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Apple Plays Defense, Displaces Blame During iPhone 4 Press Conference


Users get their free iPhone 4 bumper case but Steve Jobs gives no official apology.

"You know, we're not perfect. We know that, you know that. And phones aren't perfect either."

That's how Apple (AAPL) head honcho Steve Jobs opened an impromptu press conference today in Cupertino. And in the face of significant dissatisfaction over iPhone 4's design, it marked the mere briefest of moments when Jobs wasn't grandstanding. In fact, for the majority of the event, blame was displaced, problems were denied, and Apple's undying love for the customer was iterated over and over again.

And this conference was supposed to make things better?

Since the iPhone 4's launch, numerous reports have detailed a defect with the device's antenna. When held in a very natural state -- or simply touched in a certain way -- reception drops to zero. (See Serious iPhone 4 Defects Make It More Lemon Than Apple.) And since those reports were made public, Jobs and Apple representatives have dismissed the problem as a non-issue -- see Steve Jobs' Emails Exhibit Staunch Denial -- thus infuriating fans more.

But upon the Consumer Reports review, which boldly stated it couldn't cite the iPhone 4 as a recommended model, Apple decided to play damage control and hold a press conference. To alleviate some of the Antennagate scandal, Jobs announced that Apple will be offering a free iPhone 4 bumper case, which reportedly curbs the reception loss, and a full refund to anyone who bought one. And anyone who isn't fully satisfied with the device may return it within 30 days and not have to pay a restocking fee.

Unfortunately, despite offering users a free bumper case when they become available, Jobs and company negated any goodwill with overwhelming hubris.

The conference began and ended in pure defense mode. Jobs addressed the iPhone 4 defect not with solemn admission or solutions, but by taking down Apple's competitors.

On the big screen, Jobs presented video of the infamous "death grip" placed on a BlackBerry Bold (RIMM), Android (GOOG) model HTC Droid Eris, and Samsung Omnia II. According to Jobs, this Antennagate scandal is a call-to-arms for everyone in the industry to fix their own reception issues. So yes, instead of offering a mea culpa to infuriated users, a bit of mud slinging was exacted. And if "every smartphone has this issue," why bother making it a priority during development?

Classy move.

Jobs continually blamed the media for focusing on the iPhone 4's negative aspects and embellishing the reception issues. "The data supports the fact that the iPhone 4 is the best smartphone in the world, and that there is no Antennagate," he said. But what Jobs is ignoring is that it's not just the media and tech blogs making the claims. YouTube videos, comment sections, and message boards all contain users who are affected by the glitch. Is that the fault of the media?

Perhaps. Like when Apple deletes message threads that discuss the negative Consumer Reports review. Then, sure, it's all the media's fault.

But easily the most unnerving aspect of the conference was the number of times Jobs confessed the company's love for Apple customers. It was the kind of sentiment reserved for an abusive boyfriend trying to win back his girl.

"We love our users, we love them. We try to surprise and delight them. And we work our asses off. We have a lot of products that are pretty great for them, Macs, iPhones, iPods, iPads. So we love our users."

"We love our users so much that we built 300 Apple retail stores for them to give them the best buying experience in the world."

"We want to make all of our users happy. If you don't know that about Apple, you don't know Apple. We love making our users happy."

"We think like engineers. We love it, we think it's the right way to solve real problems. I don't think that's going to change, and the way we love our customers isn't going to change."

"We do this because we love our users, and if we screw up, we pick ourselves up and we try harder."

But like that abusive boyfriend, real solutions were few and far between while big talk took up most of the time. And come Q&A time, that "love" began to chip away.

Non-answers were given to questions about a "death grip" versus a one-finger touch. Jobs complained that tech analysts continually write false information and that "you guys seem to talk to each other a lot." He decried how his emails were published on tech blogs and refused to apologize to Apple investors "if the stock goes down five dollars."

And when an audience member asked how exactly to recreate that reception loss on a BlackBerry Bold, Jobs replied, "You may not see it in certain areas."

Well, so much for that.

Jobs believes that the entire scandal is a load of tripe. Simple exaggeration over a limited number of users. While I agree reception issues can possibly plague virtually any network-enabled device, for the fourth iteration of what has been deemed -- especially by its creators -- the greatest mobile device ever made, it better darn well work as intended.

But it's Steve Jobs' arrogance and wanton dismissal of complaints that infuriates owners and analysts the most. Apple, and Apple alone, is the one making it a big deal. Why?

That apology to all the disappointed iPhone users, that admission of guilt unfettered by hubris or displaced blame or a frequent reminder of how much Apple loves its customers, it never came.

All we got was more hype and claims that the device you hold in your hand is the greatest smartphone in the world.

Too bad you can't make a call on it.

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