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Reports: Steve Jobs ignored warnings on iPhone 4 antenna design

The Story That Refuses To Die took another twist this afternoon, as Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal each reported that Apple chief executive Steve Jobs waved aside engineers' warnings that the iPhone 4's externally-mounted antenna could suffer from interference.

Neither the WSJ piece nor the BusinessWeek story name any sources--which is not surprising, given Apple's extreme emphasis on secrecy--and the WSJ item quotes an Apple spokesman as saying BusinessWeeks' story is "simply not true."

For that matter, many iPhone 4 users haven't reported any problems with their device's reception. It is a pretty good phone, you know.

I have no idea if the BusinessWeek and WSJ stories are true myself. What I do know is that Jobs has a history of demanding progress, precision and then perfection in product design--even in areas you might think of as incidental. The one and only time I have met Jobs in person, at the opening of its Tysons Corner store, he spoke with great pride about how much more elegant its heating and air-conditioning system was than that of a standard-issue mall store.

For sheer volume of testimony about Jobs' persnickety direction of product design, there's no beating This collection of first-person accounts of Apple's early history includes such details as Jobs threatening to remove sound capability from the Macintosh if its audio quality didn't improve by Monday (it did, paving the way for years of further improvement); and Jobs insisting that the Mac not feature expandable memory (designers disregarded that instruction, then didn't tell him about their mutiny).

Most of the time, this we-must-do-better insistence pays off for Apple and its customers. But as long as Apple hires from the same fallible species as every other company in the world, this strategy won't and can't succeed all the time.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 15, 2010; 7:15 PM ET
Categories:  Mobile  
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Next: Apple's fix for iPhone 4 antenna angst: free cases or a full refund (updated)


I guess that what happened is the engineers warned Jobs about the antenna issue. Jobs weighed that against design preferences, and came down on the side of design. That wasn't necessarily a bad decision, even given Consumer Reports' Chamber of Horrors. I bet a year from now, though, the exposed, uninsulated antenna goes away in the next model.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | July 15, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

This entire mess can be attributed to Steve Jobs' hubris, nothing more nothing less. The easiest thing Apple could do to solve the problem would be to make the little "Antenna Bumper" standard equipment instead of selling it for $35.00. But that would involve publicly admitting that Steve Jobs was "WRONG".

Personally, I prefer Consumer Reports All American solution. An inch of duct tape.

Posted by: RandomArrow | July 15, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure that for every engineer who "warned" about the antenna design there were five who said "so what - look at how well it performs" and so they went with them. The external antenna likely works substantially better than internal designs that they looked at and had experience with from the earlier iPhone models. Should there have been some more testing and an insulator - for sure. And ultimately what you'll probably see in the near future is either a silicon or rubber sleeve or perhaps a layer of insulating varnish painted over the gap. Finger nail polish should work just fine. End of story.

Posted by: rogernebel | July 16, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

I will NEVER buy an Apple product, specially an iPhone. Steve Jobs has communist tendencies when he sells his products and "YOU HAVE TO" like them AS IS. I feel for you Apple customers(not really), just remember DUCT TAPE baby, duct tape... That's the solution :-)

Posted by: riceldi | July 16, 2010 8:01 AM | Report abuse

This isn't about the antenna, It's about Jobs' ego. It's time Apple outsourced Jobs.

Posted by: therev1 | July 16, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I like rogernebel's comment above.

"I'm sure that for every engineer who "warned" about the antenna design there were five who said "so what - look at how well it performs" and so they went with them."

Very plausible scenario. That is the problem with stories like Bloomberg's. Someone is always warning about something to cover their a**.

You have to take risks in life. OK, maybe they'll modify it next go-around.

Posted by: RepealObamacareNow | July 16, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

riceldi: Steve Jobs has communist tendencies?


Posted by: Gunga2009 | July 16, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

to Gunga2009:

I guess you don't know what communism means, look it up I won't help on that one.

Posted by: riceldi | July 16, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Communism, as defined by Karl Marx, is "to each as they need, from each as they can provide." On the other hand, a command economy, as practiced by many otherwise communist countries, dictated what was produced by the collective workers. Mr. Jobs produces products that are voted on by the people who buy them. Those people certainly have a choice to buy or not. And Mr. Jobs profits by those choices (or not, for unpopular products). Those two polar examples could hardly be further apart.

Posted by: rogernebel | July 16, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I like that line about communist tendencies, too. Riceldi, you are brilliant. Jobs is the undisputed leader of one of the few American companies that produces anything worth exporting to the rest of the world, but no, no, he's a communist.

Don't forget that that Thurgood Marshall was a radical, the Jews control the mainstream media, and Obama is really Hitler AND Stalin--an evil chimera created by North Korean terrorists to bring this country to its knees!

