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Apple Offers Free Cases To Solve iPhone 4 Antenna Problems 917

Apple just finished their press conference about the iPhone 4 antenna issues that have been widely reported and discussed in the past few weeks. Steve Jobs started by showing that the problem wasn't limited to iPhones, using videos of the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the HTC Droid Eris, and the Samsung Omnia 2 as examples, all of which dropped bars while being gripped in certain ways. He said, "This is life in the smartphone world. Phones aren't perfect. It's a challenge for the whole industry. Every phone has weak spots." He went on to say that only 0.55% of all iPhone 4 users have called in to complain about reception problems, and that the return rate on the iPhone 4 so far is less than a third of the return rate for the 3GS. Jobs then said that according to their data, the iPhone 4 drops an average of less than one additional call per hundred than the 3GS. He continued by pointing out that because the 3GS was based on the 3G, there was already a large supply of Bumpers, which most customers left the store with. When the iPhone 4 came out, the old Bumpers didn't fit, so stock was lower and fewer customers used them (80% vs. 20%). Therefore, Apple's solution to the antenna problems is to give a free case to every iPhone 4 purchaser before September 30. Refunds will be offered for those who already purchased one. Since they can't make the Bumpers fast enough, they'll be supplying other cases from third parties. Jobs also acknowledged recently reported problems with the proximity sensor, promising a future software update to fix it. Engadget's liveblog of the conference has a ton of pictures and more direct quotes from Jobs. It's worth looking at if only for pictures of Apple's anechoic testing chambers.
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Apple Offers Free Cases To Solve iPhone 4 Antenna Problems

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  • No surprise (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Monoman ( 8745 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @01:46PM (#32928756) Homepage

    Pretty much what we would expect from any company in Apple's shoes. Damage control at minimum cost.

    Apple's numbers are suspicious. Everyone I know with an iPhone 4 has the issue(s) but NONE of them have called AppleCare or gone to the Apple store to complain. They have all been patiently waiting for Apple to take care of them.

  • So how bad was it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hkmwbz ( 531650 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @01:47PM (#32928782) Journal
    I'm not a big fan of Apple in general, but I don't know how big this problem actually is. Is it really worse than other smartphones? Apple is acknowledging that is there a problem, but is that because they got more flack for it than other phone manufacturers?

    On the other hand, first acknowledging that there is a problem, and then making excuses about other smartphones if the iPhone 4 is indeed worse seems odd at best. Acceptance and denial at the same time?

    And finally, what are these cases? One of the things that people find appealing about the iPhone is that it looks good. Will people suddenly find themselves with a much less good looking phone if they want a proper signal?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 16, 2010 @01:48PM (#32928792)

    From the Q/A:

    10:41AM Q: I can't get my Bold to drop right now, maybe you can show me how to do it?
    Steve: You may not see it in certain areas.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 16, 2010 @01:49PM (#32928808)

    "The iPhone 4 drops an average of less than one additional call per hundred than the 3GS."

    Okay, so how many calls per hundred is the 3GS dropping. If the 3GS drops two calls per hundred and the iPhone 4 drops 2.8 calls per hundred then that would indicate the iPhone 4 drop rate is over 70% higher than the 3GS. We need more data than "less than one additional call per hundred" for it to mean anything.

  • by iLoveLamp ( 1676532 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @01:53PM (#32928890)
    You justify your phone having issues by basically saying that other phones are poorly designed too? That's not thinking different. That's thinking like a politician. What a great solution too. Here is our brand new super thin phone that has reception problems. Here a thick case to wrap around the phone to fix that. Gee, thanks Steve.
  • Re:No surprise (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GizmoToy ( 450886 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @01:54PM (#32928910) Homepage

    That's key, and I don't see any way that they could have honestly believed that only 0.5% of their users were having trouble. They issued a press release saying they were going to work on a software update, and many were waiting for some kind of magic improvement.

    My wife and I have both had problems, but neither contacted Apple Care. Apple Care was simply telling customers there was no problem, as they were instructed to do by Apple. This made it into the press and onto user forums. After that occurred, why would anyone go to Apple Care about this when they already knew what the result would be?!?

  • Q/A (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LBArrettAnderson ( 655246 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:00PM (#32928992)

    The Q & A is epic. The people asking these questions are my heroes.

  • by mutherhacker ( 638199 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:00PM (#32929006)
    I have been gripping my HTC dream in every possible way for the past 5 minutes. No matter how I grip it, I can't get the bars to go down. 5 bars all the time.
  • Re:The others (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dunezone ( 899268 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:01PM (#32929022) Journal

    No, it's about pointing out media sensationalism.

