Steve Jobs: There Is No iPhone Antennagate

(Photo borrowed from Engadget’s live coverage.)

So much for the theory that Apple was going to announce a miracle cure for iPhone 4 reception issues this morning. At the press conference on Apple’s campus, Steve Jobs offered several measures to make current and prospective iPhone 4 owners comfortable with their purchase–but he defended the iPhone 4 against charges that it has unique problems with reception, and didn’t say that Apple could or would eliminate the possibility that holding the iPhone 4 by the lower left-hand corner would hurt its performance.

Jobs showed the results of Apple’s tests of other smartphones–the BlackBerry 9700, the Droid Eris, and the Samsung Omnia II–indicating that their signal strength also drops when they’re held.

He then quoted stats that suggest most users aren’t encountering crippling new reception issues. Only .55 percent of iPhone 4 buyers have called AppleCare with antenna- or reception-related problems; just 1.7 percent of people who bought iPhone 4s from AT&T have returned them (with the iPhone 3GS, it was six percent). According to AT&T, the iPhone 4 drops calls more frequently than the iPhone 3GS–but only by one additional dropped call per 100 calls.

Jobs shared a pet theory: Because the iPhone 4 has a new shape that requires new cases, only twenty percent of buyers leave the Apple Store with a case, versus eighty percent of iPhone 3GS buyers who did. Since it’s using the iPhone 4 without a case that reveals the reception issue, it may just be that more iPhone 4 owners have been exposed to troublesome reception scenarios.

And then he explained how Apple would respond to the iPhone 4 issue:

  • He recommended that all iPhone 4 users upgrade to iOS 4.0.1, which provides a more accurate depiction of signal strength;
  • Apple will provide a free iPhone 4 case–Apple’s bumper or another model, since there aren’t enough bumpers to go around–to everyone who has bought a phone or will buy one between now and September 30th;
  • Customers who are still unhappy can bring their iPhone 4 back within thirty days for a full refund, with no restocking fee;
  • Apple is looking into the issues that have been reported with the iPhone 4’s proximity sensor, and hopes to fix them in the next software update;
  • By the end of this month, the white iPhone 4 will be shipping and the iPhone 4 will be available in another seventeen countries.

During the Q&A that followed–which is still going on as I write this–Jobs said that Apple doesn’t have a better antenna design (maybe the next iPhone will have one, he said) and that a Bloomberg story which said an Apple engineer had warned him about the iPhone 4 antenna was “bullshit.”

Throughout, Jobs talked about how hard Apple works to make its customers happy, and how much it loves those customers. He said that Apple isn’t perfect, and didn’t deny that the iPhone 4’s antenna design can cause problems.

So does this end controversy over the iPhone 4? No, I don’t think that anyone, including Jobs, believes that. But it may put the final verdict in the hands of iPhone 4 owners rather than the media or Apple. If millions of people buy the iPhone 4 and don’t encounter any unique reception difficulties, they’ll tell their friends and the phone’s rep will quickly heal. And if those millions of people do find the phone unreliable, they’ll tell their friends that, too.

(Me, I’ve found that my iPhone 4 seems to have good-to-very-good reception in most instances–except when I entered a zone of weak AT&T signal and found that how I held the phone made a huge difference.)

More thoughts to come, but here’s one aspect of all this that cries out for further exploration. In today’s press conference, Jobs showed other phones suffering from reception issues that looked a lot like those that the iPhone 4 can encounter. But when Consumer Reports decided not to recommend the phone, it did so based on tests of the iPhone 4 and other phones which indicated that the 4 has problems that other phones don’t. The “other phones” involved were different, so the conclusions weren’t inconsistent. But I’d like to see CR or another third party with the resources and know-how perform further testing of this sort.

So if you followed the press conference this morning, what’s your take on Apple’s response? Do you think the company is done addressing this?


5 comments

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  1. Andrew E July 16, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Mr Jobs is woffling and everyone including him knows it. He's had his chance to recover the situation and has failed. This 'hand it back if you don't like it' is simple bullying. Until 10 days ago I owned a 3G. I used it 'naked' and never lost a call in my apartment. I've now got a i4. While texting with it I noticed the signal had dropped and then 'No service'. I waited and the signal did not return. So I put it down alongside me and the signal returned. I then put a surgical glove on and holding it the same way, I never lost a signal. Remove the glove and 'No service'.

    Of course the capacitance of the hand de-tunes the antenna and therefore there is always a loss of signal strength. But as everyone except Jobs realises, a moist hand is providing a conducting path between the 2 uninsulated antenna strips and it is that which causing further loss of signal strength.

  2. ediedi July 16, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    First, they basically denied the problem by blaming it on the iphone being a smartphone which in their view it means it has reception issues.
    Second, they provide a fix for the denied problem, 'just in case', for the whiners.
    For me, the good thing (giving free bumpers) is largely overshadowed by their continuous PR b**ll and their holier than thou attitude.
    Basically, if you need the bumper, you are a whiner or delusional, since the iphone does not have any issue.
    The Q&A sessions can be summed up by this:
    Q: but still, merely touching the problem spot causes problems? Are you denying the existence of a problem?
    A: whatever, have you noticed the beautiful retina display?

  3. Joe Moore July 16, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    I was a 3G user who was at the end of his contract with woeful AT&T. I recently updated to iPhone 4 like most, which locks me in for another two years. I am blessed to live in an area with pretty good AT&T service so I have yet to experience the "death grip issue". What is troubling to me is that I have 30 days now to make a decision which will affect me for two years. I'm not rich enough like Woz to afford carrying around a Verizon phone on top of my iPhone 4.
    I think the device is top notch, but the attitude of Apple on this is just flat wrong. Its troublesome to think that Job was quoted as saying "We want to get this right, not just slap a band-aid on it". Well it may as well be ducktape by simply suggesting that giving a case to all users will make them happy.
    I enjoyed the sleakness and astetics that come with all Apple products, especially the slim design of the iPhone 4, now my only solution is to put an obnoxious plastic or rubber case on it?
    I'm very dissapointed by this and am really re-evalutating my decision with this device and am most likely going to be returning it in lieu a more complete device on a more complete network.

  4. Nick Ver Voort July 17, 2010 at 12:45 am #

    I held my beloved HTC Eris exactly like their video showed and got no drop in signal. It would be much more comforting if they would just admit they screwed up.

  5. Anonymous person July 22, 2010 at 3:57 am #

    But look at the facts, almost no one calls in with the problem.