Why iPhone 4 'Antennagate' Is the Lamest Scandal Ever

By Michael Comeau  JUL 14, 2010 9:30 AM

The iPhone 4 is suffering from a minor technical problem that's been completely blown out of proportion by the media.


I’m beginning to think that Antennagate -- the so-called scandal over the Apple (AAPL) iPhone 4’s reception issues -- has become the most ridiculous tech story of the year.

Let’s recap the problem.

A small number of people reported iPhone 4 reception problems related to how they held the phone. I say a "small number" because there's still absolutely zero evidence of a high return rate or widespread customer dissatisfaction.

Then, a whole bunch of media types started trying to recreate the problem themselves by holding their phones every which way, trying to get the signal to drop.

So while these techno-hypochondriacs didn’t actually suffer from or notice this problem, they were determined to do so once they saw the opportunity to jump all over Apple.

Let’s look at the conclusions from some major publications’ pre-Antennagate iPhone 4 reviews (emphasis mine):


“We're not going to beat around the bush -- in our approximation, the iPhone 4 is the best smartphone on the market right now. The combination of gorgeous new hardware, that amazing display, upgraded cameras, and major improvements to the operating system make this an extremely formidable package.”


“With the iPhone 4, Apple again shows that it is a powerful player in the smartphone wars. It won't be for everyone, the call quality and reception remain sticking points, and AT&T (T) remains a sticking point, but the handset's striking design, loaded feature set, and satisfying performance make it the best iPhone yet.”

Wall Street Journal:

“Just as with its predecessors, I can't recommend this new iPhone for voice calling for people who experience poor AT&T reception, unless they are willing to carry a second phone on a network that works better for them.

For everyone else, however, I'd say that Apple has built a beautiful smartphone that works well, adds impressive new features and is still, overall, the best device in its class.”

But since Antennagate hit, everybody and their mother has some type of issue with the iPhone 4. Again, nobody knew they had problems with the iPhone 4 until they went looking for them.

In fact, the highly respected Consumer Reports delivered a magnificent troll job this week when it said it “couldn’t recommend the iPhone 4.”

Here’s its explanation:

We reached this conclusion after testing all three of our iPhone 4s (purchased at three separate retailers in the New York area) in the controlled environment of CU's radio frequency (RF) isolation chamber. In this room, which is impervious to outside radio signals, our test engineers connected the phones to our base-station emulator, a device that simulates carrier cell towers. We also tested several other AT&T phones the same way, including the iPhone 3GS and the Palm (PALM) Pre. None of those phones had the signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4.

I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but who cares about how well the iPhone 4 performs in an isolation chamber? I don’t make phone calls from my isolation chamber. No, I only use my isolation chamber to breathe in pure oxygen and protect myself from germs.

But wait, there’s more.

When Consumer Reports first looked at the iPhone 4, it said “some reviewers have reported problems with reduced reception when the iPhone 4 is being held in the left hand. So far, we’ve been unable to replicate the problems.”

Unable to replicate the problems. Unable to replicate the problems. Unable to replicate the problems. Get it?

I’d like to know: How in the blue hell does Consumer Reports place admittedly “anecdotal indications” from an isolation chamber above what it found in normal use?

Not to be a mere critic, I’ve performed my own real-world tests on the iPhone 4. I can’t find anyone who regrets getting the new iPhone. And all the Apple Store employees I’ve spoken with said they’re not seeing many returns or complaints.

What else?

Well, let’s look at exhibit A, a screenshot from Apple’s online store:

Three weeks to ship? Well, somebody is buying this phone.

And here’s exhibit B, from AT&T’s online store:

Click to enlarge

Seven to 14 days? Not bad.

So Apple’s in bit of a pickle. It has a product that 1) was a media darling at release, and 2) is selling like crazy right now, but 3) is getting destroyed in the media over a technical problem that clearly doesn’t affect many people in real-world use.

If the iPhone 4 is so bad, why aren’t people lining up to return them? After all, every iPhone 4 in existence is still in the 30-day return window. And why is it back-ordered? Do people just want to be screwed?

Yes, Apple could behave better. It's censoring message boards discussing the reception issue, and Steve Jobs has appeared cold and callous, clearly underestimating how big the media storm could get.

But should Apple institute a recall, as some experts believe will happen?

Absolutely not, because the antenna problem isn’t common in regular use. All iPhones have had reception issues because of the strain on AT&T’s wireless network, so why go crazy now?

To make nice, Apple should offer free bumpers to anyone who wants them, extend its return policy to 60 or 90 days for those who want to give iPhone 4 an extended test run, and offer an “I’m sorry that you’re upset” apology.

That’s it.

This isn’t a Toyota-type issue, where people have actually died, nor is it nearly as serious as Microsoft’s Red-Ring-of-Death Xbox 360 fiasco.

The iPhone 4 isn’t perfect, but as I explained in 50,000,000 iPhone Fans Can't All Be Wrong, Apple has a long history of making imperfect (in the eyes of critics) products that sell like crazy and redefine how we work and play.

Let’s get real.

The iPhone 4 is suffering from a minor technical problem that’s been completely blown out of proportion by the media, who knows that negative Apple stories go over big.

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