Apple this afternoon gave a presentation to address the iPhone 4's antenna problems. This really was the time for Apple to be be concise, candid, apologize, and fix the issue. Instead, the company wound up sounding like AT&T. Apple spent an inordinate amount of time downplaying what's clearly been identified as a design flaw, and insisting that the problem was a problem with smartphones in general (seriously, Steve?). The CEO then announced the company will be giving all iPhone 4 owners a choice of a variety of free cases (beyond just bumpers) -- just because Apple loves you:
We do this because we love our users, and if we screw up, we pick ourselves up and we try harder. And when we succeed, they reward us by staying our users. We take this really personally. Maybe we should have a wall of PR people keeping us away from this stuff, but we don't, we take it really personally. So we've worked the last 22 days on this trying to solve the problem. And we think we've gotten to the heart of the problem."
Except -- they haven't. In the face of overwhelming hard data of a real problem
the company failed completely to identify a real design flaw, stuck to the same lame excuse that users are simply holding their phones wrong -- but added in a new inane wrinkle by insisting all smartphones are experiencing this level of antenna attenuation when gripped properly. That's simply not true -- the Consumer Reports study
that recently poured gasoline on Apple's PR kerfuffle clearly highlighted this hasn't been a problem with previous iPhone models.
Jobs spent a lot of time arguing about just how few customers this problem has impacted. The problem is, as data from several tests has shown, users in markets with decent AT&T coverage (read: major cities, usually) aren't going to notice the drop off in signal when the phone's held. The people who notice it are those in average or lower signal markets, who find themselves going from four bars to a total inability to make a phone call. Just because people with better signal strength aren't noticing the problem, doesn't mean the design flaw doesn't exist.
Despite spending so much time insisting the problem wasn't really a problem, in a post-presentation Q&A session Jobs started teetering dangerously close to actually admitting the company did something wrong -- stating that he believed impacted users may be able to get out of their long-term AT&T contracts. Jobs also noted that they'll "reevaluate" the free case approach in September -- whatever that means. Jobs says there will be no new hardware design for the iPhone
and called a NYTimes report of a possible software fix
In short, there's going to be no fix
for now, outside of entombing a beautifully-designed glass phone in a hunk of free, ugly rubber. Worse perhaps, the specific problem isn't even going to be fully acknowledged or really identified. Apparently, Apple hopes the lure of new case will shut people up about a problem they claim has been "blown out of proportion" (it's not clear how Apple expected people to react to being unable to use the world's most popular phone to make calls because of a design flaw).
The company's nebulous presentation may have done more harm than good. What customers wanted was an acknowledgment of a real problem and a real fix. What they got was a free case, some high grade bullshit, some waffling on whether or not the problem is even real, some whining about the press, and a slideshow.