iPhone 4 Press Conference – The Post-Game Wrapup

Man seated inside a really weird blue antenna test chamber, holding a phone.

One of Apple's anechoic test chambers.

Okay, let’s start off with a roundup of links:

I think I said nearly everything I had to say in my Sun-Times piece. But my main goal was to get something useful online within the next hour or so, and my secondary goal was to beat my career high score for grammatically-correct sentences (28%). So maybe I can still add a few bits and pieces.

First, let’s see how well I did with my predictions this morning. I definitely got the broad strokes right. The prepared presentation was short. There was no product recall; Apple defended the iPhone, chiefly by offering hard numbers that indicate that the antenna problem — whatever it is — is being talked about far more than it’s actually being experienced by real users.

I didn’t think Apple would offer free bumper cases. I also thought Apple would give some airtime to all of the iPhone’s spiffy new features, making the point that the iPhone 4 is way more than just a radical new antenna design. But nope, they stayed on the message of the antenna.

I score myself a B+.

On the whole, I think Apple did great. I can’t get myself worked up about the antenna issue. I’m simply not seeing the widespread user complaints that I normally associate with a functional defect in a product. Nobody understands if it’s a design problem, a firmware issue, or just the same articulation of the old problem that all iPhones experience with AT&T coverage in spotty areas. I certainly don’t think it’s a big enough issue to forego all of the iPhone 4’s advantages. I don’t experience the issue when I hold it normally. Plus, when you slap it in any kind of case, the problem disappears entirely.

I do fault Apple for pressing the “all phones have this problem” button so hard. They showed video of several other phones losing signal when gorilla-gripped. Fine, but I experienced this issue with the iPhone 4 moments after unboxing it and I couldn’t reproduce it with other phones. It probably would have been smarter for Apple to simply note that all phones have “dead” spots, and then move on. Though I appreciate that it suits Apple’s purposes to have actual video of other phones losing signal

To Apple’s credit, they did acknowledge that the iPhone 4’s dropped-call percentage is higher than the iPhone 3GS’s, citing statistics they got from AT&T a few days ago. It seems like a marginal difference (it’s worse by one call in a hundred, according to Apple), but it’s definitely there. And if you live in a poor coverage area, the iPhone 4 can be the difference between a phone that rarely drops a call and one which does it frequently.

I’d also say that in retrospect, the post-presentation Q&A was a mistake. They should have deliverred their message, ended the show, and then sent everyone outside for complimentary coffee and danish. During the Q&A, Apple said a lot of things that seemed defensive. Nobody likes it when the prom queen complains that everyone hates her because she’s so very pretty and popular.

Jobs also complained about how the press has handled this story. He did make some valid points, though, and with fresh memories of the head of BP complaining that he “just wanted to get his life back,” I think it has to be kept in perspective.

(Steve did haul his ass away from a Hawaii vacation. Hell, he could have FaceTimed this one in.)

It was…interesting…that he described the publication of his emails to customers as “rude.” I suppose that could be true, on the basis that these people have been sharing his personal emails. But did he honestly expect people not to brag about getting a personal response from the CEO?

Onward:

Steve Jobs didn’t fall to his knees, rend his garment, clasp his hands together, and beg for forgiveness from users and stockholders.

This has upset many people.

These people are idiots.

Consumer Reports, for their part, hasn’t changed their position on the iPhone. They’re still “not recommending” the iPhone 4. I don’t think they’re idiots. But I do think they’re wrong. They’re pointing to antenna tests in which they can cause the iPhone 4’s signal to drop to zero bars by bridging the famous gap between the antennas.

Swell. That fact needs to be reported. But is that the whole story?

Questions:

  1. Does Consumer Reports understand the nature of the problem? They claim to have tested the antenna scientifically but haven’t (as far as I can tell) broken any new ground beyond “If you bridge the gap, you lose bars.” Is it a hardware issue? A software issue? A mere ergonomic issue?
  2. It’s a repeatable, reliable demo. But are iPhone users likely to encounter an actual problem? I did a 20-minute phone interview with PBS this afternoon and I did it on an uncased iPhone 4. I didn’t even think twice about it.
  3. Assuming that a specific consumer regarded the antenna problem as a dealbreaker: if there were a way around the problem, would the iPhone then be worthwhile? I say yes, absolutely. Take away “there’s a slightly greater chance that it might drop a call” and you’re left with a phone with a huge laundry list of advantages over every previous iPhone and most other phones. Including, might I point out, better reception than the iPhone 3GS.
  4. Is there a way around the problem? Yes. Put it in a case, which is something lots of people (myself included) were going to do anyway.

On that basis, I think Consumer Reports’ stance is extreme. Though in their defense, there’s a difference between “we’re not recommending it” and “we’re recommending that people not buy it.”

Reading their followup coverage, it appears that they can’t evaluate how well “iPhone with a case” works until they develop a separate test protocol; their standard test policy is to test the phone as-shipped by the manufacturer.

This is why I have occasional problems with Consumer Reports reviews. I think this is another instance in which the magazine is showing more loyalty to their standardized test procedures than to their readers.

Okay. So that’s another thousand words I’ve written about this thing today…on top of about 90 minutes of talking about it. I’ve done it.

And when I say “I’ve done it” I don’t mean “I’ve produced complete and thorough coverage of this interesting tech news story.” I mean “I am finally sick of hearing my own comments about the iPhone 4.” I hope I got there about 400 words ahead of the rest of you.