Image: Steve Jobs
Paul Sakuma  /  AP
Apple CEO Steve Jobs talks about the Apple iPhone 4 at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Friday, July 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
By Wilson Rothman
updated 1/14/2016 12:45:33 AM ET 2016-01-14T05:45:33

Today, as expected, Steve Jobs announced that Apple would offer free rubber "bumpers" to anyone who bought an iPhone 4 in order to fix the problem caused by the antenna's design flaw. However, Jobs did not promise a hardware fix which would alleviate the problem without marring the phone's aesthetic.

"We're not perfect," Jobs told reporters. "Phones aren't perfect either," adding, "but we want to make all of our users happy."

The free offer is available through Sept. 30, and a full refund will be issued to those who already bought the $29 case. The deal will appear on Apple's website "late next week," and if the supply of bumpers runs out, Apple will offer "a choice of cases," presumably all in the $29-or-less price range.

"It's very hard to escape the conclusion that there is a problem," Jobs said, "but that problem is affecting a very small percentage of our users."

During the Q&A period following the press conference, Jobs did offer an apology to customers: "To our customers who are affected by the issue, we are deeply sorry," adding, "To those investors who bought the stock and are down by $5, I have no apology."

Apple opened the event with a jab at the media's overreaction to the antenna issue, playing a video of Jonathan Mann's "The iPhone 4 Antenna Song," which includes the lyrics: "If you don't want an iPhone 4 don't buy it. If you bought one and you don't like it, bring it back ... but you know you won't."

Jobs announced that Apple had sold more than 3 million iPhone 4s in three weeks, and that it's been judged the No. 1 smart phone by many publications, including Consumer Reports, who had withheld a "recommended" rating because of the antenna issue.

Jobs also said that the problem itself had not caused an unusual upsurge in customer-support calls. He said that just 0.55 percent of iPhone 4 owners have called tech support, adding "historically ... this is not a large number."

According to AT&T's dropped-call analysis, the iPhone 4 dropped 1 percent more calls than its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS.

The antenna problem has plagued the iPhone 4 since the first days of its release. Though its impact on calling has perhaps been overdramatized, it is a demonstrable issue: Hold your hand too tightly around the bottom of the phone, and in many cases you will lose reception, and perhaps drop a call.

Yesterday, some speculated that Apple might offer a hardware repair , an invisible fix that Rodman & Renshaw analyst Ashok Kumar called "a rubber bumper on the inside."

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This is the third time Apple has publicly addressed the antenna issue. The first time was on June 24, when a company statement said that this was a general problem that all phones experience, and that when using the iPhone 4, people should "avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases."

Later, on July 2, when Apple, "surprised" to learn of these problems, attributed the flaw to a software issue, wherein the cellular reception bars displayed more signal than was actually available. "the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong."

The firmware update, which came out yesterday, recalibrated the reception bars to better represent actual cellular coverage, but most agree this did nothing to mollify actual reception loss.

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Video: Free iPhone 4 cases: Fix or fiasco?

  1. Transcript of: Free iPhone 4 cases: Fix or fiasco?

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Well, if you were expecting Apple to admit that they had in any way produced a lemon, that didn't happen today. When the patriarch, Steve Jobs , took the stage at a press event to answer the hubbub over the iPhone 4, the fact that if you hold it a certain way it drops telephone calls, some were expecting a kind of recall. What they got instead was a fix. NBC 's George Lewis was there.

    Mr. STEVE JOBS: ...about what the problems really are.

    GEORGE LEWIS reporting: At times Steve Jobs was combative about all the negative publicly surrounding the iPhone 4.

    Mr. JOBS: This has been blown so out of proportion.

    LEWIS: It's been called " Antenna -gate." If you grip the phone a certain way, touching the steel bands on the outside that act as the antenna, the signal fades.

    Mr. MIKE GIKAS (Consumer Reports): That means you can lose a call if you're in a weak signal area, and that's not -- that's not acceptable.

    LEWIS: Consumer Reports said, because of that problem, it could not recommend the iPhone 4 to readers. Today Jobs insisted competing smart phones have the same problem, that many lose signal if gripped the wrong way.

    Mr. JOBS: This is life in the smart phone world. Phones aren't perfect.

    LEWIS: The fix, according to Jobs , rubber bumpers that fit on the outside of the phones that will prevent users from touching the antenna strips. And he said users who are still dissatisfied with their phones can return them for full refunds. But even after that, Consumer Reports said it still could not recommend the iPhone 4.

    Mr. GIKAS: The solution isn't permanent, so we're not going to change the status of the phone.

    LEWIS: One report in Bloomberg News said that Apple 's engineers warned about potential antenna problems before the iPhone 4 was released, but that Jobs ignored the warnings.

    Mr. JOBS: We're concerned about it.

    LEWIS: He was particularly incensed by that.

    Mr. JOBS: It's a total crock. We've challenged them to produce anything beyond rumors to substantiate that.

    LEWIS: Bloomberg says it stands by the story. The iPhone 4 has been a huge hit, more than three million sold since the introduction three weeks ago.

    Unidentified Woman: I think they're a great phone.

    Unidentified Man: I don't think it's worth a buy right now.

    LEWIS: The ultimate verdict on the iPhone will be in their hands. George Lewis , NBC News, Cupertino, California.


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