There's nothing wrong with the iPhone 4 that isn't wrong with any other phone, says Steve Jobs. However, because Jobs and company "love our users," Apple will provide a free case to any Judas Phone owner who wants one.
"There is no Antennagate," Apple's CEO told a select group of reporters gathered Friday morning on the company's Cupertino campus. The Reg, as is customary, was denied access, so we picked up our info from live blogs by Engadget, AllThingsD, Ars Technica, and the Wall Street Journal, and you can join in the fun by viewing a video of the event along with Apple's antenna exegesis on a new area of the company's website: "Smartphone antenna performance".
Just keep in mind that if you think that there's anything wrong with your iPhone 4, it's the media's fault.
In fact, according to Jobs, nothing is Apple's fault. Cell phone reception problems? All phones have them, Jobs said. And to prove his point, Jobs showed videos of the reception bars of a BlackBerry Bold 9700, HTC Droid Eris, and Samsung Omnia II disappearing when held in the infamous Death Grip.
Congestion problems in major cities? That's due to persnickety local regulators. "When AT&T wants to add a cell tower in Texas, it takes about three weeks to get approval," according to Jobs. "[But] when AT&T wants to add one in San Francisco, it takes three years."
That Bloomberg article which said Jobs had been warned about the antenna problems? "A total crock" and "total bullshit," he claimed. The story in Friday's New York Times that cited "a longstanding weakness in the basic communications software inside Apple's phones"? "Patently false," said Apple's iOS honcho, Scott Forstall, who rose to defend his boss.
"One thing I’ve learned is that when there's a successful organization, people want to tear it down," Jobs said. And the Friday event was designed to build Apple back up.
Jobs went to great lengths to prove that if the iPhone 4 has any reception problems, they're simply those that affect all phones. "Most smartphones behave exactly the same way," Jobs said. "This is life in the smartphone world: phones aren't perfect. It is a challenge for the phone industry, and we are all doing the best that we can."
And he said that Apple is spending a ton of money on antenna design: $100m on 17 anechoic chambers and the salaries of "18 PhD scientist and engineers" — although exactly how an anechoic chamber tests radio reception, he didn't say.
Interestingly, of the live blogs we sampled, only the Wall Street Journal's feed mentioned this interesting tidbit from Jobs: "We have both an AT&T and Verizon cell site set up on our campus" — which, of course, gives more fuel to the long-running "Verizon to offer iPhone" rumor saga.
Like Mark Twain's death, reports of the iPhone 4's reception problems have been greatly exaggerated, Jobs insisted. A mere 0.55 per cent of iPhone 4 users have called AppleCare about reception problems, he said. Only 1.7 per cent have returned their phones, under a third of the six per cent returns of its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS.
That 1.7 per cent, by the way, apparently didn't include the unfortunate phone of TV talk-show host Whoopi Goldberg, who instead "murdered" her malfunctioning iPhone 4, according to Cnet.
Jobs did admit that the iPhone 4 does drop more calls than its predecessor, but by only a minuscule amount: fewer than one per cent more.
But Jobs has a theory as to why the Judas Phone holds that edge. "When the 3GS came out," he said, "we didn't change the design from the 3G. So there were already lots of cases out there for the phone. And more than 80 per cent of new buyers left the store with a case. Now the new phone doesn't fit those cases, and we can't make these bumpers fast enough, so only 20 per cent leave the store with a case."
And, as many have pointed out, adding a case to the iPhone 4 improves its signal resilience. So Jobs & Co will provide any iPhone owner with a case, free of charge, until September 30. And since Apple can't make enough of its own Bumper cases in time, it'll also offer third-party cases — just log onto their website next week and take your pick.
And so inside Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field™, there's no problem with the iPhone 4 that any other smartphone doesn't have — but if you think there is, Apple will give you either a free case or a full refund. In addition, when asked if AT&T would also refund its service fees and allow unhappy users to break their contracts, Jobs said "I believe so."
He didn't mention whether service providers outside the US would follow suit, but inferred that should not be a problem. After all, Jobs noted: "Antennagate has been predominantly a US thing." ®
In addition to his "We love our users" statement — accompanied by a huge presentation slide with that text, by the way — Jobs went out of his way to express his personal involvement and emotional attachment to dealing with the Judas Phone debacle. "We take this really personally," he said. "Maybe we should have a wall of PR people keeping us away from this stuff, but we don't, we take it really personally."
Your Reg reporter has covered Apple — with Jobs, then without Jobs, then with Jobs — for over 20 years, and finds the pure, unadulterated bullpucky of that "PR people" statement to be breathtaking.