting none the less, but self selected data is basically not useful because it is so heavily biased. Many will respond only because they aim to make a point or are disgruntled – Maybe it would make sense to put this up in bold across the top incase people skip what you wrote to see the charts. The difference between 2%-30% is pretty major and creates a misperception.

  14. Harry McCracken Says:

    I know that self-selecting surveys are in no way a replacement for ones that aim for projectable data. But I'm skeptical about the conventional wisdom that unhappy campers are grossly overrepresented in self-selecting surveys. When we surveyed iPad owners, 98 percent of them said they were satisfied, and the number was also sky high for Windows 7 users. There's no pattern in these surveys of doom-and-gloom types dominating.

    (As I mentioned in the story, I also throw out results when only a handful of people answer a question: If only a couple of dozen people respond, the data is too unstable to mean anything at all.)

    My take: Technologizer is by definition a place where people who like to express opinions about new tech products like to hang out. And when you're surveying the very first people to use the iPad or iPhone 4 or Windows 7, you're surveying a group of people with an intense interest in the product in question, again almost by definition. So I don't think the pool of self-selecting survey takers is dominated by people with an axe to grind.

    I've been involved in scads of surveys and focus groups over the past fifteen years, from simple little ones like this to ones where we bent over backwards to try and capture objective data from a giant universe of people…including ones that cost tens of thousands of dollars to conduct and benefited from analysis by people with degrees in statistics. The dirty little secret is that all samples are skewed towards a particular group: people with the time and interest to participate. That's true whether the group is self-selecting and not filtered by demographic info (like in this survey) or whether you call people out of the blue and qualify them before collecting data (I've done that, too).


  15. David Bailey Says:

    That is fair. Still skeptical, but point well taken.

  16. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    I’m not sure I understand why you polled both iPhone 4 owners and non-owners.

  17. Harry McCracken Says:

    Because a large chunk of the questions we asked weren't contingent on iPhone ownership–I was curious how people who are interested in all this responded to Jobs' press conference, whether they have an iPhone or not. (Apple presumably aimed its messaging at least as much at people who don't already own iPhones at it did at those who do.)


  18. Ryan Says:

    This perfectly sums up my experience with the whole antennagate problem:

    I, too, am a fanboy of logic. 🙂

  19. Matt Says:

    I think the problem with a story/poll like this is that its only value is the sensationalist polarized opinions that will come out of it. It's a grab for hits. It isn't newsworthy or even interesting.

    This is the problem with most 'media' today, and blog media in particular. The aim is to gain eyeballs rather than increase or disseminate knowledge. It's a sad state of affairs.

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  21. Regalos Says:

    Nor was the goal to determine what "normal people" think–I suspect that the average Technologizer reader is techie and proud of it.
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