On the day before Apple publicly addresses the iPhone 4 antenna design flaw that has plagued the company for weeks, an analyst who spoke with manufacturers who work with Apple said that there will likely be an internal hardware fix.
Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw in New York, said that the fix may be bigger than just distributing free accessories that nullify the antenna issues. It may, in fact, be a hardware fix that requires the phone to be sent away for servicing. (This news was first reported by TheStreet.com.)
If you've been following the story, you know that the antenna faults are caused by a user's hand wrapping around the external antennas, causing them to short and lose some connectivity. A proposed solution has been for Apple to distribute rubber "bumper" accessories for free, as the use of the bumper nullifies the negative effect on the antenna.
Though he cannot be 100 percent certain, Kumar told msnbc.com that the fix Apple may announce tomorrow would likely entail "a mechanical solution that provides isolation for the antenna," what he called "a rubber bumper on the inside instead of the outside."
Kumar is guessing that this is the reason AT&T is delaying shipments to customers for another eight weeks, after previously promising units in 1-2 weeks. (AT&T representatives could not verify this.)
The tech blog Gizmodo.com has been reporting a "silent recall," that is, customers who have replaced their phones claim to be getting improved reception on the new units. Though it's based more on anecdotal fact than scientific demonstration, the replaced phones may in fact have received the fix that Kumar described.
Cries for some kind of real hardware fix are even starting to emanate from Capitol Hill. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.) wrote a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, in which he asked for "a clearly written explanation of the cause of the reception problem" and "a public commitment to remedy it free of charge." Schumer's note added that "the solutions offered to date ... seem to be insufficient."
The sad part is that, if Kumar is right about the fix, it's likely to require you to send away your phone. "It's a very technical solution," said Kumar, who said Apple Stores wouldn't be set up to deliver a while-you-wait repair of this nature. Kumar equated it with having a phone sent away for a battery replacement.
To be clear, the fix Kumar describes is not a phone replacement, and would not likely cost Apple anywhere near the worst-case-scenario $1.5 billion that some analysts have mentioned. It would still be an admission of guilt: "By acknowledging a fix, the company admits it's a design defect," said Kumar.