Saturday, 17 July 2010 14:12

Jobs explains iPhone 4 antenna issue: 'All smartphones do that'


All smartphones suffer from reduced signal strength when held in particular ways, and the iPhone 4 is no exception, according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Few owners are reporting issues to Apple, and return rates are particularly low, he claimed. But Apple has decided to give all owners a free case as this may help ameliorate the issue.

Apple has faced a maelstrom of negative publicity over reception issues with the iPhone 4, but the company feels the noise is not borne out by the facts.

Only 0.55% of iPhone users have called AppleCare with an issue that relates to the antenna or reception. "This is not a large number," Jobs claimed.

Similarly, return rates are low. "People return phones for all sorts of reasons," Jobs said. AT&T reported 6% return rates in the early days of the iPhone 3GS ("the best selling smartphone in history" with "below the smartphone average" return rates). For the iPhone 4, the corresponding number is 1.7%.

"Pretty interesting," said Jobs.

"It turns out [this problem is] certainly not unique to the iPhone 4." A video demonstration showed the BlackBerry Bold 9700 "perhaps the most popular smartphone in business," dropping from five bars to one with a normal grip, an HTC Droid Eris going from four bars to zero, and a Samsung Omnia II dropping from four bars to one).

"Most smartphones behave exactly the same way," said Jobs. "This is life in the smartphone world. Phones aren't perfect."

But Apple does admit the iPhone 4 isn't working quite as well as the 3GS in one respect. Please read on.

He noted that iPhone 4 design shows exactly where to block the signal, and (as previously revealed) Apple's algorithm for mapping signal strength to bars was overstating weak signals. The latter point has been corrected in the iOS 4.0.1 update.

Apple has invested $US100 million on state of the art test facilities over the last five years, and the iPhone 4 has the best antenna shipped by Apple.

"It's very hard to escape the conclusion that there is a problem, but that problem is affecting a very small percentage of users," Jobs said. "This has been blown so out of proportion," he added.

He claimed to have received 5000 emails from users telling him their iPhone 4s work perfectly and they can't understand the fuss.

The latest call drop rates recorded by AT&T show that the iPhone 4 is dropping slightly more calls than the 3GS - the difference is less than one more dropped call per 100 calls made. "This is the hard data," Jobs stressed. "Even less than one is too much for us. We're trying to find out why."

Jobs said "The iPhone 4 is perhaps the best product we've ever made at Apple" and 3 million have been sold in 3 weeks. "It already has the highest customer satisfaction rating of any iPhone ever and any smartphone ever," he said.

"We've been working our butts off" over the last three weeks to understand the problem, he said.

So what's Apple doing about it? See page 3.

Jobs' personal theory is that the slight increase in drop rates is related to the relatively small proportion of iPhone 4s used in cases. When the iPhone 3GS was launched, existing 3G cases could still be used and 80% of buyers at Apple Stores also purchased a case. But the iPhone 4 requires new cases, and only 20% of Apple Store buyers are adding a case (or bumper) to their purchase.

"But who knows? We're going to track it down," he said.

In the meantime, all owners will get a free case, or a refund if they already bought a Bumper. This offer will run at least until September 30, and "maybe we'll have a better idea," said Jobs.

The problem is that Apple can't make enough bumpers to go around, so the company will give owners a choice of cases from various sources. Applications for the free cases will open on Apple's web site late in the week of July 19.

Jobs also reminded customers that an undamaged iPhone 4 can be returned for a full refund within 30 days of purchase.

"We're going to take care of everyone. We want every user to be happy, and if we can't make them happy, we'll give them a full refund."

Please read on for more iPhone 4 news, especially if you're waiting for the phone to be released in your country.

In related news, Jobs said the problems with the iPhone 4 proximity sensor (which he claimed also affect a small proportion of users) will be addressed in the next software update, and the white iPhone 4 will ship at the end of July (initially in limited quantities).

Furthermore, the iPhone 4 will ship on July 30 in 17 more countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hong Hong, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The South Korea launch has been delayed pending government approval.

A video of Jobs' presentation is available on Apple's web site.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.





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