iPhone 4 fix: Many questions left unanswered

While Apple’s press conference is a step in the right direction, there are a lot of loose ends to the iPhone 4 saga.

Today's Apple press conference was a strange mix of finger pointing, random sales figures and statistics and--surprise!--some actual accountability and solutions for the iPhone 4's antenna woes. At the end of the conference, Apple CEO Steve Jobs finally offered disgruntled iPhone 4 owners a solution: All owners will get a free bumper case-at least through September 30. But, as both a consumer (and an iPhone 4 owner) and journalist, I feel very conflicted about the outcome of the conference. Free bumpers is a step in the right direction, but this saga still has some very loose ends. I'm left with more questions than answers.

After a long-winded spiel about the universal antenna problem within the cell phone industry, the iPhone 4's successful sales records, and the low number of antenna-related AppleCare complaints, it felt like "Antennagate" was something dreamed up by the press. I wish all of the dropped calls I've experienced were just a dream. And you can be certain that the personal iPhone 4 hell my colleague Melissa Perenson experienced with her three units (she's on her fourth handset now) was not just a figment of her imagination.

According to Jobs, Apple tested other smartphones--the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the HTC Droid Eris ad the Samsung Omnia II--and found that the phones' signal strength deteriorates when held in that special way. I would like to see some third-party testing-not Apple's testing--on this subject matter. If this is an industry-wide problem, why is it just coming to a head now?

One reason could, simply put, be the scale of the iPhone 4's sales. I can assure you that none of the phones Apple tested sold three million units in three weeks.

Free Bumpers: A Clumsy Cure?

When I first purchased the phone, I didn't experience any of the reception issues others were writing about. I was actually quite pleased with the phone's improved voice quality. The phone also did quite well in our data speed tests, which I praised in my original review of the phone. It wasn't until I was actually living with the phone that I began experiencing the antenna issues. Most of it came from how I was holding the phone-not where I was located when I was making the call. I waited on purchasing a bumper because I suspected that Apple would do something like this as the antenna-related complaints escalated. Call it trivial, but I don't really like the idea of being forced to wrap my shiny new toy in a not-so-pretty rubber casing. Sure, Jobs said consumers would have some choice (Apple's model as well as some third-party vendors' models), but what if that choice is between neon green and neon orange? It has been said before, but it really does feel like a clunky fix.

Why September 30?

Jobs said that Apple will provide the free iPhone 4 case to customers to everyone who has purchased a phone through September 30. Why the cut-off date? Jobs gave a cryptic answer: "We are going to wait and see, maybe we'll have a better idea. It's just a chance to say we'll reevaluate it in September."

The deadline strikes me as odd. Why wouldn't an iPhone 4 after September require a case to solve this established problem? Does this mean Apple will be giving customers who purchase the phone after September 30 a new hardware design that features a stealth fix? If so, this is incredibly unfair to customers who bought the phone at launch, and are then stuck using a phone with faulty hardware.

What About the Proximity Sensor?

I had a moment of panic during the press conference when I thought that Jobs wasn't going to bring up the iPhone 4's faulty proximity sensor. This issue has been overshadowed in the media by the antenna issue, but for me, personally, it is my biggest problem with the phone. On six different occasions, I have pulled up Gmail and began an e-mail to a job that I applied to three years ago. Only once did it actually send. Worst nightmare, much? How in the world could this happen? In other instances, I've hung up on various people with my cheek and started FaceTime.

Jobs did indeed acknowledge the buggy proximity sensor and said that the company will "try" and get it fixed them in the next software update. Hm, that's not very reassuring considering Jobs also did not mention when that update will happen. How many other accidental e-mails am I going to send between now and then?

Is a 30-Day Return Period Enough?

Right now, I'm still not sure whether I want to keep or ditch my iPhone 4. There are a lot of things I love about it: the camera, the display, the app ecosystem and the user interface. But if I can't make a simple phone call without it being dropped or sending out accidental e-mails, there's a major problem. I think Apple should have extended the return period to at least 60 days so people can give the bumpers a shot and allow enough time for the proximity sensor fix. 30 days just isn't enough time for a consumer to make this kind of decision--waiving the restocking fee or not.

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Ginny Mies

PC World (US online)
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