Apple to give free cases, refunds to iPhone 4 owners

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiling iPhone 4
Image: Matthew Yohe.

Apple Inc. announced Friday that it will give owners of its new iPhone 4 a free case in response to mounting concerns over the device's antenna placement. The iPhone 4 antenna is actually a metal strip that wraps around the side of the device, which has caused dropped calls when held in a certain way.

The announcement came in a rare press conference held by Apple on Friday morning. During the event, company CEO Steve Jobs attempted to address reports by both consumers and the media of signal reception issues relating to the positioning of the phone's antenna. Rather than recall the devices or offer a hardware fix, Jobs said yesterday that Apple will offer a free case to anyone who has purchased an iPhone 4.

The rubber cases, or "bumpers", wrap around the side of an iPhone and have been found to alleviate the reception issues. Apple's bumpers were priced at US$29 before the press conference, but will be free to anyone with an iPhone 4 until September 30. Jobs also said that those who had already purchased a bumper will receive a full refund for the accessory. For consumers still dissatisfied with iPhone 4, Jobs said that the phones can be returned for a refund as well.

Jobs acknowledged that "a very small percentage of users" were experiencing antenna issues, but dismissed the existence of an "Antennagate," saying that similar problems plague all cellular phones and that the iPhone issue "has been blown so out of proportion that it is incredible." He showed videos demonstrating a drop in signal strength when held in a certain way for other smartphones to help make his point.

According to company statistics, about one out of every 200 iPhone 4 customers have called AppleCare to complain about the antenna. The iPhone 4 return rate is about one-third of the iPhone 3GS return rate. However, Jobs admitted that the percentage of calls dropped on the iPhone 4 was slightly greater than the percentage of calls dropped on the 3GS. Jobs attributed the small increase to fewer iPhone 4 users putting cases on their devices.

In response to critics saying that Apple had not addressed the reception problem quickly enough, Jobs said that iPhone 4 had only been out for 22 days and that the company could not have resolved the issue any faster. The press event came just days after Consumer Reports declined to give Apple's newest phone a "recommended" rating due to the antenna's placement. The group said that Apple's move to give away free cases is a good first step, but not permanent enough to earn a higher rating.

Earlier, on June 24, Apple told customers to either hold the phone without covering the antenna, or to use a case. The so-called "death grip", however, has not been as big an issue for other phones as it has for iPhone 4, said Mike Gikas of Consumer Reports. On July 2, Apple associated the issue with a long-undiscovered software bug relating to the formula for calculating signal strength. An iOS update released Thursday came with an updated, more accurate method of calculating the number of cellular signal bars to display, but did not actually prevent the signal loss that comes with covering the antenna.


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