The iPhone 4

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2010-12-27 Print this article Print


The Antenna Rim

On June 15, some 600,000 customers pre-ordered the iPhone 4 and promptly crashed the ordering systems of both Apple and exclusive U.S. carrier AT&T. On June 24, the iPhone 4's first day of general availability, the device's debut was marred by long lines and device shortages. Many seemed pleased with their device-including tech reviewers, who gave high marks to its software and hardware-but reports of a singular problem began to leak across the Web: Whenever a bare hand touched the lower-left portion of that exterior antenna rim, an unknown subset of customers reported that the iPhone 4's signal dipped.

That hue and cry seemed to climax on July 12, when Consumer Reports refused to recommend the iPhone 4 due to what it described as the antenna "problem." The publication found that a rubber bumper, or piece of tape, once placed over the antenna rim, effectively solved the reception issues. "But these options all put the onus on consumers to solve or pay for a fix," blogged Reports' Paul Reynolds. "We're still calling on Apple to provide an acceptable free solution to the iPhone 4's signal loss problem."

For their part, Apple executives insisted that the antenna issues were having no effect on iPhone 4 sales.

"My phone is ringing off the hook [from] people that want more supply," Cook said during a July 20 earnings call. "Right now it is hard to address the real question you're asking: -Is there an effect or not?' because we're selling everything we can make. You can't run an experiment that way."

Nonetheless, Apple intended to mitigate the complaints with a free bumper giveaway program for iPhone 4 owners, an initiative that would apparently cost the company some $175 million. Launched July 23, that program allowed anyone who purchased an iPhone before Sept. 30 to receive an iPhone 4 Bumper or select third-party case from Apple, as well as a full refund for anyone who had already purchased a bumper.

Apple promptly shut down that program on time. "We now know that the iPhone 4 antenna attenuation issue is even smaller than we originally thought," read a Sept. 11 posting on Apple's corporate Website. "A small percentage of iPhone 4 users need a case, and we want to continue providing them a Bumper case for free. For everyone else, we are discontinuing the free case program on all iPhone 4s sold after Sept. 30, 2010."

Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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