Apple's 'Antennagate' mea culpa - free case until Sept 30 (Updated)

After being dogged by problems with the iPhone 4, Apple today held a press conference announcing what it hopes will solve the problem for good.As the NYTimes predicted, Apple didn't issue a sweeping recall.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

After being dogged by problems with the iPhone 4, Apple today held a press conference announcing what it hopes will solve the problem for good.

As the NYTimes predicted, Apple didn't issue a sweeping recall. Instead I can summarize Apple's response in five words "free case until September 30."

Apple noted that you can get a free bumper case (or a refund if you've already purchased one) and that since they can't make bumpers fast enough, you'll be able to select from a choice of cases on the Apple website starting late next week.

iPhone 4 customers still have the option of returning the phone for a full refund, with no restocking fee within 30 days.

Apple also announced that the White iPhone is going to start shipping at the end of July and that its bringing the iPhone to 17 more countries on July 30, including:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Hong Kong
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

After the presentation portion of press conference Apple's Tim Cook and Bob Mansfield joined Steve Jobs to answer questions (courtesy of Engadget)...

Q1: Are you doing anything else to address the issue? Perhaps changing hardware?

Steve: You know, the 3GS has the same problem. We're getting reports from customers that this is better than the 3GS. So I don't know changing the antenna design would help -- I don't know what our next antenna design will look like.

Q2: 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.

Q3: You showed people almost covering the entire phone in their hand, but on the iPhone 4 it can happen with just a touch. Can you explain that difference?

Bob: When you touch the phone, you put yourself between the signal and your phone, so when you touch that spot you can attenuate the signal, and if you grip it with your whole hand, you can attenuate it even more. We don't build phones with an antenna on top...

Q4: Were you told about the design before the phone was released?

Steve: Are you talking about the Bloomberg article? That's total bullshit," and we've challenged them to show proof that that. If anyone had said this thing has problems, we would have dispatched people to deal with that issue.

Whoa strong words!

Q5: Are you willing to make an apology to investors?

Steve: You know we hear from customers who love this phone and have a great experience with it, and we're doing a lot to help them with any issues they're seeing. To investors, you know, you invest in the company we are, so if the stock goes down $5... I don't think I owe them an apology.

Wow, just wow. I think that Steve could have handled that better.

Q6: Do you think you're making users choose between form and function?

Steve: No, we strive to do both. For instance, we make the phone smaller, so it fits well in your pocket... the Retina Display... it's like a fine printed book, it blows away other displays. It costs a little more, but we made it work. The iPhone 4 is an exterior antenna, so it doesn't live inside the case, we have a larger battery for better battery life. We try to have our cake and eat it too, we try to have great design and great performance.

Q7: Will there be refunds for AT&T contracts?

A: I believe so, yes.

Q8: On the September 30th date, is that to let people know that you'll have to buy a case?

Steve: Not really, we'll reevaluate then. Maybe we'll have a better idea. Maybe Eminem will come out with a band-aid that goes over the corner and everyone will want that.

Ok, that's just hilarious. Clearly Steve takes Antennagate very personally.

Q9: Will the refund include third party cases?

A: There's a very small number of third party cases out there. So no.

Q10: Well it's interesting, there aren't any cases out there, and it's hard to get cases now. If the third-party case buyers can produce a receipt, why not give them one?

Steve: It's really simple, if we tell people what our next product is, they stop buying our current products. Sometimes websites buy stolen property and they get out there... and case makers have a history of showing off their new cases for our new products. The case vendors haven't had a history of helping to keep our work under wraps.

Q11: Do any of you use the cases? I don't.

Steve: Well I don't. And I get better reception, I hold it like this [death grip] and never see problems.

Another snappy answer! Clearly Steve still holds a major grudge against Gizmodo -- as evidenced by Giz not receiving an invitation to today's event.

Q12: Would you have done anything differently knowing what you know now?

Steve: Well, of course the Consumer Reports stuff was bad, and of course we would have liked to get on this sooner. We just got this data. We just learned what was going on. We're an engineering company. We think like engineers. We love it, we think it's the right way to solve real problems. I don't think that's going to change, and the way we love our customers isn't going to change. Maybe it's human nature -- when you're doing well, people want to tear you down. I see it happening with Google, people trying to tear them down. And I don't understand it... what would you prefer? That we were a korean company, that we were here in America leading the world with these products... maybe it's just that people want to get eyeballs on their sites. We've been around for 34 years... haven't we earned the credibility and the trust of the press? I think we have that from our users. I didn't see it exhibited by some of the press as this was blown so far out of proportion. I'm not saying we didn't make a mistake -- we didn't know that it would have these issues, we didn't know we were putting a bull's eye on the phone... but this has been so overblown. But to see how we could do better is going to take some time.

Q13: Is there a hardware redesign in this generation that could fix this problem?

A: You can go on the web and look at pictures of Nokia phones that ship with stickers on the back that say "don't touch here" -- you can go on YouTube and see these. We should you three phones today, all good phones. So right now the state of the art of the entire industry is that no one has solved this problem. Would I like Apple to be first? Yes. Can we make it better right now? Maybe, we'll see.

Steve: But not everyone is seeing this -- a small number encounter it. For those customers we'll get them a case, and if that doesn't work, we'll get them a full refund. And we'll continue to work on antennas that don't have this problem. But I think we're where the rest of industry is right now.

Q14: Was a recall ever up for discussion?

Steve: We get email from people all over the world about issues. We're really serious about this. We try to figure this out. We come out to their places with test equipment, we want to see logs. We try to get the info and figure it out... Bob: For the record, we told them we were coming first. Steve: And we didn't break down any doors.

Where to start? Poor form. Making jokes about the raid on Jason Chen's house? Tacky and arrogant.

Q15:What kind of impact do you think this will have on sales?

Tim: We’ll hold financial stuff for our Q2 results call next week.

Q16: Engadget asked if there was possibility of a software fix (based on the NYT article stating an inside source claimed there could be a fix of that type coming.)

Steve had a long answer largely dismissing the question. Then Scott Forstall asked for a mic, and he said that the statement in the Times was "patently false."

Q17: I'd like to know if the handset has any role in congestion management... the congestion problem, it didn't get better with the iPhone 4. Does the stack play no role at all in the management of congestion?

Steve: I'd let Scott take this in a second, but first, when AT&T wants to add a cell tower in Texas, it takes about three weeks... when they want to add one in SF, it takes three years. That's the single biggest problem they're having. They're spending a lot expanding their networks, and our data rates are way better on the iPhone 4, but AT&T has to expand its network, and that's a long process. I know because we're constantly asking about it. They're trying really hard, and sometimes I think they should enlist the support of the users in the community.

More soon...

Photo: Engadget

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