Apple's iPhone 4 antenna-gate gambit pays off

With an offer of free cases on the table - and a three-week wait for anyone who wants to buy an iPhone 4 - Apple can move on

To save Apple's iPhone 4 from antenna scrutiny, all it took was the promise of free bumper cases and a dose of Steve Jobs' magic.

The iPhone 4's antenna problems continue to be a major tech story, but the debate has changed. Before Apple held the last-minute press conference on Friday, pundits and analysts debated how Apple would respond. That there was a major problem with the iPhone 4's antenna to begin with was a foregone conclusion.

On stage, Jobs clouded the issue. He showed evidence that iPhone 4 customers are happier than ever (return rates are lower for iPhone 4 than they were for iPhone 3GS). He pointed a finger at other phones for having the same issues, and he blamed the tech press for blowing the issue out of proportion. Now, the debate lies in whether Jobs is right.

On Monday, HTC, Research in Motion, Samsung and Nokia fired back at Apple. HTC said support calls for the Droid Eris, which Jobs called out for losing signal when gripped tightly, were only related to reception issues 0.016 percent of the time, compared with 0.55 percent for iPhone 4. RIM said that getting drawn into Apple's "self-made debacle is unacceptable," unaware of the irony that the response alone draws in RIM even further.

At this point, Apple's done enough to deflect the issue. Patrick Kerley, a communications expert, told Computerworld that softening the focus on Apple is "a pretty classic way to try to talk about a situation." I'm reminded of he-said, she-said journalism, where the reader just ends up confused because both sides are telling different stories: So, does the iPhone 4 have an antenna problem, or does every smartphone have an antenna problem?

Lost in the shuffle, there's an answer: JR Raphael at Computerworld and Fortune's Seth Weintraub both note that the iPhone 4's problem, in which one finger can cause signal loss when bridging the gap between two external antennas, is not the same as covering up a large portion of a phone in the so-called "death grip." Apple's issue is unique because of the external antenna and the light amount of pressure required to interfere with it.

But with an offer of free cases on the table, and a three-week wait for anyone who wants to buy an iPhone 4, Apple can safely move on.

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Jared Newman

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