Editorial: On Apple’s Handling of the iPhone 4 Antenna Issue | iLounge Article


Editorial: On Apple’s Handling of the iPhone 4 Antenna Issue

As iLounge’s Publisher was climbing Mt. San Jacinto and our Editor-in-Chief was outside the country during the iPhone 4 “Antennagate” event last week, we didn’t offer our immediate perspectives on what happened at Apple’s headquarters on Friday. So we’re taking this opportunity to briefly share our thoughts today, and offering you a place to post your views, as well.

For those keeping count, there was no payout on our iPhone 4 Debacle Bingo Card, but nine of the predictions were either partially or fully realized. Confronted by increasingly bad press regarding iPhone 4 cellular reception and other issues, Apple used the hastily-announced event to tout strong sales of the device, minimize concerns over its antenna, and then—with a literal shrug—offer solutions to the supposedly few users with problems, either in the form of free cases or no-questions-asked returns. In other words, Apple suggested that a small group of people were making a really big deal over nothing, and that it was going to kowtow to those people solely because it wants to satisfy all of its customers. The company also attempted to downplay claims that it had not adequately tested the iPhone 4 before release, primarily by pointing to a collection of on-site testing labs and engineers tasked with ferreting out problems, complete with a bunch of cool pictures of its once-secret facilities.


But from the event’s odd opening with a derisive YouTube video to its ending with a series of attacks on media reports during a Q&A session, the overriding image Apple conveyed last Friday was a defensive posture—and evasive, besides. Despite the company’s 18 Ph.D scientists and engineers, 17 anechoic testing chambers, and unquestionably brilliant executive and design teams, the iPhone 4 somehow shipped with a patently obvious antenna flaw that anyone with $199 and a social security number could discover for themselves at home. As we and many others discovered, holding the iPhone 4 in a natural way can kill its cellular data speeds and make it drop phone calls. Apple CEO Steve Jobs attempted to conflate the iPhone’s specific problem of a touchable external weak spot with the general problem of wireless signal attenuation—suffered by many cell phones—but competitors quickly disputed his claims, suggesting that the iPhone 4’s sometimes complete cellular signal loss is as unique as the external antenna design that invites it.

Then, there were the statistics issues. For all of the antenna engineering savvy Apple touted before and during the event, the iPhone 4 was revealed to drop more calls than the iPhone 3GS, a fact that Jobs downplayed by omitting the iPhone 3GS’s call drop rate. According to a report, however, iPhone 4 actually drops twice as many calls as the iPhone 3GS, which really says something given past iPhones’ propensity for unexpected mid-conversation disconnections. Additionally, rather than pointing to its own internal return rate for iPhone 4 hardware—one that would have been easy to track and more significant given Apple’s greater allocation of units during the product’s launch—the company opted to cite only the returns of a single reseller, AT&T, for reasons unknown. Finally, at a time when more Apple customers than ever are seeking in-person assistance at Apple Stores, Apple pointed to the small number of reception-related telephone calls to its AppleCare line as evidence of modest consumer concern. Without context, Apple’s numbers provided little actual information, and have justifiably been deemed “misleading.”

They also do not track with what we’ve been hearing or seeing over the past several weeks. Some of our readers, friends, and family have been completely unconcerned with the iPhone 4’s performance—a majority, even, as suggested by our most recent poll—and as our own review of the iPhone 4 noted, the device is indeed the best iPhone ever, so long as you wrap it in a case. Though we did not believe it to be worthy of our high recommendation because of the well-known design issues, we didn’t hesitate to offer it a qualified and general recommendation, and praised its many positive attributes. Yet there is a significant minority of perhaps a quarter or third of people who have been so put off by either the iPhone 4 problems or Apple’s handling of them that they’ve held off on purchases that they otherwise would have made. Reception is only one of their concerns; they’re also worried about the durability of its glass body, problems with its proximity sensor, and other issues that may or may not be solvable with accessories or updated software. As has unfortunately become Apple’s modus operandi over the past several years, the only responses consumers get on these issues have been friendly but awkward silences from Apple representatives, and the occasional “keep waiting and we might fix it” hints from the company’s executives.

