Apple's arrogance and the iPhone 4 antenna debacle

The Antenna Crisis is getting uglier by the minute, and it's time for some serious crisis control from the folks in Cupertino

Life must suck today at One Infinite Loop. Just when Apple had hoped the hullabaloo over the iPhone 4's apparently faulty antenna was fading to a soft rumble, Consumer Reports comes along and drops a tactical nuclear strike, declaring the new iPhone unfit for public use. And based on the extensiveness of the venerable publication's in-house testing, it's hard to dismiss CR's take as an ill-informed, kneejerk reaction to a few dropped calls.

Indeed, the Antenna Crisis is getting uglier by the minute, and it's time for some serious crisis control from the folks in Cupertino. Another pseudo explanation, like the one on July 2 that fessed up to an iPhone signal-strength software glitch unrelated to the antenna design, won't cut it this time.

The company is in danger of losing its hard-earned reputation for excellent quality and service. If "bad antenna" is the first thing that pops into a consumer's head when an iPhone 4 ad appears, well, that can't be good for business.

So what are Apple's options? Four possibilities:

Free bumpers for all: This idea has been bandied about by numerous industry observers: Apple issues a mea culpa of sorts and ships a US$29 rubber-and-plastic bumper to every iPhone 4 owner at no charge. The thick, non-conductive bumper would remedy the iPhone antenna glitch, but Apple's reputation for technical brilliance would suffer. (Then again, it already has.) Option B: Free duct tape to all. As Consumer Reports and others have noted, a strip of tape strategically applied across the iPhone's antenna gap is an effective if ugly fix.

Massive recall: This, no doubt, would be a worst-case scenario for Apple. The company recalls the millions of iPhone 4s already shipped and repairs the problem--assuming, of course, that a quick and easy fix is possible.

Replacement rush job: Ready for the iPhone 4a? How about the iPhone 4G? It may be time for Apple to shorten its annual iPhone upgrade cycle and release a new model ASAP--a phone, of course, that wouldn't suffer from the current model's antenna woes. In a perfect world, iPhone 4 owners would get a free upgrade. While that act of consumer kindness would cost Apple a small fortune, the company has enjoyed gaudy profits in recent years and could certainly afford it.

Do nothing: This would be the stupidest approach, and one that would send potential iPhone 4 users scurrying to Android-based mobile phones, which are already experiencing an explosive growth in market share. Unfortunately, it seems closest to Apple's strategy thus far. With users on Apple support sites and message boards already expressing their doubts about Cupertino's lame explanation for the iPhone's antenna woes, a head-in-the-sand approach would be a disaster.

So what should Apple do?

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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Tags smartphonesApplemobile phonesiPhonePhonesconsumer electronicsapple iphoneiphone 4

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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