'We aren't perfect': Free cases to alleviate iPhone 4 problems (Update 2)

Jul 16, 2010 By JORDAN ROBERTSON and JESSICA MINTZ , AP Technology Writers
Apple CEO Steve Jobs talks about the Apple iPhone 4 at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Friday, July 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

(AP) -- A perfect iPhone? There's no app for that. Apple Inc. will give free protective cases to buyers of its latest iPhone to prevent reception problems that occur when people cover a certain spot on the phone with a bare hand.

CEO Steve Jobs apologized Friday to people who are less than satisfied with the iPhone 4, even as he denied it has an antenna problem that needs fixing.

"We're not perfect," Jobs said at a news conference. "Phones aren't perfect."

The more than 3 million people who have already bought an iPhone 4 can go to Apple's website starting late next week and sign up for a free case, he said. Apple can't make enough of its $29 "Bumper" cases for everyone, so the company will let people chose from several case styles.

New buyers through Sept. 30 will also be eligible. Apple will send refunds to people who already bought a Bumper.

Jobs, expressing irritation with the critical coverage of the phone's reception problems, echoed an earlier statement from Apple that no cell phone gets perfect reception. He played a video showing competing phones, including a BlackBerry from Research in Motion Ltd., losing signal strength when held in certain ways. He talked for 45 minutes and took 45 minutes of questions with Apple's chief operating officer, Tim Cook, and Bob Mansfield, a senior Apple executive in charge of hardware engineering.

Phones usually have an antenna inside the body. In designing the iPhone 4, Apple took a gamble on a new design, using parts of the phone's outer casing as the antenna. That saved space inside the tightly packed body of the phone, but meant that covering a spot on the lower left edge blocked the wireless signal.

Consumer Reports magazine said covering the spot with a case or even a piece of duct tape alleviates the problem. It refused to give the iPhone 4 its "recommended" stamp of approval for that reason, and on Monday it urged Apple to compensate buyers and fix the problem. The company had been criticized about spotty iPhone service even before the newest model came out.

On Friday, in the company's first remarks following the magazine's report, Jobs said Apple was "stunned and upset and embarrassed."

Jobs said the iPhone 4's antenna issue isn't widespread, with just over five out of every 1,000 complaining to Apple's warranty service and less than 2 percent returning the device.

"We're not feeling right now that we have a giant problem we need to fix," Jobs said. "This has been blown so out of proportion that it's incredible."

Analysts have criticized Apple's responses to reports of reception problems as dismissive, and cautioned that the company shouldn't come across as arrogant. A curt note attributed to Jobs told one early iPhone buyer to either hold the phone a different way or buy a case.

Apple has also said the main problem is actually with software, not antenna design. Apple said it recently discovered that iPhones display more cell phone signal "bars" than they should, leaving people who believed they had a strong signal frustrated by dropped calls. Apple issued a software update Thursday that it said would make the number of bars shown on the phone's face more accurate.

But Consumer Reports painted the problem as much broader. On Friday, the magazine said the free cases were "a good first step toward Apple identifying and finding a solution for the signal-loss problem of the iPhone 4."

Dan Hays, who focuses on telecommunications at management consulting firm PRTM, said it was striking that Jobs said the iPhone 4 drops one more call out of 100 than the previous model, the 3GS. That doesn't sound like a big difference, but a typical U.S. phone only drops one to 1.5 calls per 100, so it could be that the iPhone 4 drops nearly twice as many calls as the older model, Hays said.

No phone owner wants a gadget that doesn't work. But many people who have bought an iPhone 4 or are considering one seem willing to forgive the antenna problem because they like its other features so much.

"It's not really my concern because I hardly make calls," said Ross Beck, a 22-year-old student in Seattle. "Honestly, it doesn't faze me. I know Apple and I know they fix their mistakes."

Helen Ferszt walked out of Apple's flagship store in New York City on Thursday after ordering the iPhone 4, her third model, despite having heard of the reception problems.

"I love the iPhone," said the 78-year-old psychotherapist from New York. But she added that Apple needs to do better than giving away a free case.

"No, I want it to be fixed," she said. "They can't just hang us out to dry."