Judged from the perspective of common sense and decency, Apple’s iPhone 4 press conference wasn’t just long in coming—it was on the very fine edge of insulting. The company had a full opportunity to confront a design flaw that had been properly identified by average users and journalists alike, lay out temporary and long-term solutions to the problem, and apologize sincerely for making a very obvious mistake. No one needed Apple’s CEO to grovel or hand out $50 bills; actual contrition and 50 cents of antenna-coating plastic film would have sufficed. Or there could have easily been a “surprise and delight” moment for iPhone 4 customers who have added nearly a billion dollars to Apple’s coffers over the past month—the company can surely afford it. Instead, the event had an acidic tone that suggested that whiney consumers and pageview-obsessed journalists were to blame for the debacle, all parts of some conspiracy to tear Apple down because of its recent successes. The result of this unnecessarily bad attitude was the gloomiest Apple event in the past decade—as disheartening for some of the Apple faithful as Jobs’ embrace of an investment from Microsoft back in 1997, and one that Apple understandably still hasn’t posted to its Keynotes podcast page days later (it’s available only with explanation pages here). What could have been a golden moment for the Apple brand turned out to be a day that many people would just prefer to forget, even though the protective case solution offered will ultimately satisfy most users with grip-related reception problems.

Readers, there’s a poll on iLounge.com’s front page where you can render your opinion on Apple’s handling of the iPhone 4 issues, so cast your votes if you haven’t already. If you have deeper, more interesting thoughts and insights to share, we’d love to see them in the comments section below.

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Apple is doing both Android and WindowsPhone7 a huge favor—lots of new toys being dangled in front of shoppers this holiday season ;)

Posted by Tamarai in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 4:55 PM (CDT)


VERY nicely said Jeremy

Posted by tivoboy in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 5:19 PM (CDT)


I agree with editorial. And given Apple’s testing facilities, Apple executives HAVE TO HAVE KNOWN about the issue, and proceeded to sell it anyway! Shameful!

The only reason I haven’t returned my iphone4 yet is that I am waiting for the 30 day eval period to expire first. Then in a couple of months I will try again, since Apple has a history of denying problems while working on fixes.  I am curious how many others are thinking the same thing.

Posted by Darren in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 5:20 PM (CDT)


I have no problems at all with my iPhone 4.  I thought the whole thing was overblown, and created a faux crisis/controversy for the competition to capitalize on.  Glad to see the Droid X sold out?  Thank the “topple the big dog” tech media.

Held in my left hand or right hand, held in the lower corner or monkey gripped, I get better reception in my brick home than I ever did with the 3G.  No dropped calls.

I thought the Apple response was superb, and I get a free case to boot.

Posted by Gordy. in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 5:27 PM (CDT)


If you say so, but I still feel like the issue is mostly “much ado about nothing”. My phone has operated fine since day one and continues to work without a glitch.

And, yes, ATT has bad reception in spots where I live.

I really feel the press has intentionally and continually overstated the issue; unfairly, too.

Suddenly everyone seems to want to play amateur radio engineer. Whatever, comes off as mean spirited, scattershot guesswork. All the faux outrage rings shrill to me.

It’s a shame that all this is accomplishing is tarnishing some really excellent work by the people that work at Apple and undeservedly exaggerating the stature of lesser competing products which don’t actually stand up to the same level of scrutiny.

The average phone user looses all around.

Posted by caustic in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 5:28 PM (CDT)


I was waiting to buy an iPhone 4 until I heard Apple’s official response. I watched Steve Job’s Conference via Apple’s web site several times (you can all view it - it’s on Apple’s web site- if you so choose).
I was totally in agreement with his points and I was impressed with his valid arguments. I’m heading out the door within the next hour to my local AT & T store to see if they have any iPhone 4’s in stock so I can buy one !
I’ve never owed and iPhone and I’m looking forward to this purchase. Several friends of mine bought an iPhone 4 and they haven’t had any problems with them, in fact, they love this phone !
I thought that Steve’s response was crystal clear and near perfect !
Sorry, old chum, I can’t agree with your article.