    The primary feature of the phone is flawed. All they have to say is they made a mistake. The majority of this press conference was sugar coating a flaw which was probably known after the phones were through the manufacturing process.

  • by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:04PM (#32929060)

    Why? Covering most phones causes them to lose a certain amount of signal strength. In many phones the five- or four-bar zone covers a huge range []. If you're at the strong end of the range, you could lose 20 decibels and not see the bars drop at all. If you're at the weak end of the range, it could drop down to one bar.

    The moral: Don't trust bars.

  • Re:The others (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:13PM (#32929208)

    I thought it was hilarious that he said it 'iPhone 4 drops an average of less than one additional call per hundred than the 3GS.' My cell phone almost never drops calls. Certainly not one in a hundred to even start with. That's just sad.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Daniel Phillips ( 238627 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:20PM (#32929322)

    Furthermore, Apple does not admit the antenna is defective and does not intend to fix it.

  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:26PM (#32929406) Journal

    I'm not Apple fan, and I've never owned (and haven't the slightest interest in) an iPhone, but I have to agree.

    The amount of signal degradation is much higher than most other phones, but the circumstances under which it happens are relatively rare and many would never run into it at all (and a case fixes it, so a free case sounds like a winner).

    Of course, if you ponied up for the entire Apple Experience including the shiny-shiny case, an external wrapping around all that sexiness might not be to your liking, but if a full refund is available you can always go for that.

    I'd say the most worrying is the necessity for an adjustment to the algorithm to more accurately reflect the signal levels so people know when their calls might drop during a death grip incident. That was the one thing that made me stop for a second. Why did they feel the need to inflate the bar readings in the first place? So the iPhone 4 could gain a reputation for having better signal in more places? That sounds a little squirrely to me.

    But I like the BlackBerry feature (ALT-NMLL) that shows me signal loss to the nearest -db, rather than estimating it with a 1-to-5 system. I'm also frequently in areas where signal is marginal, so the extra level of detail is extremely useful to me.

  • by jtotheh ( 229796 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:27PM (#32929420)

    It wasn't _repairing_ it that required an appointment. It was _talking_ to them about repairing it. Just standing there talking to them in their store.

    The basic Macbook (not macbook pro) is 1000 but often discounted to 800.

    The fact that they would make a profit while repairing it doesn't bother me. The fact that their charge would be about 600$ for a half hour of labor (taking into account the cost of the part) bothered me.

  • Re:The others (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Straif ( 172656 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:31PM (#32929494) Homepage

    Except in every independent test the iPhone 4 signal drop is significantly higher than any other smartphone tested; often in the range of 3 or 4 times as much signal loss.

    So yes, the laws of physics effect all antennas on all phones but due to poor design those affects are much more pronounced on iPhone 4s.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mike Buddha ( 10734 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:42PM (#32929722)

    Well, hell yeah. Apple's products have been average quality at best for a long time, but their users (a diproportionately high percentage of the bloggers on the internet) gloss over that fact all the while snickering and making much ado over nothing when minor issues arise in Microsoft or competing products. This is finally an issue that is so easily quantifiable that even Apple can't sweep it under the rug by pretending that all phones have this egregious design flaw, or by blaming AT&T(or Orange, or one of the myriad of other carriers the world over that the iPhone has had terrible reception on). So, yes, a lot of this hubbub is overblown, but it sure is fun to sit back and watch Steve Jobs squirm like the weasel that he is.

  • Re:The others (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ergo98 ( 9391 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:45PM (#32929778) Homepage Journal

    Although to be fair, its an antenna that - when held a certain very specific and unusual way - is a little worse than the 3G, but when used in any other conceivable way is vastly superior.

    Do you have actual metrics to back that up?

    Straight from the horse's mouth, Steve said that the iPhone 4, with the "vastly superior" antenna, drops more calls than the 3GS. Clearly the holding technique isn't quite so unusual.

    Apple's demonstration was unbelievably deceptive: They are implying that the problem is a death grip problem (which is actually usual). Steve went on to say that the 3GS had less dropped calls because people used a case, even though a case does absolutely nothing to stop the downsides of a death grip. The 3GS already, for all intents and purposes, HAD a case, so third party cases are irrelevant.