Posted by: mr_silverman | July 16, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

LOL!!! This is really cool!!

From iPhone 4 to Steve Jobs to communism, to Thurgood Marshall to Hitler and Stalin and best of all Robama.

How about the that earthquake ha!??? LOL!!!

Posted by: riceldi | July 16, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure the Wall Street Journal piece is wrong, that Steve Jobs is a great man, and that everybody with a complaint about the phone is misguided. Got it.

Good digging. That has got to be the end of this story, so maybe you should just take the rest of the day off.

Posted by: fakedude1 | July 16, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

RepealObamacareNow says:
"Someone is always warning about something to cover their a**. You have to take risks in life."

That's how we got millions of gallons of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico. The people who warned about the flaws in the blowout preventer were just doing it to "cover their a**."

"You have to take risks in life." You also have to heed the warnings. Fortunately, the iPhone 4 is just a phone, not an offshore oil rig or a nuclear power plant.

Posted by: DCProud | July 16, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Who really cares? If your life centers around a phone there's a bigger problem. Apple is indeed innovative. Toys like the iPhone are a great technical advance over older "phone" phones, but if you just want a phone, it's a waste of money. It never ceases to amaze me that people go nuts over things like this but could care less that the quality of life for millions worsens daily.

Posted by: tojo45 | July 16, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

This is so BOGUS! If it were truly a problem of signuificant magnitude, nearly all of the 3M units sold would have been returned durring the FREE return period. God, how we manufacture PHONY crises.

Posted by: myviewat60 | July 16, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

The post is running an infomrative piece about this whole mess here

Posted by: LynneLovesMints | July 16, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled." -- Richard Feynman

No problem, Steve, you F---ed Up. That's Economics.

American Exceptionalism is the stupid notion that exporting jobs to slave labor in China somehow hurts China (or helps Chinese). That's Politics and probably discussed separately and elsewhere.

Posted by: gannon_dick | July 16, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Good GRIEF! Can this NONtroversy be blown any more out of proportion??? Just get a tiny piece of clear packing tape, people, or get a case (they're free now), and MOVE ON WITH YOUR PATHETIC LIVES!

Posted by: B2O2 | July 16, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

It's just common crookery. The I-4 was scheduled to come out, it meant billions, it was coming out no matter what. You Mac/Apple/I-I-I-I freaks line up, hand it over, it's dead in 6 months or a year and then line it up to hand it over to Mac/Apple/I-I-I-I crooks all over again to the tune of several hundred dollars. His OS's are the same way. Broken, deliberately Mac-obsoleted junk with Intel processors no less.. Even freakier is the collection of rag-tag, weed-addled hippy wannabe's in those Apple Stores, especially at White Flint. Takoma Park extended. Now save your pennies and nickels, freakies, the next broken tech is on the way to the Apple store near YOU (if you can crawl out of your Mommy's basement long enough to go panhandle enough for the next "great", but obsolete and un-needed thing). Oh yeah, I forgot. Obama's people.

Posted by: JamesChristian | July 16, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

LOL @ "deliberately Mac-obsoleted junk with Intel processors no less".

Must be an AMD shareholder.

Posted by: mason08 | July 16, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Not an AMD shareholder at all. Just pointing out that the IBM/Intel combo was the subject of much derision by the Mac crowd for years even as Mac was building dual-boot Windows/Mac pc years ago. That Apple had to admit their CPUs were junk, that Mac users NEED Windows and included the evil Intel/Windows presence on Macs is hilarious, because Mac users, scammed beyond all propriety, STLL toot the horn about the superior nature of their Macs when the hardware is Intel and the OS wishes it could be Windows and be in service for, I dunno, more than two years? Oh yeah, Mac users still need MS Office, too. Mac peeps are creepy hypocrites.

Posted by: JamesChristian | July 16, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

The PowerPC processor was anything but junk. It ran hot, so you couldn't stick it in a laptop, which is what Apple really wanted to do. To maintain compatibility across the lines, they changed the whole architecture on every line. You can find PowerPC chips in such things as the Xbox 360s, Playstation 3s, Cisco routers, and IBM supercomputers. Intel, OTOH, essentially redesigned their chip so as to surround a RISCy core with a CISCy interface to maintain backwards compatibility.

And no... Mac users don't need office at all. Mac Office is awful compared to Pages/Keynote or OpenOffice.

Consider yourself served, punk.

Posted by: mason08 | July 17, 2010 12:22 AM | Report abuse

It would be very exceptional if a product had a problem and nobody warned about it during the product's development. Choices always involve accepting limitations and taking risks. There are always differences of opinon on potential problems and differences of temperament between human beings who vary in their comfort with risk. Of course, what this story and all the others like it leave out, is all the warnings about flaws in products that that the marketplace never perceived as problems.

Posted by: dnjake | July 18, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

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