Apple Launches iPhone 4 Case Program

Apple begins its free-bumper program for iPhone 4 owners, in its latest attempt to stifle the controversy surrounding the next-generation smartphone's reported antenna design problems.

Apple launched its promised iPhone 4 bumper program on July 23, following weeks of controversy over its next-generation smartphone's reported antenna problems.

Customers and publications had complained that touching the iPhone 4's exterior antenna rim resulted in dampened reception, a phenomenon that eWEEK was able to reproduce in limited in-office tests. Apple hosted a press conference on July 16 to announce a free giveaway of rubber bumpers that cover the antenna rim.

"If you purchase an iPhone 4 before Sept. 30, 2010, you are eligible to receive an iPhone 4 Bumper or a select third-party case from Apple at no charge," reads a dedicated page on Apple's corporate Website. "For iPhone 4 purchases made before July 23, 2010, you must apply no later than Aug. 22, 2010; otherwise, you must apply within 30 days of your iPhone 4 purchase."

To apply, users need to download a special iPhone 4 Case Program application from the App Store, launch the app on the iPhone 4 and then select the bumper or case of choice.

Apple is also offering a full refund for those who have already purchased an iPhone 4 bumper, including taxes and shipping fees. Those who purchased a bumper from an Apple Retail Store using a credit card will receive an automatic refund; Apple has a Web page for checking the status of that refund, which can be found here. Those who purchased the bumper from an AT&T store will need to fill out a rebate coupon, which can be found here, and mail it to Apple by Sept. 30.

Apple has argued that the exterior antenna-rim issues, dubbed "Antennagate" by some wits in the media, are not affecting sales of the iPhone 4.

"My phone is ringing off the hook for people [who] want more supply," Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, told analysts and media during a July 20 earnings call. "We're selling everything we can make." For the third fiscal quarter of 2010, Apple reported sales of 8.4 million iPhones, a year-over-year increase of 61 percent.

"The returns we have seen on the iPhone 4 are less than [for] the iPhone 3GS," Cook added, emphasizing a point made by other executives in the days leading up to the earnings call, "and the ones for this specific issue are extremely small."

During the July 16 press conference, Apple CEO Steve Jobs claimed that iPhone 4 return rates totaled 1.7 percent and that 0.55 percent of purchasers had complained of reception issues to AppleCare.

Despite Apple executives' assertions, the iPhone 4 reception issue could be having an effect on sales. In a July 16 note, IDC stated that 66 percent of surveyed iPhone owners said they were delaying their purchase of an iPhone 4. That statistic was counterbalanced by the 74 percent of non-iPhone owners who were apparently more willing to purchase the new device.