    The problem is the external antenna, and a very casual, non-death grip causes the serious reception issue. There's a reason why no one else uses an external antenna anymore. Well, except for Apple who thought it looked cool. Only not so cool in a bumper.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:2, Interesting)

    by djrosen ( 265939 ) <> on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:46PM (#32929792) Homepage

    Really? Because if that were even REMOTELY true do you not think that BB users would not have made as big a stink at RIM if an entire user base had the issue as bad as the iPhone seemed to have?

    Jeeeze, just admit you F'd up! Instead he wants to show videos of how all other phones have issues but mysteriously the users of those phones dont see it as nearly as big an issue and neither did Consumer Reports. Considering that Apple customers love the company as much as they do and it still triggered a sh*tstorm and you still want to say Apple isnt alone?

    If ever there was an example of kool-aid drinking, this is it.

  • by KahabutDieDrake ( 1515139 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:52PM (#32929900)
    I decided to test my Treo too. I know, old school but the results are fun.

    First off, important to note that this phone has an antenna on top. It's not really in a position where holding it is easy or typical. Soooo

    So when trying to cover the antenna with my hand, I notice a COMPLETE LOSS of bars. From strong signal to NOTHING AT ALL. No network. Further exploring has yielded answers. It turns out that when you put your hand around the antenna, you also place your hand over the radio on/off button. This phone is so bad that when you cover the antenna with your hand, it turns itself off!!!! The OUTRAGE. I'm calling for a recall. ;)

    Actual results may vary this does not constitute scientific evidence. It's barely even anecdotal.
  • by Americano ( 920576 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:52PM (#32929920)

    You realize that when you walk in with a computer and say "Can you fix this?" - which is exactly what you said you did - that you are interrupting their work with OTHER customers who have issues, and who have made appointments? The Genius Bars in the apple stores work by appointment, and at that appointment, they will run diagnostics and try to give you an idea of what they think is wrong with the system, and most times an estimate on how much it'll cost to fix if it's outside warranty (which, at $700+ for a repair, your system most certainly was).

    I don't think this is bad customer service, I think that you simply expected "great customer service" to mean "we drop whatever we're doing at any moment when you walk in the door." And that's no way to run a business.

    Macbooks are "often discounted" by 20%? I've never seen these sales.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dhavleak ( 912889 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:59PM (#32930014)

    Jobs' has motive for saying the story is bullshit (especially considering there is a court case that has been granted class-action status). If he did not deny the story, it wil be used against Apple in the case. Moreover, he has a credibility issue right now.

    Gizmodo is a third party, and they have been pretty consistent in reporting on both points of view on this issue.

    Just sayin'

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ArbitraryDescriptor ( 1257752 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:20PM (#32930404)
    Any statement about the potentially damaging content of an internal meeting should be taken with a grain of salt. Accusations from anonymous sources and denials made by CEO's at a press conference have equal credibility in this regard.
  • And after Sept 30?? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by weiyuent ( 257436 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:30PM (#32930588) Journal

    It's interesting that no-one seems to be paying special attention to the Sept 30 expiration of Apple's offer of free Bumper cases. In my mind, that hints at a few troubling scenarios that aren't properly addressed by today's press conference:

    A) Apple will end up providing free cases for the iPhone 4 indefinitely.

    B) After Sept 30, you have to pay for a case to solve a problem with the iPhone 4 that Apple officially acknowledges.

    C) After Sept 30, revised iPhone 4 hardware will be hitting the shelves.

    Both (A) and (B) seem highly unlikely...which leads me to believe (C) is the likely outcome. But course Apple doesn't want to cannibalize sales of existing iPhone 4 stock and slow down sales momentum, so they're keeping info about revised hardware under a very tight wrap. Maybe that means you should buy an iPhone 4 just yet?

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Aboroth ( 1841308 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:38PM (#32930742)
    No, it is a case of a crappy engineering. The point of the antenna design, as marketed, was to increase reception dramatically, not be the same as current designs.

    A simple, low-cost solution would have been to apply a thin, transparent layer of some kind of insulating material over the antenna. Then it would look practically identical to what it is now, actually do what Apple says it does, in all use cases, and we would have evidence of competent engineers working at Apple.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 16, 2010 @05:21PM (#32932382)

    So, silly question here:

    Do the bumpers fix the reception problem? I've seen lots of suggestion they do but would appreciate a cite to a study.

    Preferably a cite where a left-handed user checks it out.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 16, 2010 @05:25PM (#32932418)

    Actually, this reminds me of the early months of the X-Box 360, when Microsoft was claiming that failure rates were well below 2.5%. They claimed there were only so many complaints because it was so successful, and most X-Box 360 owners were happy with it, etc... In fact, the statements were almost identical if you swap the product and company names.

