Apple may have tried to close the case on its iPhone 4 antenna issues, but Consumer Reports seems to have other ideas.
Within days of the iPhone 4's blockbuster launch this summer, some owners began complaining about a dampened signal whenever their bare skin touched the smartphone's exterior antenna rim. On the strength of those complaints, and its own internal testing, Consumer Reports refused to endorse the device.
"When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone's lower left side-an easy thing, especially for lefties-the signal can degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you're in an area with a weak signal," Consumer Reports' Mike Gikas blogged July 12. "Due to this problem, we can't recommend the iPhone 4."
Two weeks later, Apple launched a free bumper giveaway to anyone purchasing an iPhone 4 before October 2010. The bumpers cover the antenna rim, supposedly correcting the issue. By Sept. 10, the company posted a note on its Web site declaring the whole controversy at an end: "We are discontinuing the free case program on all iPhone 4's sold after Sept. 30, 2010.... Users experiencing antenna issues should call AppleCare to request a free bumper case."
But in a Sept. 13 blog posting, Consumer Reports-considered a trusted source for product advice-declared Apple's policy "less [than] consumer-friendly in several respects." In particular, the publication cited the need for consumers to call AppleCare as a non-solution.
"Putting the onus on any owners of a product to obtain a remedy to a design flaw is not acceptable to us," the publication wrote in the blog posting. "We therefore continue not to recommend the iPhone 4, and to call on Apple to provide a permanent fix for the phone's reception issues."
Consumer Reports' initial non-recommendation, in July, seemed to have little effect on the iPhone 4's overall 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, in response to an analyst's question about whether the antenna issues were affecting the phone's marketplace prospects. "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."
Apple executives previously announced that the company would pay out roughly $175 million in free rubber bumpers.