Apple: iPhone 4 Problems Are All in Your Mind, But We'll Do Something Anyway

Last Updated Jul 16, 2010 2:28 PM EDT

Yesterday, I posted a satirical piece about Apple's (AAPL) planned iPhone antenna press conference today and the ten things it shouldn't do, but might anyway. One of them was to keep Steve Jobs from saying, "You're getting sleepy. Veeerrrry sleepy." Darned if that's not how he started, for a good reason. As it turns out, the company line is that Apple doesn't have an unusual antenna problem, that people aren't unhappy, but that it will give away cases or take returns of the phone anyway.

First, to show that Apple has a sense of humor, the event started with "The iPhone Antenna Song":

After saying that Apple is "all about" making users happy and that the company had already sold 3 million of the latest iPhone, Jobs got down to business. This involved trying to expand his reality distortion cloud over the audience and, through them, to customers. He tried to muster as many factoids as possible to "prove" that there is no extraordinary problem with the iPhone 4 antenna (and thanks to John Paczkowski at All Things Digital for liveblogging the event:
  • "The iPhone 4 is perhaps the best product we've ever made at Apple."
  • The device has been well reviewed and has high satisfaction ratings.
  • " We've been working our butts off for the past few weeks to do that with antennagate."
  • The same signal drop-off happens with other phones, like a RIM (RIMM) Blackberry Bold, HTC Eris, or Samsung Omnia.
  • Part of the problem is just that the drop-off is more obviously seen on an iPhone 4.
  • Apple has 18 PhDs working on antenna design and $100 million testing facilities.
  • Everyone has a hard time with antenna design.
  • Only 0.55 percent of their customers have called in to complain.
  • The iPhone 4 drops less than one out of a hundred calls more than the iPhone 3GS.
  • There are fewer third-party cases for the iPhone 4 available than for the iPhone 3GS at its launch.
So take a stop for a moment and let's recap more honestly. Everyone has the problem? There's a difference between obvious signal attenuation and calls actually dropping. Let's remember that quite recently, Apple tried to say that the only problem was using the wrong algorithm to calculate bars. They've been working hard? I'd certainly hope so, as they charge a lot of money. The 0.55 percent of customers, given 3 million sold, translates into 16,500 people, with no independent verification of the number and Jobs talking only of people who called the AppleCare number, and not those who called or visited the store where they bought their phones.

Jobs says the iPhone 4 drops less than one additional call per hundred. What kind of nonsense is this? Sure, when you look at a percentage, it may seem low, but if you've got tens of millions of people making multiple calls every day, it gets to be a big number, and that's an average across the country, not taking into account that some regions have had much bigger problems with call drops before. For people there, an additional percentage of drops is nothing to brag about.

So what will Apple do? It released the iOS update with the display fix yesterday. All the owners get a free case, or a refund if they already bought one. There will be a choice of cases because "we can't make enough bumpers." Huh? Can't contract out enough manufacturing to make the small pieces of plastic? People can start to apply for cases -- next week. And if after all is said and done, they're not happy? They can return their phones and Apple will waive the restocking fee. How generous.

This is nothing but a big exercise in spin and an attempt to avoid returns. I can understand not wanting to take returns, but why did it take this long for Apple to offer cases for free? Why didn't they gear up to start doing it today? And why does Apple have to continue to pretend that it made no mistake and it's just trying to make people happy, even though there is no problem? Jobs actually did finally apologize to customers -- but only when someone asked whether he was going to. Forget 1984. Apple's theme should be the movie Gaslight.

Image: CNET
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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