Apple is closing the case on the iPhone 4's antenna-rim issues, which dominated much of the conversation about the company and its signature smartphone throughout the summer.
"We now know that the iPhone 4 antenna attenuation issue is even smaller than we originally thought," reads a note 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."
The note adds: "We are also returning to our normal returns policy for all iPhone 4s sold after Sept. 30. Users experiencing antenna issues should call AppleCare to request a free Bumper case."
It makes no mention, however, of whether Apple has somehow re-engineered the device to circumvent the problem, which was said to involve a loss of signal whenever bare skin touched the exterior antenna rim.
A recent survey by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster suggested that those antenna issues, combined with Apple's reliance on AT&T as its exclusive iPhone carrier, had hurt sales of the device. Of the 258 cell phone users surveyed, 69 percent reported being aware of the device's "quality issues," with 20 percent saying those issues had "impacted" their purchase decision.
Apple executives, however, have insisted that the antenna issues have not affected the iPhone 4's sales.
"My phone is ringing off the hook [from] people that want more supply," Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said during a July 20 earnings call. "Right now it is hard to address the real question you're asking, about, 'Is there an effect or not?' because we're selling everything we can make. You can't run an experiment that way."
During that call, Apple executives announced that the company would pay out roughly $175 million in free rubber bumpers that cover the iPhone 4's antenna rim.
Apple released its iOS 4.1 update for mobile devices Sept. 8. In addition to fixing a handful of software bugs, the upgrade installs new applications such as the multiplayer-centric Game Center, iTunes TV show rentals and the Ping social networking service. The update also preserves iOS 4 features such as multitasking, the iBooks e-reader, application folders and the ability to change home-screen wallpaper. Apple plans to follow the update with iOS 4.2 for the iPad.