Tuesday, July 13, 2010

iPhone 4: Apple vs. the World

I do not yet own an iPhone 4.  For me, an early adopter, this is a huge admission.  Certainly, the inability of Apple to meet demand for this product is one of the reasons I have yet to make the purchase, but I suspect that there may be other, less tangible, reasons as well.   I bought the original iPhone the day after it went on sale and upgraded to the iPhone 3GS on the day of its release.  For me, the iPhone 3GS represented a major upgrade over the original iPhone.  Speed was the major selling point.  The iPhone 4 is a total redesign, but I have not felt as compelled to upgrade as I did last time.  Why?

Well, for one thing, most of the features that make the new iPhone so appealing are software features.  I was able to get those features by upgrading the software on my 3GS to iOS4.  The new phone does offer great new hardware features-increased pixel density and front-and-rear-facing cameras being the most prominent-but I am just not feeling it.  Yet.

Perhaps my hesitation is due to the negative press regarding this antenna issue.  As I am left-handed and the signal issue occurs when the left side of the phone's antenna band is covered by the user's hand, it would appear that I am more likely to experience signal degradation than are right-handed users.  HOWEVER, THIS SHOULD BE A NON-ISSUE FOR ALL USERS SINCE ANYONE WITH ANY SENSE AT ALL SHOULD PUT THIS PHONE IN A CASE!  The back of the iPhone 4 is made of hardened glass, but glass nonetheless.  I have seen two iPhone 4s with shattered backs because the youths who bought them did not also spend the extra money for a protective case.  In addition to providing protection against damage, a case also fixes the signal issue.

Apple makes the point that all cell phones are susceptible to signal degradation if the user covers the antenna while holding it.  This is true.  Steve Jobs' flippant reply to troubled users is to hold the phone in such a way as to not bridge the antenna band with your hand.  "Hold it differently," he said.  Okay. Thanks Steve for that helpful tip. While Apple technically is correct in its position, its seeming indifference and hard-to-believe explanation has created a public relations nightmare for a company with a reputation for design excellence and exacting attention to detail.

Apple, in my opinion, totally fumbled here.  As an accessory, the company is selling in multiple colors a rubberized "bumper" that both protects the phone from damage and resolves the antenna issue.

Apple is asking $29 for these bumpers that cannot cost it more that 25 cents to make.  Just give the damn bumpers away for free and be done with it.  Yes, Apple, you are right in that this reception issue affects all cellphones, not just Apple's phones, but is being technically correct here worth the public relations and market capitalization hit that you are taking?  Your shareholders certainly don't think so.  We would much rather you lose a few million giving away these cases than have something like $30,000,000 in market capitalization clipped by refusing to acknowledge this design flaw or offering what is a simple fix.

This non-issue has now become an issue.  Consumer Reports just shot Apple in the face with its report yesterday that, because of this reception issue, it cannot currently recommend the iPhone 4 despite acknowledging that it is the best smartphone on the market. Apple is a great company that still thinks like an underdog.  It's not.  It is, by market capitalization, the second biggest company in the country.  It has become a target for every other consumer electronics concern and these companies are feasting on Apple's hubris.  Admit the problem, give away the bumpers, and move on.  Your loyal base of users will forgive you this and, in offering the bumpers as a fix, you will reenforce your reputation for excellent customer service.  It also will most likely get me off the fence.