    Now, looking back, we know that the early 360s had a higher than 50% failure rate. The number of complaints and warranty claims were much higher than Microsoft originally admitted. It came out that Microsoft was aware of the flaws that caused it, but shipped anyways to avoid costs/delays. They extended the warranty, and fixed the design problems eventually.

    My predictions for the iphone 4? Within a few years we will learn that this problem is causing a significant problem for at least 10% of iphone4 users. Customer satisfaction with the phone was far lower than Apple is reporting. Apple engineers knew of the reception problems, but they decided to ship anyways. Apple might offer some kind of warranty extension, but between the free bumper and the short lifespan of phones anyways I doubt it.

  • Motive indeed. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nobodyman ( 90587 ) * on Friday July 16, 2010 @05:40PM (#32932580) Homepage

    Gizmodo is a third party, and they have been pretty consistent in reporting on both points of view on this issue.

    Actually Gizmodo may have an axe to grind [], too. And the difference in reporting w.r.t. Apple since the "lost iphone" debacle is pronounced.

  • 0.55% (Score:3, Interesting)

    by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @05:43PM (#32932622) Homepage

    0.55% of 1.7M iPhones (the number of units sold in the first 3 days -- presumably more have been sold since then) is still 9,350 people. And considering that for each actual complaint, there are anywhere between 10 and 25 people with the same problem who *don't* complain, that's a lot of people.

    Furthermore, *every* iPhone 4 that was tested (that I've seen) has the problem. A supposed lack of consumer awareness doesn't negate that fact. Citing a low and mostly irrelevant statistic is a transparent attempt to downplay the problems of a phone that loses a signal when you hold it like a phone. It's like buying a new car with chipped paint, and the dealer saying "Oh, well, we'll throw in a free car cover, then nobody will see the chips."

    At least they've dropped the "restocking fee" for returning the phone, but it's all pretty poor service in my opinion. What I see is a CEO trying to call a bluff. "Really? You don't like it? Then return it." I honestly hope thousands of people return their phones, even if they buy a new one when the problem is truly resolved.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Friday July 16, 2010 @06:28PM (#32933102) Homepage

    Lastly, just put a fucking antenna on the phone like every phone for 20 years has had, and these problems disappear entirely.

    The reason antennas migrated to the interior wasn't (just) for aesthetic reasons, but because the advent of fractal antennas [] allowed an (electrically) simple antenna that could be tuned for multiple frequencies (multiband) in a compact package. This was basically the biggest revolution in antennas in 30+ years. It's the reason we have bluetooth and WiFi on USB sticks and in phones, as well as RFID tags. It doesn't hurt that they're also dirt cheap to manufacture.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 16, 2010 @07:33PM (#32933674)

    Determining the ratio of people who encounter an issue and complain about it is tricky. But determining how many dropped calls happen is really easy. The system already has to track various things on a per-user basis (e.g. minutes, text messages), tracking this all goes off of your SIM. Keeping track of the number of dropped calls on a per-user basis isn't much extra. ATT knows what SIM you have and what phone you have, so they can associate the two.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 16, 2010 @08:21PM (#32933996)

    Apple engineers were aware of the risks associated with the new antenna design as early as a year ago, but Chief Executive Steve Jobs liked the design so much that Apple went ahead with its development, said another person familiar with the matter.

    Remeber Apple III. At Steve J.'s insistent, the unit has no active cooling. With sheer number of parts crammed into a small space, enough heat were produced to warp the logic board and work the chips out of their sockets. But that's okay, since the case looked nice and it contains no annoying sound emitting component... like a (badly) needed cooling fan.

    Then St.Steve went ahead and did it again on the original compact Macintosh line. It wasn't till Macintosh SE a cooling fan was finally incorporated into the product. I recall seeing warped plastic and scorch marks on earlier compact Macintosh when I was working in a repair shop a few decades ago.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2010 @12:22AM (#32934958)

    Anyone work someplace where engineers are allowed to decide how to rectify high-profile issues? No?

    Sorry, posting as AC for good reason: I am an engineer for the U.S. tech company with the largest current market capitalization, perhaps you've heard of us? [Not that market cap. is that important.] One of the things that has impressed me in the years I've worked for this company is the fact that our managers are still engineers and still have engineering duties in their job roles. This continues up the food chain in our groups that have "Engineering" in their name. It's not perfect and we still have to work with the bean counters and marketing who give us some boundaries, but it's one of the best companies for whom I've worked. Ever.

Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this-- no dog exchanges bones with another. -- Adam Smith