You could say last week was one heck of a week for Apple. On July 13, Consumer Reports (CR) released the results of its tests of Apple’s Phone, and said that it cannot recommend the iPhone 4 because of a much reported signal problem with the phone’s antenna. According to CR, when someone touches a spot on the phone’s lower left side with their finger or hand, the signal “can significantly degrade enough” to cause the connection to be lost completely if a person is in an area with a weak signal. In addition to the iPhone 4, CR tested other AT&T phones, including iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre. CR reported that none of the others had the problems of losing signals that iPhone 4 does.
CR tested three iPhone 4s in “the controlled environment of CR’s radio frequency (RF) isolation chamber.” It also tested several other AT&T phones, including the Palm Pre and the iPhone 3G S. CR questioned Apple’s claims in a recent letter that the problem is due to faulty software which “mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength.” According to CR, “The tests also indicate that AT&T’s network might not be the primary suspect in the iPhone 4’s much-reported signal woes.” In its letter, Apple stated that it will release a “free software update within a few weeks” that will solve the problem.
Last week, Fox News reported that Apple is censoring the discussions of the CR report on its message board, discussions.apple.com. The Unofficial Apple Weblog, tuaw.com, discovered the censorship. [ed. note: tuaw is now reporting that some discussion boards have been reinstated]
Rounding off the week, on Friday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs held a news conference on the iPhone 4. Jobs announced that iPhone 4 users will receive a free case or bumper until September 30, and users who already purchased cases will receive refunds for the price of the case. Although he apologized to users who have had problems, he said that the “weak spots” are part of today’s smartphones. “We knew if you gripped it in a certain way the bars ware going to go down a bit just like every smartphone,” he said. “We didn’t think it was going to be a big issue.”
Jobs dismisses critics
Prior to Friday’s announcement, Jobs had responded to negative reports about the iPhone 4 largely by dismissing them. When Bloomberg Business Week reported that a senior Apple engineer and antenna expert, Ruben Caballero warned Jobs about the iPhone 4’s reception problem last year, Jobs said of the report, “It’s a total crock. We challenged them to substantiate that.”
A report in a New York Times article said the iPhone 4 “exposed a longstanding weakness in the basic communications software inside Apple’s phones.” Jobs said of the article, “They’re just making this stuff up.”
Have these responses from Apple and Jobs been effective? Patrick Kerley, senior digital strategist with Levick Strategic Communications, gave Apple’s overall response to the situation a C. “Apple got caught flat-footed,” said Kerley. “By waiting as long as they did, they created a vacuum of news, and others stepped in, like Consumer Reports, to fill that vacuum.”
“This wasn’t a model for other companies to follow,” Kerley said. “Not a lot of other companies can wait weeks to respond.”