Jobs Complacent About iPhone 4 Reception Issue

The iPhone 4’s new design, in which radio antennas are inside the steel frame, has been causing reception problems. These problems appear when you cup the iPhone 4 in your left hand, limiting 3G signal and leading to bad reception and dropped calls. Ars Technica explains:

If you are left-handed or predominantly use the phone in your left hand, you may want to be aware of the problem. The known workarounds for now include holding the phone without cupping it, holding it higher up on the bezel, holding it in your right hand, or using a protective case. We certainly hope that Apple didn’t design its iPhone 4 Bumpers just to mitigate this problem.

Engadget talked to Apple about reception issues:

Here’s the (company’s) official statement:

Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.

Essentially, Apple is saying that the problem is how you hold your phone, and that the solution is to change that habit, or buy one of their cases. Admittedly, this isn’t a problem that exists only for the iPhone 4 — we’ve seen reports of the same behavior on previous generations (the 3G and 3GS), and there is a running thread about this problem with the Nexus One.

While it is definitely true that interference is an unavoidable problem, we can’t help feeling like this is really a bit of bad design. If the only answer is to move your hand, why didn’t Apple just move the antenna position? What we can say without question is that in our testing of the phone, we had improved reception and fewer dropped calls than we experienced with the last generation, and we never noticed this issue. Additionally, when using a bumper we can’t recreate the signal loss. So, now we have an answer… all we’re wondering is whether or not the company will start handing out bumpers pro-bono to those who are experiencing problems. It certainly seems like the right thing to do.

Apple has the clientele it needs without doing something nice, like sending along free bumpers. Jobs’ position will alienate some users, but Apple seems to think it can handle a degree of alienation at this point. If Apple were my ship, I’d send the bumpers as a signal that my company still cares.

Once the iPhone 4 reception issue blows over, and nothing new happens to make Apple look bad, people will forget. But if another PR storm does hit the company, people will remember Apple’s treatment of the iPhone issue. Jobs is taking a small reputational risk by taking the position he has. He’s also displaying complacency, a common characteristic for the head of a large, successful company–and also a key precursor to many companies’ downfalls. I’m not saying Apple is going down, but complacency almost never pans out in the long run, either.

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Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.