Posted by Martin in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 5:45 PM (CDT)


I am really heartened by some of the responses to this piece, which in my mind, fits into a pattern of negative harping on Apple that simply does not jive with my own experience with decades-long use of Apple products.

Let me acknowledge that Apple isn’t perfect and I don’t expect them to be. Also to note that I think many criticisms of Apple’s overall culture and of Steve Jobs in particular are likely spot on.

However, what I care about is excellence in product design and execution, as well as excellence in customer support. I have never—EVER - received less than excellence from Apple in these areas and this is why I will continue to purchase, use, and recommend their products.

Let me be clear: I’m fine with criticism of Apple. Truly, I am. What I really mind, though, is a pattern of being critical of them over and over again, of an attitude of just waiting to see what we can criticize next about them. Criticize with *constructive* criticism where criticism is due, praise where praise is due. Provide a balanced perspective.


Posted by Steve in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 6:01 PM (CDT)


“Our engineers pored over various designs that would deliver the best overall reception performance for the majority of customers.  We believe we have achieved that with the iPhone 4, and I stand behind my talented engineers 100%.  That said, we knew from the beginning that our antenna design would result in poorer performance, than the 3GS and other competing phones, in certain circumstances for some users.  We should have done a better job communicating that issue to our users from the beginning, and for that I am sorry.  I am also sorry with the way I have treated the issue until now.  Those that have suffered reduced performance with the iPhone 4 are absolutely not holding the phone wrong, and the satisfaction of my users is my most important job.  Here is what I am going to do: “
  Jobs should have just been honest with us, and addressed the audience in a manner similar to above.
  I own a 32gig 3GS that I am quite happy with, and I have to say that I have absolutely no inclination to buy an iPhone 4 given the way Apple has addressed Antennagate.  I agree that the issue has been somewhat overblown in the media, but it absolutely is a real issue that the iPhone’s antenna design has caused.

Posted by 0megapart!cle in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 6:10 PM (CDT)


I am a fan of apple products (orig nano, iphone 3G, mac mini, macbook, ipad, and now the iphone 4).

I am happy for all those who’s iphone4 works great for them. Unfortunately, I did not luck out. I experience the issue pretty dramatically at my home, and since I do not have a land line, this is a daily frustration for me. 

I tend to agree the media has latched on to it and gave it lots of press. Whether it is overblown depends a lot from your perspective. If you are experiencing the problem, you probably wouldn’t think so. You want an explanation! If the bloggers helped force Apple to explain it to me, then good for them.

I am sad to have to return mine, since it is an impressive phone otherwise. I will revert back to my 3G, and like a previous poster, I will try out the iphone4 again down the road. This is not enough to get me to switch to Andriod.

My gut tells me in the near future units coming off the production line will have a coating or some other design tweak to correct the issue.

I’ll still buy Apple products. Mistakes happen, I get that. Just a little disheartened by this product launch and the subsequent issues. Time to rethink being an apple early adopter.

Posted by The Doog in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 6:56 PM (CDT)


Contrition is irrelevant and the need to see it quite immature. This is a company and a phone, not a best friend. If a 50 cent piece of film would have made you feel better, how is a more expensive case less comforting? Further, how is making a statement about long-term solutions even remotely responsible when it’ll take some time to gather the data and engineering studies to make any projections accurately?

Given all the data to date, Apple made the right moves short of pandering to emotional needs.

By the way, Apple clearly stated that iPhone 4 call drop rates were an extra 1 per 100 calls. That only equates to doubling if the 3GS rate was 1 per 100. That’s not the huge number you suggest has plagued the iPhone lineup.

Posted by David in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 7:53 PM (CDT)


Although I don’t experience much of the antenna issue with my iPhone 4 (it does happens sometimes), however this is giving me the perfect excuse to buy a new iPhone next year ;-)

The fact is that it doesn’t matter what Apple said in the press conference, nothing will satisfy, even if Apple hands out iPhone 4 for free and pay your phone bill for entire year, you did still hear people complains.

