iPhone 4 shows prudence in procrastination

Déjà vu. That's French for a feeling of having already experienced a present situation and that's how I feel as I pen this blog.

Déjà vu. That's French for a feeling of having already experienced a present situation and that's how I feel as I pen this blog.

Some nine months ago, I posed a question on this blog: Do you really need an iPhone? In a nutshell, I questioned if people should blindly rush into purchasing the Apple iPhone 3GS, and if consumers should let their hearts rule instead of their heads.

My conclusion then? There are reasons to consider buying an iPhone, but there are also some other reasons consumers shouldn't rush headlong into buying one.

Fast forward to today, we've witnessed Apple releasing its latest iteration of its iPhone, dubbed the iPhone 4, and boy, what a hit it has been--3 million units sold in a mere three weeks in the U.S. alone!

Such is its popularity that some people I know have pre-booked the iPhone 4 and asked our U.S. contacts to buy the iPhone 4 and hand-carry it back with them. Others are trying to see if they can get it through the grey market here in Malaysia where I'm told a buyer would have to fork out a whopping 3,300 ringgit (US$1,000) for an iPhone 4.

But hang on now, as impressive as that may sound, I find myself having to once again answer the question I did nine months ago... Do you the need the iPhone 4?

That's the déjà vu I'm experiencing.

There's something to be said about rushing headlong into buying a new product. As I've said before, I suspect the quest to own an iPhone is more about being hip and about keeping up with the Joneses rather than a calculated decision to buy a phone so that they can exploit the true power of a multimedia device.

And nine months later, I believe this conclusion still rings true. I've no doubt that people are just attracted to the iPhone because of the way it has been positioned in savvy marketing campaigns churned out by Apple, as well as the hype that has been carried in the media.

Sure there may be some compelling reasons why people would want the iPhone 4, but this time around, things may be different for the near impervious Apple Inc., and might give Apple fanboys and would-be fan boys a moment of pause.

The iPhone 4 has been saddled with a slew of problems. There are various reports about the iPhone 4 problems, including screen yellowing, camera not functioning, problems with the proximity sensor and Wi-Fi connection, and notably the worst of all, the so-called "Antennagate" problem.

Known also as the "left-handed reception" problem, Antennagate affects the reception of the iPhone 4 when a user's hand covers the left side of the iPhone 4, which is where the device's antenna is located.

Reports vary, with some saying that when that happens the signal bar on the phone drops to nil, while others say they only experience a sharp drop in signal bar strength.

Whatever the case, the problem has been proven to exist by notable publications such as Consumer Reports and Wired magazine.

Competitors too, notably Motorola, have had a field day with Apple's woes as they came out with advertisements stating their phones can be held in any way users choose, obviously alluding to the fact that with the iPhone 4, they can't.

Not surprisingly, Apple's Steve Jobs has been indignant about the problem, noting that the media has just overplayed this issue.

And to avert the PR nightmare, Apple has offered a "band-aid" kind of fix for the Antennagate problem by giving away free cases, which it said are designed to keep a user's hands from touching the iPhone 4 antenna, thereby, isolating the signal from being disrupted.

Sure, the press may have exaggerated the issue and may have used it to serve out detractions on the iPhone 4, but the responses that Jobs gave in a 90-minute press conference last Friday are what surprised me most.

In a nutshell, Jobs tried to generalize the problem by attempting to prove on stage--by using other smartphones as a demo--that all devices suffer from the same reception issues when the same conditions are applied to the test.

Understandably, Apple's main rivals--Samsung, HTC and BlackBerry--were upset as they lambasted Jobs and suggested that Apple's Antennagate problem is its own doing.

These two acts by the Apple chief are beginning to go beyond merely a PR snafu as shares of the iPhone maker ended 1.7 percent lower, after tumbling as much as 4.1 percent earlier last week, according to a Reuters report.

And in another Reuters online poll, 240 out of 430 respondents (56 percent) said the controversy made them less likely to buy an iPhone.

As a radio frequency (RF) man before, I find Jobs' response strange. Granted, no phone is immune to disruption from physical blockages and can be affected in a variety of ways but to imply that something is wrong by saying that other phones are also susceptible to the problem isn't going to solve the problem.

Isolating a user's hand from the antenna also isn't exactly a long-term solution and Apple will have to do a lot better to fix the root of the problem rather than its symptoms.

The latest brouhaha over the iPhone 4 shows that competitors have upped the ante on Apple. As a result of increased competition, Apple is now forced to bring up its product lifecycle for the iPhone 4 to less than a year as compared to refreshing its lifecycle on a yearly basis.

Add that to the pressure of Apple having to keep the cool factor in the iPhone 4 and endow it with more features may have caused Apple to overlook the reliability of certain functionalities of its new iPhone 4.

But I actually think this debacle is a good thing for Apple. For if it had not needed to face this issue, it might go on thinking that all its products are impervious to any criticism or problems, and may then have gone on to continue giving the world products that did not meet the stringent needs of today's consumers. The question now is how will Apple react to this whole fiasco in future.

So back to the question I started with: Should anyone rush to buy the iPhone 4?

My answer? Take a moment of pause and consider the many other alternatives out there before deciding...

For the mighty Apple iPhone is not as infallible as people think and it may have finally met its match.