Analyst Shaw Wu with Kaufman Bros. says that, while Apple is likely taking a hit by giving away free cases and bumpers to iPhone 4 buyers (and the company is even extending the offer after the deadline to anyone who calls AppleCare), the program will likely be a win in the long run. Obviously, customers appreciate getting a free case (and a "fix" for the "antennagate" issue), but Wu says that even shareholders will benefit. Apple has set aside $175 million for the case program, which sounds like a lot, but it's a drop in Apple's $45.8 billion cash bucket, and a fix for the issue may eventually add as much as 45 cents to Apple's share price this year. In other words, the free cases are money well spent, according to Wu.
So, it looks like Apple got out of its reception issue cheap. Doesn't hurt, says Wu, that it wasn't a huge issue in the first place; supposedly, not many users actually had the reception issue that got such press, but I'm not entirely sure that's true. Since I bought my iPhone 4, I have experienced the antenna problem multiple times. But because voice calls are such a small part of the experience for me (most of what I do on the iPhone 4 is with apps and messaging), it hasn't really hurt my enjoyment of the device overall. And I'm guessing that's where most customers lie -- the antenna problem is an issue for them, but not necessarily a deal-breaker.