Apple has always been Apple, it has always behaved like this. Plus this is how it climb its way to the top by NOT listening to the general public.

Posted by Bill in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 8:24 PM (CDT)


Well said and I completely agree with your statements. I’d like to ad that just because millions of units are continuing to sell does not nullify or condone the fact that there still is a problem. Cable TV, cars, and computers all have issues but we don’t refuse to own them for their issues. What we do expect is that the manufacturer own-up-to, take responsibility for, and move toward fixing the issue. What we don’t like is to be marginalized and swatted around like a pesky fly.

People genuinely like the iPhone product but it’s not only or right but duty to say, “Hey Apple we have a problem”. Apple has 3million beta testers and I think we collectively know more than their 18 phd’s. The elitism attitude needs to stop.

Posted by Todd in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 9:58 PM (CDT)


Apple did what they had to do. They had to hold the conference even though they haven’t figured out a real hardware or software fix. Free bumper is the only thing they can do. Not the most sincere answer, but as a business they did the right thing. All the media, including ilounge need to move on. iPhone 4 is still the best phone ever made, even with the “flaw”. Like they said, no phone is perfect.

Posted by Min in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 19, 2010 at 10:01 PM (CDT)


“Readers, there’s a poll on iLounge.com’s front page where you can render your opinion on Apple’s handling of the iPhone 4 issues, so cast your votes if you haven’t already.”

Right way to solicit objective readership vote immediately at the end of the opinionated, forcefully damning and accusational editorial.

And why “50 cents of antenna-coating plastic filmwould have sufficed” and more robust and more expensive bumper or case will not? Because damn if you do and damn if you don’t?

Posted by klopus in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 20, 2010 at 12:06 AM (CDT)


The antenna issue is exactly why I have been an Apple fanboy forever, this is a company dare to think different and try different things. Sure sometimes things might not work out the way they expected (anyone remembers the Cube?), but nevertheless they have tried. What set Apple apart is they always tries to solve a real life issue that no one has thought of or have tried and failed (iTune Store, iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc.). This is radically different from other companies like MS or even Google now-a-day that simply copy, copy, and copy. Sure that Google phone or Win7Phone might one day be better than iPhone, but they do not get respects from me. In my opinion, these company should stop copying but put their money in good use to solve other real-life problems that is not a copy what Apple does.

Posted by Bill in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 20, 2010 at 12:34 AM (CDT)


#10: What was needed was an expression of sincere regret rather than a “no one’s perfect, but you whiners are fools” attitude. If you don’t understand already why a company comes off poorly when it attacks journalists who cover its products and the customers who are either purchasing or considering purchasing its products, nothing I’m going to say will convince you. Regarding the dropped calls number, as has been noted before, if Slate is correct and it’s twice the number of calls dropped by the prior iPhone, that’s an important statistic regardless of the national aggregating and averaging process that makes it seem tiny.

#14: I suspect that most people are either bright or merely opinionated enough to possess and register their own views on this topic, which they can share at any time in the poll. There were 1,700 responses before this editorial was posted, and based on past experience it would be surprising to see the percentages shift substantially.

Regarding the “more robust and more expensive” solutions, we’ll see what Apple offers, but the Bumper “case” is amongst the least protective and most accessory-unfriendly designs we’ve seen in years. Enabling users to choose alternatives that work with the vast majority of car, home, and portable accessories (headphones, batteries, etc.) released over the past three or more years should be the goal.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 20, 2010 at 1:56 AM (CDT)


As someone who has actively recommended Apple products to family and friends in the past, this is one I will not be so ready to say is a great buy.
While many don’t seem to figure that poor reception isn’t important in a mobile communications device, there are others who think that is a pretty important factor.
If you just want all the functions of an iPhone, all the wonderful (and pointless) apps, but are not bothered about making calls, go and buy an iPod touch. You’ll be happy with it, I am sure.
But everyone I know, uses their mobile phone to actually make and receive calls. From what I have seen of the iPhone 4 on three different networks, it drops its reception levels to one or zero bars when held in what is a NORMAL grip. That is THREE different networks - not just your one, much criticised AT&T.

