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Is the iPhone 4 controversy much ado about nothing or a really big problem?

Mel Martin

What's going on with the iPhone? It certainly depends on who's talking. This morning Dan Frommer of Silicon Alley Insider says the iPhone reception problem is a non-issue and will blow over.

"You can make calls, use the internet, and do everything else you should be able to do on the iPhone 4 all of the time, or almost all of the time."

"But there's no reason for a huge recall. This isn't a faulty car that might kill you. It's a phone, and it's a phone that works."

On the other side of the ring people are screaming for blood, and are sure the phone is just unusable. It's hard to know what to believe.

When you crank all the emotion out of this, here's what appears to be the case. Most people using the phone are happy. They either aren't seeing the problem, or it isn't enough of a problem to get them to return the phone. I haven't seen the issue myself, but I live in a high signal area and have a MicroCell at home. I've tried all the death grips, chants and everything else I could think of, but I can't drop a call or see anything dramatic happening on the signal strength meter, which is probably wrong anyway. Having said that, there are real problems for a large number of people out there. A few friends whose observations I trust, say they can duplicate the issue and slow data transfer way down or kill a call in progress.

People are debating the Consumer Reports test as well. One engineer has written a piece saying the CR test is crap. Others will disagree.

Here's what is really clear. Apple is in the middle of PR Armageddon of its own creation. Always secretive to a fault, Apple simply doesn't like to admit any defects in a product they sell, and we know from experience that Apple's products are almost always first rate. Apple tops every customer satisfaction survey, and you don't get that position by making rotten products are dealing badly with customers.

I don't think this problem is going away anytime soon. Apple will have to make a statement. They can, in any combination:

  • Deny the problem
  • Admit to it and say they are working on a solution
  • Offer bumpers free to people who want them
  • Provide a non-conductive cover for the antenna
  • Continue to take phones back from unhappy customers and offer a full refund
  • Recall the phone and re-engineer the new model with a better antenna design
Any public relations pro will tell you that this has turned into a big mess. To a degree it doesn't matter if the problems are real or perceived, and it looks like for many, the problems are real. Apple has got to stop doing its best imitation of a clam and open up a bit.

A reputation is a terrible thing to waste.

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