Jobs apologized Friday to buyers who had less-than-perfect experiences with the new device.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to make them happy and if we can't make them happy we're going to give them a full refund and say we're really sorry we inconvenienced you, and we're going to do better next time," he said.

The refund applies even for those who have long-term contracts with AT&T Inc., the iPhone's exclusive U.S. wireless carrier.

Explore further: What's next for the smartphone in a rapidly changing market?

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User comments : 7

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Bob_B
3 / 5 (2) Jul 16, 2010
Ignore the engineers. Rush through the end of development with no real integration testing. Pitiful. And - you - Apple fans are paying through the nose for inferior quality. Why don't you let go of your hi-tech 'god' and the Apple 'fairy tale' and get in the real world?
Uncle_Bex
not rated yet Jul 16, 2010
I love how they talk about their 17 anechoic chambers, which cost them upwards of $100M, yet they apparently decided to forgo engineering and instead rely on marketing whiz-bang in order to supply their product. While I am not an Apple fanboy by an means, I can appreciate thoughtful industrial design. And it saddens me to see that there really is no substance to back up the design. They have all of the talent and resources in the world at their disposal, yet they are content with mediocrity. Imagine the world if they truly wanted to change it instead of merely gearing up for planned obsolescence and larger shareholder dividends.
Bitflux
1.4 / 5 (9) Jul 16, 2010
Until recent i was a pure pc user then i tried a mac out of curiosity. I found out that its just easier with a mac.. the stuff just works - not like with pc's and windows. What really catches my eye is the amount of articles in pc magasines that says: learn how to tweak your windows... How to regain performance.. tuning windows.. etc. etc. never had that problem with a mac - besides the time when i installed Microsoft office for mac.

To me pc users that defends their way of life and lashes out for Apple fans in this manner, is probably just afraid of new things and change.

But youre right, Apple is not allowed to make flaws like any other human based company. Steve, we are utterly disappointed in you :oD

Anything made in china is bound to fail - move production back into the countries were the items are designed and you will have quality. Ill rather pay more for quality than ruining the earth with triple the amount of shitty hardware trash.
bbd
5 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2010
Why is it that the media incessantly promotes Apple products under the guise of "news"? Hype and marketing is all it is. Although Apple does make fine products, they are not ground-breaking technology to the point where they need to have news reports written and published about them.

P.S. If you're asking, "Well then, why did you read it?" ... you're right. I wouldn't normally, but I noticed the headline and took the opportunity to gripe. I won't be back.
ScientistAmauterEnthusiast
5 / 5 (1) Jul 17, 2010
Until recent i was a pure pc user then i tried a mac out of curiosity. I found out that its just easier with a mac.. the stuff just works - not like with pc's and windows. What really catches my eye is the amount of articles in pc magasines that says: learn how to tweak your windows... How to regain performance.. tuning windows.. etc. etc. never had that problem with a mac - besides the time when i installed Microsoft office for mac.

To me pc users that defends their way of life and lashes out for Apple fans in this manner, is probably just afraid of new things and change.

But youre right, Apple is not allowed to make flaws like any other human based company. Steve, we are utterly disappointed in you :oD

Anything made in china is bound to fail - move production back into the countries were the items are designed and you will have quality. Ill rather pay more for quality than ruining the earth with triple the amount of shitty hardware trash.


Fanboy?
Drumsk8
not rated yet Jul 17, 2010
Please someone write a lovely worm virus to infect all the rubbish apple products and show the inner core is rotten old technology glossed with a shiny red exterior.

Apple as a company are caring less and less for their customers and more and more on shareholders profits. It's such a shame that most of the population can easily be mislead with media hype and false advertising.

BTW I use all OS's including Solaris at times, for me you get what you pay for with the hardware first then choose an OS. This is apples biggest flaw they churn out crap hardware and supposedly robust software. Don't believe me check the specs of a top end mac book pro verses any laptop with windows or other for the same price!
Bob_B
not rated yet Jul 17, 2010
$29 "Bumper" cases! Who says Apple is stealing your money? Rubber cases never were so cheap! I bet Jobs is even richer now, FANBOY just bought some more Apple junk, hehe.