When Steve Jobs now famously declared “We’re not perfect“, he was referring to the fact that despite their tremendous success over the past few years since launching the original iPhone, Apple can still make mistakes.
If he had left it at that, it’s likely that Friday’s press conference would have been seen as an appropriate demonstration of humility on the part of a company that had released a product which if nothing else, has a flaw that turned out to be bigger issue than expected. Most observers would likely have concluded that indeed, no one is perfect, and that Apple’s offer of a free case was the right thing to do, assuming that they would follow this measure up with more due-diligence to determine if the antenna problem had affected all of their iPhone 4’s or simply a small batch.
Unfortunately, Jobs elected to follow up his statement with a declaration that all smartphones to a greater or lesser degree, suffer the same problems as the iPhone. In essence, “We’re not perfect” became “We’re not perfect, and by the way, neither are our competitors”. It looked as though Apple had committed the classic mistake of trying to lessen the focus on their mistakes by pointing the finger at someone else. If this were a schoolyard squabble you could imagine Jobs saying to a teacher “Yeah, well I know I started the fight, but Johnny started a fight last week – why don’t you punish him too?”
Jobs cited RIM, Samsung and HTC’s smartphones as just as vulnerable to antenna problems when held in a certain way. He even showed some videos demonstrating what that looked like.
As you might expect, it hasn’t taken long for the companies that were dragged into the fight (and even one that wasn’t) to respond to Apple’s condemnation of an entire industry.
Gizmodo is reporting that Samsung has this to say following Apple’s demonstration of a reception-impaired Omnia 2 smartphone:
“The antenna is located at the bottom of the Omnia 2 phone, while iPhone’s antenna is on the lower left side of the device. Our design keeps the distance between a hand and an antenna. We have fully conducted field tests before the rollout of smartphones. Reception problems have not happened so far, and there is no room for such problems to happen in the future”
The message to Apple is clear: Go ahead and defend your product, but don’t implicate our product when you do it.
RIM was far more direct in their reaction, not mincing any words:
“Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.”
And somewhat suprisingly, Nokia, who wasn’t mentioned by name in Apple’s press conference, felt the need to make a few clarifying statements lest anyone think that their products suffer from Apple’s “Smartphones have weak spots” remark:
“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature.
Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.
In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.”
One thing’s for sure: we haven’t heard the last of “Antennagate” whether Apple recognizes it as a problem or not.
Despite the calls for a recall of Apple’s newest smartphone, the iPhone 4, Steve Jobs had this to say to all of the people who have bought the device, and to those who have critiqued it: “There is no Antennagate”.
Over the course of a 40 minute press conference today at Apple’s headquarters in California, Jobs outlined what he and his team believe to be the issue with the iPhone 4 after analyzing all of the available data. The bottom line: there is no issue.
Or at least, there is an issue, but it’s the same issue that plagues all smartphone – an assertion that Jobs backed up by playing demonstration videos of 3 competing handsets from 3 different manufacturers with 3 different mobile operating systems. Each handset appeared to exhibit the same drop in signal as the iPhone 4 when gripped a certain way.
He reinforced this point with some other facts relating to customer experience:
- Only .55% of all iPhone 4 customers have called Apple to complain about the phone’s reception. That’s less than a percent.
- In the period that the iPhone 4 has been available, AT&T has received 1/3 of the returns that they experienced with the iPhone 3GS during the same period
- The iPhone 4 drops 1 more call per 100 than the iPhone 3GS
Though Jobs acknowledged that this last point was not acceptable to him, he shared a theory (not backed up by any data) as to why it it’s happening: Many more people who bought iPhone 3GS’s walked out of the store with a case designed to fit the phone. Since putting an iPhone 4 in a case effectively solves the reception problem, he believes that this data point has more to do with case use, than with any inherent flaw in the iPhone 4’s design vs. the 3GS.
He further acknowledged that given some of the data available to them, there must be a problem, but it only appears to affect a very small percentage of users.
At the end, Jobs provided the one measure that Apple was prepared to take in order to address an issue that they essentially feel isn’t an issue at all. Until September 30th, all iPhone 4 buyers can received a free case that will be sent to them if they order it from Apple’s website. The free cases will not be available at retail. People who have already bought Apple bumpers will get a refund.
Jobs finished his explanation with a sort of “Stop picking on us” rant. According to Engadget‘s coverage of the event, he said:
“We think this has been so blown out of proportion… it’s fun to have a story, but it’s not fun on the other side.”
During the Q&A that followed, Jobs continued to express dismay at how Apple has been treated by the press over the last 22 days since the antenna issue became apparent. According to Mobilecrunch.com‘s coverage:
“I guess it’s just human nature: when some group or some organization gets successful, there’s always a group of people who want to tear it down. I see it happening with Google, and I think to myself: why are they doing this? Googles a great company, and they make great companies. And now they’re doing it to us. I ask myself: why? Would you rather we were a korean company, instead of an american company? Would you rather we werent innovating right here? […] Just to get eyeballs for these websites, people dont care what they leave in their wake. I look at this whole Antennagate thing, and I say: Wow. Apple has been around for 30+ years; haven’t we earned the credibility and trust from the press to give us the benefit of the doubt? I think we have that trust from our users, but I didn’t see it from the press”
These words are showing us a different public side of the man who leads what is arguably the most successful and innovative consumer tech company in the world. Apple isn’t used to having to defend itself and Jobs’ remarks about being American rather than Korean had a disturbingly xenophobic ring to them – at least to my Canadian ears.
So readers, now that you know when the iPhone 4 will be available here, and you know how Apple has responded to the question of reception problems, are you more or less likely to buy one than you were before today?
Update 3:58 p.m.: Reactions are beginning to trickle in around the web to Apple’s annoucement and, predictably, there are as many people defending Apple as there are those who find Jobs’ explanations lacking.
Let’s put this to a poll and find out what Sync readers are thinking: