Recall or “Stop Gap” Fix? My Thoughts on the Upcoming Apple Press Event Around the iPhone 4 Antenna Issues

In Apple, Cellular, Consumer Electronics, Gadgets, General, Hardware, iPhone, Mobile, Opinion, Tech News by Michael SheehanLeave a Comment

Of course I want to jump into the speculation/rumor mill on what Apple will be talking about tomorrow (July 16, 2010) at a hastily called Press Conference around the iPhone 4 (and issues therein). For starters, I don’t have an iPhone 4 (yet). Apple PR has told me that they are backlogged. My local AT&T stores are saying that they won’t have inventory for a few weeks (months?). I will address the “availability” issue in a moment. But I wanted to touch on what I believe may be announced at the Press Event.


For starters, there is plenty of coverage about both the event as well as the iPhone antenna issues, as can be seen in this article from

Apple, the company that has found itself in the limelight over recent weeks for the antenna trouble experienced by some iPhone 4 users, has said that it will hold a news conference this Friday, according to The Wall Street Journal. While the company has kept tight-lipped about the conference, it has acknowledged one thing – that the iPhone 4 will be at the center of attention.

Within hours of the iPhone hitting owners’ doorsteps last month, the reports and YouTube videos showing the then-unconfirmed issue began showing up all over the Internet. The issue came to a head this week when Consumer Reports said it wouldn’t recommend the phone and the R-word – recall – started being heard. Although Apple has said the issue could be found across various cell phone models and was due to a software error in how the phone reported signal strength, the hoopla over the antenna issues has continued to grow. This week, the iPhone 4 debacle (which some are now calling “antennagate”) hit mainstream audiences when it made it on to David Letterman’s Top 10 list.

From – “Apple to Address iPhone 4 Issues at Friday Conference.”


My Opinions

Here are my thoughts (about the issue and the press conference):

  • iOS 4.0.1 Update will NOT fix the issue – today Apple released iOS4.0.1 which included the “new algorithm” for calculating signal strength. I have installed it already and do see that there is lower signal now. This will definitely be mentioned in the Press Conference. What will be tricky to explain here is if Apple was doing false advertising with earlier versions of the iPhones/iPhone Software in order to sell product. Could this tie back to the AT&T issues and give Apple an “out” of their exclusive contract with AT&T? Perhaps that has already happened. But, it is important to realize that the iOS4.0.1 update is NOT going to fix the problem.
  • 3rd Party Proof Abounds – yes, it’s pretty hard for Apple at this point to say that there ISN’T a problem. Too many 3rd parties have confirmed the issue. But let’s face it, many phones have similar problems like this just not as pronounced. It all started when manufacturers included the antenna in the body design and not as something that jutted out from the body. Apple took the next step by really incorporating it into the outer shell of the product. However, there seems to be yet more speculation that designers knew about the “grip of death” issue facing the new design. Is that why Apple, for the first time, created a case for the iPhone 4, that specifically corrects the issue?
  • A “Fix” Available through Cases – so, Apple already has a solution but this could be a bit of a black eye for them. The issue being, that the solution is in the form of a $30 piece of plastic that is sold by Apple. This is the first time that Apple has ever sold an iPhone case. I have a feeling that at the conference, current (and future for a while) iPhone 4 owners will be able to come into an Apple Store to get their free “bumper”. Optionally, perhaps they will offer (for a shipping fee only) for users to have a bumper mailed to them. This will be an optional fix as some iPhone users may have bought cases already. I don’t think that Apple will offer to reimburse them. They will offer the bumper for free to those who want it.
  • Scarcity on Purpose? – it is practically impossible to get an iPhone now. Orders have been delayed significantly, leading me and others to believe that a hardware fix is on the way. This would make the most sense and Apple could quite easily say that the new version is an updated REV of the design. This has been done before with Apple with other products, so it is not really “something new”. But wow, having to bring in your new iPhone 4 to have Apple pry it open to force in a piece of plastic or something to prevent the signal drop could take months to accomplish. But in the meantime, perhaps the next REV will come out. And perhaps Apple is already applying the internal fix on the delayed orders.
  • Press Conference: “I’ll Take the Combo Platter” – here’s what I think will be talked about at the Press Conference:
    • Restating the Success – Apple will reinforce what a great device the iPhone 4 is (and, it really it pretty amazing when you take the signal issue out of the equation). They will restate the huge sales and how it is “changing the lives of many users”. But hopefully if they do do this, they will take a very humble and transparent tone.
    • Confirm the Problem – after some horn (or vuvuzela) tooting, Apple will fully acknowledge that there IS a problem with the antenna design. This will be tricky as well since people will wonder why they didn’t delay the launch or do something about it during the testing phase.
    • “Resolution” Talk – once they fully come out with their acknowledgment of the issue, they will talk about a “multi-pronged” solution that they are going to kick off. I think this will include talking about the recalculated signal strength algorithm and how that will be more accurate for users (and will give Apple/AT&T the ability to say that users are in a low signal strength zone). Then they will talk about the free bumper program where users can either come into an Apple Store or receive via mail a bumper for free as a “Short Term” fix. Then they will talk about the medium term fix which will include coming in to the Genius Bar (or shipping their iPhone to Apple) where a “stop gap” (LITERALLY) procedure will be done to correct the issue by inserting an “internal bumper” of sorts to correct the issue. Lastly, they will say that a new REV of the iPhone will be available in the Fall with a redesigned antenna.
    • Apologies – I’m truly hoping that Apple will be extremely humble at this conference. This should not be a PR event saying how great they are. They should really just be transparent, honest and sincere. It will go a long way and hopefully help people forget about how they first responded to the issue.
  • Recoiling at a Recall – honestly, and I know that others will disagree with me, I don’t think that Apple will do a recall. Too many units have been sold and many of those customers are still happy. If you couple the ideas above with how nice (I assume) the iPhone 4 is, there will be enough there to warrant NOT doing a recall. Recalls are expensive. The antenna issue is NOT life-threatening. It is pissing a lot of people off though, people who expect only the best from Apple. So this will definitely be a tricky path to navigate for Apple, Apple PR and Steve Jobs. But a recall will only make some people happy, and in the long run will be very expensive for Apple, their shareholders and potentially future customers (the unforeseen costs will have to be absorbed somewhere – future price hikes?). If the batteries were exploding or something, THAT would be a different use case and, in my opinion, would warrant a recall.

Forgive the brain dump above. I just needed to get my thoughts out to all of you. Leave me a comment on what YOU think Apple will and should do.

So, the ball is in Apple’s court right now. They are normally quite good at PR, but usually from a Marketing perspective. Their Customer Service teams are stellar (I have had many encounters with them and they are helpful, friendly and smart). I just hope that a equilibrium can be found between telling the truth and fixing the issue in a positive way. I will be eager to see what transpires tomorrow.

HTD says: What do YOU think Apple will announce tomorrow about the iPhone 4 antenna problem?