This is a design flaw. All the excuses made by Apple and Jobs, or tours of their high tech, field leading facilities, will not change my mind. Trying to muddy the waters by dragging other phone manufacturers devices in as an excuse for Apple’s design errors was a cheap shot in my opinion. Rather than using the “well, they do it too” rationale, Apple should have ensured the iPhone 4 was above such criticism. It’s not an acceptable excuse, when your kid does something wrong because his buddies also did the same thing, so why should Jobs think it fine to use this tactic? And if the rumours of Apple being aware of a problem are true then they are going to look really bad to the industry and customers. Ford Pinto anyone?

Apple can make a good phone - the 3G is pretty good (not great though when some elements such as the camera, lack of video etc were compared to other devices on the market at the time). The 3GS was an improvement (though not enough to tempt me). I expect that when Apple addresses the design flaw of the iPhone 4 antenna/aerial then it may well be widely praised as a great smartphone.
It may be sorted enough for me to go and get one. But for now it’s not ...

Posted by Bob Levens in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 20, 2010 at 5:46 AM (CDT)


I believe that the wrap around exposed antenna design is going to establish yet another industry standard. Except all those benefits contributing to thinner body and larger battery, Its reception is also obviously better than earlier iPhone, at least for most persons.

For those fews suffering death of touch, I can only think of two solution: get the free bumper or return it.

Posted by Monte Lin in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 20, 2010 at 6:37 AM (CDT)


Good job you’re not advising the industry then!! And spoken like a true devout Applemployee perhaps???
Your solution is to get a “case” which makes any accessory you already own incompatible with the iPhone 4 without the inconvenience of
removing it everytime you wish to use that accessory? As Spock would say “illogical”.
Return the iPhone? Fair enough but for many people this was supposed to be an upgrade - trade in old WORKING iPhone for a hobbled
“improved” model. What are they supposed to do then. Source a 3GS? Or decide to maybe go to another brand of smartphone? That’s a good
business model Apple.
Whether this is just a storm in a teacup or something more flawed from Apple’s design team, time will tell. September maybe? Apple has had some real successes and some failures and history has revealed which was which. I suspect that iPhone 4v1 will be one of those failures.
v2 may involve a redesign and, unless they too believe like you the external antenna is the way forward, something will have been done
about this weak spot.

Posted by Steve Jobsworth in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 20, 2010 at 9:44 AM (CDT)


I think this is a very interesting issue and appreciate the coverage. Let’s remember that this part of iLounge is an editorial page and thus, open to opinions. I’m not as disappointed as Jeremy or others with Apple’s response. I wasn’t thrilled with it either. I owned the first iPhone and I currently own a 3GS. I have recommended the iPhone to everyone in my family. They’ve all purchased one model or another. I just bought my fiancee the iPhone 4 (she’s still waiting to get the white version). I was hoping to see an upgrade in capacity, but I’ve been strongly considering buying the new iPhone 4 myself. As a business owner, I regularly interact with different people and their different smartphones. I’ve only seen a few of the new iPhone 4’s recently, but each time I’ve asked how the people felt about their purchase, their response has not been as euphoric as it was with previous generations.

I’ve always hated AT&T. We have terrible service in my town. I’ve called them a million times about this and they tell me that I’m supposed to have “Very Good” service at this location. Well, my service is so “good” that I’ve been forced to buy a MicroCell (another AT&T product that doesn’t work nearly as well as advertised, but gets the job done basically). My point is, that we have a weak signal where I live and I’ve decided that, yes, I can careful enough to hold the phone in a manner that won’t attenuate the antenna. This doesn’t seem hard to me. Yes, I know the point is, I shouldn’t HAVE to hold it carefully, but I’m ok with that. There are plenty of other features on the new iPhone that I think are worth compromising for (facetime, better camera, better screen, etc.). I’m not sure this has to be such a polarizing issue. I think people should be free to make up their own minds about this and that’s ok. I’ll be happy with my iPhone for now, and I’ll be jealous of you when you get the iPhone 5.

Posted by urbanslaughter in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 20, 2010 at 11:40 AM (CDT)

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