Consumer reports reiterates caution against iPhone 4

The warning comes due to Apple's decision to end the free case program for the iPhone 4

Consumer Reports, one of the most widely respected consumer advocacy resources, is once again slamming the Apple iPhone 4. In response to Apple's decision to end the free case program it implemented to address the iPhone 4 "antennagate" issue, Consumer Reports stressed that it still can not recommend a device that places the burden on users to mitigate a hardware design flaw.

Apple claims that the number of affected users is even smaller than it had anticipated, and announced the decision to end the free iPhone 4 case giveaway program effective September 30. It will still be possible for users experiencing problems to get one of the Apple iPhone 4 rubberband bumpers, but it will require a more concerted and convoluted effort on the part of the user to plead the case to Apple.

Consumer Reports maintains that the antenna issue is pervasive, and that it makes it impossible for the consumer advocate to recommend the Apple smartphone. It admitted that a case reduces the problem and makes the iPhone 4 functional, and shied away from rejecting the iPhone 4 in the wake of the free case program as a mitigation for the issue. But, the changes to the case program announced by Apple have rubbed Consumer Reports the wrong way again.

There have been rumors almost since the inception of "antennagate" that behind Apple's public denials and dismissal of the issues surrounding the iPhone 4 "death grip", it is diligently at work to resolve the underlying engineering flaw that causes the problem. Some have speculated that the delay of the white model of the iPhone 4 was to allow Apple time to fix the antenna problem, and a recent report suggests that a re-engineered iPhone 4 might start being distributed on the sly by the beginning of October.

A re-engineered iPhone 4 might also give Apple an opportunity to address other hardware-related issues such as the proximity sensor. The recent iOS 4.1 update greatly improves the functionality of the proximity sensor, but some are still experiencing the problem. Prior to the release of the update, some Apple developers had asserted that the proximity sensor issue is primarily a hardware problem which can be minimized, but not fully resolved, with a software fix.

The initial mea culpa and launch of the free case program were largely in response to Consumer Reports recommending against the iPhone 4. Prior to that very public acknowledgement that the issue goes beyond simply holding the phone the wrong way, Apple seemed content to brush the problem under the rug as an irrelevant concern of some vocal minority. But, when Consumer Reports speaks, consumers generally listen, so vendors like Apple need to pay attention.

I can replicate the antenna problem on my iPhone 4, but with a case it is not really an ongoing concern. I was also affected by the proximity sensor issue, but the iOS 4.1 update has eliminated that concern for me as well. Without knowing the real numbers behind how many users are impacted, though, it seems that it is in Apple's best interests to simply continue the free case program. If the number of affected users is truly so small, what is the harm in extending the free case offer?

Now that Consumer Reports is reiterating its caution against purchasing the iPhone 4, the ball is back in Apple's court to either extend the program, or announce/admit that a re-engineered handset will soon be available in place of the BandAid and chewing gum fix provided with the iPhone 4 case. Users will have a hard time justifying the iPhone 4 to IT admins when a resource like Consumer Reports says to avoid it.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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