When will Apple PR go into crisis mode over iPhone antenna issue?

Summary:As criticisms go mainstream over the iPhone 4 antenna flaw, it's unclear how bad things must get before Apple PR's team kicks in for some crisis management.

Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall in the meeting rooms used by Apple's PR team this week? I mean, really, what's going through their heads today?

The story about how Consumer Reports dissed the iPhone 4 over its antenna hardware flaw got plenty of attention yesterday - and not just in tech blogs, but also in mainstream news. The Cult of Mac blog touched base with some PR crisis management experts who say that a recall of the iPhone 4 is inevitable. And Apple has been quietly deleting forum threads about this issue on its support site.

Also: Apple's bizarre PR strategy: delete unflattering threads

It's not often that mainstream press chime in on Apple's woes. Instead, it usually devotes a few minutes to Apple's big announcements, putting experts on camera who talk about how innovative and revolutionary the company's products are and how Steve Jobs is a technology genius. For the most part, it stands clear of the criticisms that are normally reserved for tech blogs.

This is a big deal and, so far, the only public comments made by Apple came in the form of an open letter that basically threw AT&T under the bus. In it, Apple blamed the problem on a software miscalculation that makes the display of signal bars on a phone show that the signal is stronger than it really is. Criticisms about the hardware design were pretty much dismissed.

But now that Consumer Reports disputes that claim, doesn't it seem that Apple should come back with a statement that either 1) further disputes CR's findings, 2) acknowledges the problem and says that it's looking into a fix, 3) offers a free case for iPhone 4 owners or 4) issues a recall.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who is regularly bullish on all things Apple, has issued a note saying that this antenna issue is being "overblown" and that it won't affect sales. He further noted that most customers buy a case anyway, so this isn't really a problem that affects them.

Also see: Dudes, put the Bumper on the iPhone 4 and move on

I think that's sort of a cop-out explanation. This antenna thing is a legitimate flaw, enough of an issue for Consumer Reports to note it. It's not about whether Apple will SELL you a case to fix this problem. This is about Apple selling a device that clearly didn't go through the company's rigorous testing process - or maybe just missed one of those tests - and then blaming AT&T, a software glitch, users who hold it incorrectly and so on.

A recall would be huge and might not be necessary. At this point, the public would probably be receptive to a "we're looking into it" reply from Apple. Instead, the only thing Apple has done publicly in the last 24 hours has been to censor (I mean "delete") comments on the Apple site that have critical of the device and company.

Of course, on the Internet, nothing really ever goes away. A cached version of the deleted thread is still alive and accessible.

Hopefully, the PR team is meeting as I type this and brainstorming exactly what it is they will say about this problem. I hope they issue that statement soon. The silence coming from Apple HQ is deafening.

Other coverage:

Topics: iPhone, Apple, Mobility

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