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.

119 thoughts on “iPhone 4 Press Conference – The Post-Game Wrapup”

  1. I listened to part of Leo Laportes “The Tech Guy” on Saturday. He was still ranting about the iPhone.
    I have unsubscribed from MBW, not because I want to punish any one. It is that I am just tired of listening to Leo whine and think that it is true that he asks a question, then interrupts soon after the question. Something has gone to his head? Seemed like a nice guy; now sounds like an ego-maniac.

  2. As an alternative give Mac-cast a try. One guy who is very knowledgeable. Not as entertaining as MBW for sure. But, perhaps not as irritating either. I am going to try out I listened to part of Leo Laportes “The Tech Guy” on Saturday. He was still ranting about the iPhone.
    I have unsubscribed from MBW, not because I want to punish any one. It is that I am just tired of listening to Leo whine and think that it is true that he asks a question, then interrupts soon after the question. Something has gone to his head? Seemed like a nice guy; now sounds like an ego-maniac.

  3. Yeah. Who rings true? Gruber and Andy. Not that I always agree, but there is an even handedness to it all.

    Leo has gone down the road, whacko.

  4. Yeah Wingate – we get it. Anyone who makes any anti-Apple point more than once is a whacko. Andy has my respect as “not blatantly accepting fanboi” but Gruber? Ugh.

  5. Steve said “We made a mistake”. Not “I made a mistake” or “Apple made a mistake”. When he said “We” I believe in his mind he thinks all cell phone manufacturers should share the blame. He is such a narcissist it’s not even funny.

    The good news is that such people strive to be perfect and I am sure in the long run Apple will design a better phone.

    From now on when he he says “isn’t this beautiful” I am going to think twice. The mythical street sign he has at the end of his product presentations where engineering and artists meet had a slight traffic accident.

    Luckily for all of us Steve doesn’t design cars or airplanes.

    I like Andy and Alex. Leo is OK. I don’t think Andy and Merlin are a good match. Merlin would take over the show and Andy would just sit there waiting to be prompted by Leo to cut in.

  6. I _really_ liked David Carr’s article on Apple’s handling of the AntennaGate –
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/19/business/media/19carr.html?ref=technology

    Concluding quote –

    “The worry is that collectively these issues may over time begin to impact the consumer’s perceptions of Apple, undermining its enormous prevailing commercial success,” Mr. Sacconaghi said.

    Perhaps no company could live up to the near-mythic reputation Apple has developed. It still has enormous good will and a huge base of devoted customers willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. In that context, the antenna flaw is probably less important than the flawed strategy of addressing it in the first place.

    If you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger. That’s a maxim of modern public relations, one that’s on display every day in Washington, on cable TV and, last Friday, on stage in Cupertino. But, with its long history and reputation for efficacy, Consumer Reports is the opposite of a juicy target.

  7. Thanks Andy, I really needed that.

    Just spent about 20 minutes listening to the most recent Tech Guy Show…Nixon, Checkers speech, I am not a crook…Leo has lost more than just his objectivity.

  8. I just missed MacBreak Weekly. Is it safe to download or will I hear another Nixon impersonation and made up facts? I read that both Gruber and Andy was on, so it’s probably good.

  9. “The worry is that collectively these issues may over time begin to impact the consumer’s perceptions of Apple, undermining its enormous prevailing commercial success,”

    It isn’t the worry, it is the barely-concealed hope of Google, HTC, Nokia et al, synchronised with the pseudo-literate underclass that have now found themselves consuming Apple products which have hitherto been out of their grasp for economic reasons.

    I read in amazement blogs where people describe apps costing $5 as “too pricey” and recoil in horror at workmates who earn in excess of $80k annually profess to never paying for apps and I just wonder what breed of cheapskate philistine sub-human we have raised in our midst.

    The iDevices may be masterstrokes of engineering marketing and design, but the underside of it may be that Apple has exposed itself to the dark underbelly of society, that part that is easily swayed by sentiments that do their bearers no credit whatsoever, indeed grave discredit.

  10. Andy – Is there some way to email you? I’ve looked all over and somehow am not finding your email address.

  11. Just one more thought on the invalidity of the stat concerning the 1 extra drop per 100 calls. Isn’t this despite a concerted effort by AT&T to increase it’s connectivity. One year later aren’t we comparing apples and oranges.

  12. I thought it was just me, noticing Leo Laporte’s attitude about iphone, Steve and Apple in General.
    All of his guests are really serious and his behavior is like a ten year old.
    On the last twit episode he said he liked the DroidX because it’s Android. What does that mean? I like the iphone because it has iOS?
    I guess he is either very pissed off that he is not invited to Apple events, or deep down doing it to stimulate competition.

  13. Okay, this was taken from Daring Fireball but is an interesting “data point.” Hate that phrase:
    “CNN buried the most interesting tidbit in this piece on the results of a Yankee Group survey:

    77% of iPhone owners say they’ll buy another iPhone, compared to 20% of Android customers who say they’ll buy another Android phone.

    That’s incredible, if accurate.”

  14. Peter Horoszowski
    Me too Peter. Hard to know what Leo may throw out of the play pen. Anyway, he needs to calm down. He bought an iPhone in an area where there is bad reception. That is what I think. And it didn’t work well enough for him. Now, I say he should have taken a look at the coverage issue before he bought the iPhone. Just a guess.

  15. I have not read a Consumer Reports article in over 20 years. Maybe more? But, I think that they are not really equipped to do “due diligence” in some of their ratings. How can they be an expert on everything? Anyway, they are a non-entity to me before the iPhone controversy and from what I can see did not really do an in depth study of this attentuation issue.

  16. As always Andy….right on! It’s such a non issue for me (and probably most of us). I’m tired of hearing about it now. I ordered my free bumper case. Let’s just please move on!

  17. Actually my biggest problem with Apple devices is the soon to be everywhere iAd garbage.

    I don’t want a free ad operating system. I want one that is ad free. If that means going to Android or Linux computers/pads/phones, then so be it.

    The real reason Apple doesn’t like Flash? It competes with their monopolistic global domination iAd strategy. It has nothing to do with Flash software quality.

    I own a couple of mac minis, ipod touch, and ipad. They are fantastic, but I notice more and more ads on the ip* devices. Incremental increase like a drug dealer offering free samples. I’ve been around long enough to smell dog sh*t before I step in it.

    iFree or die hard.

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