Did Apple Solve AlI Its iPhone 4 Problems Today?

7 years ago

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to start by saying this: I do not have an iPhone 4, nor will I be getting one soon. I want one, don't get me wrong, but not now. My hesitation is both financial (I just got an iPad, and I'm not currently eligible for an iPhone upgrade) and pragmatic (first-generation technologies of any type -- even the fourth variation of that technology -- are always buggy).

I love my iPhone, deeply and passionately, except for the part where it fails to function as a phone most of the time (dropped calls, bad connections, voicemails that show up days later). So yes, there's an iPhone 4 somewhere in my future -- despite all the problems currently being reported.

A customer looks at an iPhone 4 at the Apple Store 5th Avenue in New York, in this June 24, 2010 file photo. Apple Inc came clean on July 2, 2010 about an embarrassing software glitch that overstates network signal strength in its hot-selling iPhone, as complaints mounted about the phone's wraparound antenna. Apple admitted its signal strength miscalculation dates back to its original 2007 iPhone. It promised to fix the glitch in a few weeks, but did not directly address concerns that its antenna design causes reception problems for iPhone 4, its newest phone.  REUTERS/Eric Thayer/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SCI TECH)

What exactly are the problems? Two things, specifically: that the new wraparound antenna is easily blocked by the user's hand, and that software in the phone incorrectly reports signal strength. In a press conference this afternoon, Steve Jobs addressed both of these issues and offered fixes for both (more on that in a minute).

But here's the thing: I don't think Apple's real problem with the iPhone 4 is the antenna or the signal strength. I think the real problem is less a technical issue -- sure it's disappointing that the new iPhone didn't eradicate the dropped calls problem -- and more a PR issue. Apple's initial response to the complaints -- the now-infamous "don't hold it that way" suggestion -- startled iPhone enthusiasts who were hoping for a sympathetic ear from the company rather than a scolding about their use of the phone. Blaming the consumer for whatever issue the product is having isn't good marketing, and the suggestions that users hold the phone differently or spring for a bumper case were not well received. Steve Jobs wound up in a press conference this morning not because his company's product is flawed, but because their response to consumer concerns was.

Jobs did admit that the iPhone 4 is no miracle phone; in fact, according to the New York Times,

"the iPhone 4 drops MORE calls per 100 calls than the iPhone 3GS. But not by much. Less than 1 additional call per 100. Mr. Jobs says he can’t give absolute numbers."

So this huge issue is almost a non-issue; this phone appears, after 22 days on the market, to work as well as the last version did. And yes, we were all hoping for more, but this isn't the complete disaster it has been reported to be. There is, Jobs said today, no "Antennagate." And there will be no iPhone 4 recall.

Instead, Apple is doing what they should have done from the beginning -- what they have always typically done, in fact: they're amping up the PR machine. Today's press conference opened with a screening of Jonathan Mann's hilarious "iPhone Antenna" song (chorus: "If you don't want an iPhone 4 don't buy it"). Apple -- and Jobs -- are trying to get their feet back under them, to regain that sense of cameraderie they share with their most dedicated customers. WIll it work? I think so.

Apple isn't just making nice with consumers, though; they're also dealing with the actual issues. The company has already issued a software upgrade to correct for the inaccurate display of signal strength. And today they announced that "every iPhone user will get a free case. The company will give refunds to those who already bought one. Apple will revisit this in September to see if there is a better approach." The bumper case is widely reported to solve the antenna issue -- in other words, once you put the bumper on the phone, the problem is solved.

But is the problem solved? Or will the iPhone 4 be, as Microsoft's Kevin Turner suggested this week, Apple's Vista? Has Apple's push to bring the newest technology to market as quickly as possible finally pushed them off a cliff?

I don't think so. Those of us who are already living the iLife (as my husband likes to say) aren't going to change brands any time soon. We love Apple's products for their innovation, bugs and all. And we like being part of the Apple community, in one way or another. Jobs and Apple will need to smooth over the hurt feelings of consumers who wanted a better response to their concerns than a brusque "Just avoid holding it in that way," but the olive branch of a free bumper case is a good step forward.

Do I think there will be other bugs with the iPhone 4? Almost certainly. And as long as Apple responds honestly and respectfully, there's no reason to think they will lose any significant number of customers over this. As for "Antennagate," I'm with Jonathan Mann. "The media loves a failure in a string of success," he sings. "The facts won’t ever matter if they can make bigger messes."

What do you think -- has Apple solved the problem, or just brushed it aside? Will you be buying an iPhone 4? And if you already have one, are you happy with it?

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