iphone 4 review 09 death grip
Death Grip = I’m just holding my phone…

Update 7/16/2010: Steve Jobs dismissed the Bloomberg story as being “total bullshit” at today’s Apple Press event. “Are you talking about the Bloomberg article? That’s a crock, and we’ve challenged them to show proof that that” (Steve Jobs)

In the latest twist ahead of tomorrow’s press conference from Apple’s HQ, Bloomberg claims that the company executives, Steve Jobs among them, knew that the new antenna design could/would lead to reception issues. The source cites Ruben Caballero, a senior Apple antenna engineer who has warned or raised concerns in early stages of the development, while Apple’s executive staff was still trying to pick one of several designs submitted by Jonathan Ive’s (VP of design) team. This new revelation will stir the already boiling controversy about the iPhone 4 antenna problem, also known as “Death Grip”. Apple’s PR has refused any interview with Ruben Caballero so far.

If you have missed the story completely, Apple’s iPhone 4 uses an external antenna in the form of a steel band on the side of the phone. When users hold it in a certain way (particularly with the left hand), the human body induces interferences that worsens the signal reception. This is particularly true if the signal was weak to start with. There is also a second issue: the software that computes how many reception “bars” was completely wrong, indicating a strong signal, when it was in fact weak. Those two problems are real and compound each other. Apple has announced a fix for the “bars” issue – in an announcement that didn’t make it clear that there was also a hardware issue. Neither the public, the press or the stock market bought it.

We expect Apple to talk about the software fix tomorrow at a press event in Cuppertino. We also expect the company to show some data that basically shows that it’s not as bad as it sounds, although they will finally recognize that there is a hardware problem (if not…omg). Finally, Apple might give away cases/bumpers, which would lead to a marginal cost to the company in the order of $1 to $3 dollars per phone (our estimate), but we doubt that this would put the problem completely to rest.

An analyst had mentioned the possibility of a recall with a $1.5B price tag. This seems completely remote and would quite frankly be equivalent to refunding almost all the iPhone 4 customers . Given that the rate of return seems small for now, this likely won’t ever happen. A hardware solution could happen at the manufacturing level, by using an insulating coating on the antenna, but that could increase the cost and delay shipments.

The larger problem is the one of Public Relations, with their customers, but also with the press (or at least a portion of). With the public, this might lead to a confidence problem in Apple’s willingness and ability to deliver products that are “without compromise” as Apple itself would put it. Clearly, everyone would have been much better off without this antenna problem.

The problem with the press is that this is really good drama (which sells), and to be frank, Apple has a thing to alienate reporters, so we think that this won’t go away easily. We have experienced the “Death Grip” for ourselves, and we have explained what the real impact was for us in our in-depth iPhone 4 Review.

The good thing is: if this is true, this would be a logical answer to the previous question: “how the heck did they miss it?”. If Apple knew – what do you make of it? Was technology compromised by design or is the reception “good enough”?

Filed in Apple >Cellphones >Top Stories . Tags: antenna, Apple Inc, iPhone, iPhone 4 and iphone4.
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