As Apple executives prepare to discuss the antenna issues surrounding their iPhone 4, the company is continuing to get pressure from the outside to address customers concerns. The latest shot came June 15, when Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, pressing him to do right by consumers.
Following the June 24 launch of the Apple iPhone 4, customers began to note that when they held the device in a way that covered its bottom left side, a critical location in the antenna's design, it lost reception to the point of dropping calls. Holding the phone in this way quickly became referred to as the "death grip."
Schumer noted in his letter that the findings of the consumer advocacy publication Consumer Reports were at odds with the explanation Apple had so far given for the antenna issue.
In a July 2 letter on its Website, Apple has blamed the problem on a software glitch, explaining that the antenna itself wasn't faulty but the software formula used to display the device's signal strength. Apple said it would soon make a software fix available, and on July 15 it released iOS 4.0.1, which in a pop-up window on the iPhone homescreen announces that it "improves the formula to determine how many bars of signal strength to display." Consumer Reports, however, found the problem with the iPhone 4 to be hardware-related.
Given this discrepancy, Schumer wrote to Jobs, "I am concerned that the nearly two million purchasers of the iPhone 4 may not have complete information about the quality of the product they have purchased." He went on to say that consumers' confusion over the issue's cause and remedy may undermine what's otherwise an innovative device.
"To address this concern, I ask that Apple provide iPhone 4 customers with a clearly written explanation of the cause of the reception problem and make a public commitment to remedy it free-of-charge," Schumer wrote. "The solutions offered to date by Apple for dealing with the so-called 'death grip' malfunction - such as holding the device differently, or buying a cover for it - seem to be insufficient."
He additionally encouraged Apple to make good on its software promise - the letter must have gone out before the update release - and to, again in writing, offer a clear explanation of the formula that it uses to calculate bar strength, "so that customers can once again trust the product that they have invested in."
eWEEK has yet to test the effectiveness of the iOS 4.0.1 update, which applies to not only the iPhone 4 but the iPhone 3G S and 3G. MacWorld, however, has reported that the update does in fact more accurately represent signal strength, and that the appearance of the bars is now larger, as Apple said they would be, but that the OS "does not, however, solve the signal attenuation problem for some users who hold an iPhone 4 by its lower left corner in an area with poor coverage."
The Apple press conference will take place July 16 at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. In keeping with the nature of the company, Apple has been predictably tight-lipped about additional details.
Consumer Reports, in follow-up tests on the iPhone 4, found that the antenna issue was allayed when the phone was paired with a rubber bumper - a thin case that Apple currently sells for $29. While analysts have suggested that Apple is unlikely to announce a recall during the press conference, many do expect Apple to at least offer the bumpers free-of-charge.
Like Schumer, Consumer Reports suggested that Apple owes its customers as much.
"[Current] options all put the onus on consumers to solve or pay for a fix," Paul Reynolds blogged on the publications' site. "We're still calling on Apple to provide an acceptable free solution to the iPhone 4's signal-loss problem."