In noting that the iPhone 3GS's similarity to the iPhone 3G enabled more consumers to leave their store with a case, Steve Jobs offered a plausible explanation for the iPhone 4's nominally worse track record at AT&T (even though the 3GS's antenna was not as exposed as the iPhone 4's). Apple's display of its extensive testing facilities may have allayed concerns that it does not do enough to test the performance of its devices. However, if the company were to announce its new handsets far in advance of shipping them, third parties -- and perhaps Apple itself -- would have had more time to build up volumes of iPhone cases. Regardless, Jobs' hypothesis served as a good segue to the case giveaway.
Apple's case giveaway represents a compromise for those who would like to have their cake and eat it, too.
Ultimately, despite Apple's minimalist Bumper design and implication of Consumer Reports' blessing of supplying cases, the case giveaway represents a compromise for those who would like to have their cake and eat it, too -- enjoying the iPhone's naked industrial design while achieving the best possible signal quality. The notion of a recall given the low incidence of complaints and the lack of a safety concern was absurd, as was redesigning the handset on such short notice, although Apple will clearly gain takeaways from this experience for the next iPhone.
The antenna problem simply lacks a perfect solution. Apple displayed good faith while acknowledging and explaining the thorny reality and tradeoffs inherent in handset design, tradeoffs acknowledged even in Nokia's response. It has also left open the refund opportunity for those for whom the free case isn't a satisfying enough gesture. However -- as trends have indicated to this point -- few customers will likely avail themselves of that ultimate recourse.
Ross Rubin is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.