By Greg Mills
No matter how visionary a CEO is, no matter how much testing you do, no matter how elegant the design, real world electronic devices sometimes have unexpected issues.
Sometimes they are overblown, to be sure. I think this is one of those times. But marketing and public relations must trump being being defensive about a perceived problem that few people really understand. They know what they read. Apple does not need any more reasons, valid or not, for people to pass on an iPhone and buy an Android phone.
Case in point: the iPhone 4. Radio devices with multiple channels that all have to work together are finicky. Most people like their iPhones but really don't have a clue as to how sophisticated the device really is. An iPhone has a 3G radio to attempt communications with AT&Ts network (when a signal is available), a WiFi radio, a Bluetooth radio and a GPS radio. Each radio needs a separate antenna to work at peak efficiency.
Apple cleverly designed the steel band around the iPhone to provide the required antennas by segmenting the band with insulators between the segments. Having the antenna a set of segmented parts of the band, on the exterior of the iPhone actually is very good for getting and sending the good radio signals. Anything that is electrically conductive or has significant mass will distort or absorb radio waves, which reduces the strength of radio signals. That is why shorting out one antenna segment with another by touching them both with your fingers partly reduces radio propagation energy emanating from the iPhone.
The answer is simple. Apple designed and launched the multi-colored rubber bumpers we have heard so much about. Steve, customer loyalty and the reputation of Apple is worth so much more than the glorified rubber bands you are selling. Give the rubber bands away, take a small loss on the bumper accessory business and be done with it. The insulation effect of the silicone bumper would prevent fingers from shorting out the antenna segments when "held wrong."
"Held wrong" Gee, get real. Is Apple going to create an advertising campaign that says "The iPhone 4 is great if you just hold it right"? The rubber or silicone bumpers are injection molded and cost almost nothing to make in large volume once the injection mold is made. The profit is immense when you sell the darn things for $30. The lost to the bottom line at Apple, if you gave them away to those who complain would amount to a preverbal "rounding error" (a phrase Ballmer coined to explain the losses in market share Windows Mobile is experiencing).
The longer it takes to come around to the decision to give the bumpers away and post an update to the iOS 4 to correct the signal display error, the worse the bad press and the more lawsuits will be filed. Steve, don't be defensive, give away the bumpers and go on to bigger and greater things. Apple is known for being cool, be cool about this and stop the bad press.
On another front, a class action lawsuit with little chance of success against AT&T and Apple has been certified by a Federal Court. This is related to supposed "contract trickery" in selling two year contracts to the public for the iPhone 1, while having a secret five-year contract with AT&T for an exclusive deal on iPhone. This suit may force the public release of that contract. It would be interesting to read.
If the reports that there was a five-year exclusive beginning January 9, 2007 are true, we have another year and a half before iPhone can be sold through other cell phone companies in the US. This is assuming the contract has not been renegotiated between the companies and the class action suit doesn't force Apple and AT&T to drop the exclusive.
Imagine Apple "losing" that suit and being legally forced to sell the iPhone to T-Mobile, Verizon, etc. Apple would just hate that, we know. I think that very unlikely, but it's an interesting thought. The probability of the suit being settled or tried in the next 18 months is next to nil. Rocks wear down faster in the rain than Federal lawsuits go through the system.
(Greg Mills is currently a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Married, with one daughter still at home, Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's web sites at http://www.gregmills.info . He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)