Antennagate: Apple avoids the problem and loses in 5 moves

Everyone should know, by now. The latest Apple creation, the astonishing new iPhone 4, has some really big issues. The main is certainly the so called "death-grip": depending on how you hold the phone, it eventually loses signal and drops calls. As Apple said, "X marks the spot", the spot being the little gap between two external antennas on the outer edge of the new iPhone.

I will try to demonstrate that Apple is avoiding the problem giving void answer and trying to pilot the customers' and press opinion towards wrong concepts.

I will not post here the (really) many video demonstrating how you can make calls drop just using one finger, but I suggest you to search for them on YouTube. This is what actually happens: if you short-circuit the two antennas using your hand (or finger) the antenna reception gets weaker, signal drops from 5 or 4 bars to 1 or 0, and eventually the call drops.

To contain the "bad reputation" plague, the so called Antennagate, on July 2nd Apple has published an open letter addressing the problem. Apple said that they analyzed the problem and found the cause: the algorithm that calculates the bars is wrong! So, they promise they will address this issue and fix it in a software release. Yesterday the officially released the "fix" through iOS version 4.0.1. What a smart move: let the iPhone show an average lower number of bars, so that the signal now weakens from 4 or 3 bars to 2 or 1 (in the same conditons). Everyone in the world will now think to be in less covered areas and that the iPhone is not loosing so much signal.

But, in my opinion, the problem (which clearly is a hardware related bug) will remain. No software fix can solve a physical short-circuit. And, surely, even with iOS 4.0.1 calls will continue to drop.

Yesterday (July 16th) Apple has given a quick and not anticipated press conference to talk about these "rumors". These where the guidelines (the 5 moves):

  1. Every smartphone has a weak spot
  2. AppleCare is receiving few calls from customers complaining about iPhone 4 reception problems
  3. iPhone 4 is dropping less than 1 more call every 100 calls related to the iPhone 3GS
  4. iPhone 4 customers are not bringing back the iPhone 4 to the Apple Store for a refund
  5. Free bumpers for everyone

Let's analyze them one by one. As said, in my opinion Apple avoids the problem and loses in 5 moves.

1. Every smartphone has a weak spot

This is surely true. The antenna reception issue is a physical problem. Human hands and bodies have a strong capacity of absorbing microwaves, including those waves that give us connectivity. This problem is true for Apple, for Nokia, for RIM, for HTC, and for everyone else. Nothing to say about that.

You hold an Apple device, and signal weakens. You hold a Nokia device, and signal weakens. You hold a RIM device, and signal weakens. You hold an HTC device, and signal weakens. And so on. Steve Jobs has correctly addressed one of the problems.

Beside the fact that Nokia and RIM both have argued about Jobs' decision of pulling them into the Antennagate tornado, Jobs has just demonstrated that every smartphone has an issue with reception. But not that every smartphone is constantly dropping calls when gripped. This is true for iPhone 4 (as seen on YouTube), but is it true for the others? Steve has not demonstrated it. And this (dropped calls) is the real issue.

2. AppleCare is receiving few call from customers complaining about iPhone 4 reception problems

3 millions iPhone 4's sold in three weeks. That's great. Kudos for Apple. Only 0,55% customers calling the AppleCare for complaining about reception problems. About 15,000 devices, I'd say. That number sound small. But, how many customers are going directly to Apple Stores to complain? How many customers are calling AT&T Customer Service to complain? Is that real that only 15,000 customers are so desperate to call the AppleCare service for complaining? I'm not that sure. AppleCare is just a slice of the whole pie.

3. iPhone 4 is dropping less than 1 more call every 100 calls related to the iPhone 3GS

Well Steve Jobs said this: for every 100 calls, iPhone 4 is dropping about less than 1 more call than an iPhone 3GS. But, we have no data about the iPhone 3GS, though.

Look at this example: let's suppose that iPhone 3GS drops 0,05 calls every 100 calls, whereas iPhone 4 drops 1 call every 100 calls. Jobs is true when he says that iPhone 4 is dropping less than 1 more call every 100 calls. But is still true that the iPhone 4 is dropping an absolute 20 times more calls than an iPhone 3GS. Numbers are numbers, we cannot argue. So, Steve Jobs hasn't really given us a real datum. We should know how many percent more calls iPhone 4 is dropping compared to the iPhone 3GS.

4. iPhone 4 customers are not bringing back the iPhone 4 to the Apple Store for a refund

Surely they initially will not. They will try to convince themselves that the problem still doesn't exist. And in the beginning  you could have brought back the phone, but paying a tax. Surely now you can do it for free but you still have to pay AT&T fees (since you can buy an iPhone in US only with an AT&T contract). But Steve has said that customers should not pay any fee to AT&T when refunding the iPhone. I believe the number of iPhone 4 returns will grow.

5. Free bumpers for everyone

So, Apple pretends to have found the root of all evil: a bad-algorithm-driven signal bar display. Still, Apple says that using a bumper the death-grip effect almost disappears. So, given that Apple loves their customers, every iPhone 4 owner will get a free bumper. And everyone who has bought an Apple Bumper will get a refund.

This is true only from now till September 30th. And only for Apple Bumpers. If I bought a third party's cover to solve the death-grip problem, I shall not be refunded. If I'll buy an iPhone 4 starting from October 1st, I will not get a free Apple Bumper. That is: after October 1st Apple is telling us that the death-grip issue will no more exist. How comes? Why? Please Steve, tell me. Tell us. You just said that no hardware fix is gonna come to the iPhone 4 design. How could you tell the whole world that you will care about your customers only till September 30th?

Conclusions

Apple makes very well designed products, is a leader in HMI (human machine interfaces) R&D, has reached every single point of the world with their iPods, and so on. The iPhone 4 has a obvious hardware-related issue. A phone that cannot make calls is not a reliable phone. Apple should face this problem and come out with a strong hardware fix. No free bumpers, and no "Just avoid holding it in that way" answers. We all love Apple, we all love Apple products and AppleCare, at least me.  I hope Apple loves me the same way I love them. And I hope to be able to spend so much money on a fully functional product, as always. Know, we all know that Apple cares about their customers (at least so Steve Jobs said yesterday).

So why are they making fun of us?

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