Consumer Reports still doesn't like the iPhone 4
The staff of Consumer Reports might not want to count on getting a Christmas card from Steve Jobs -- or even a free iPhone 4 case.
That's probably not the reaction that Apple wanted when it quietly announced Friday that it was scaling back its case giveaway. The Cupertino, Calif., company launched that program in July after initially brushing off reports by a minority of iPhone 4 users that the new phone would lose signal when held with a hand over a gap between its external antennas.
In Friday's note, Apple came close to hoisting a "Mission Accomplished" banner:
We now know that the iPhone 4 antenna attenuation issue is even smaller than we originally thought. A small percentage of iPhone 4 users need a case, and we want to continue providing them a Bumper case for free. For everyone else, we are discontinuing the free case program on all iPhone 4s sold after September 30, 2010. We are also returning to our normal returns policy for all iPhone 4s sold after September 30. Users experiencing antenna issues should call AppleCare to request a free Bumper case.
That note didn't explain how Apple's tech-support reps -- generous to a fault, in the experience of many readers -- would verify that iPhone 4 users were suffering real reception problems. And this revised offer appears to outlive the old one, which covered only iPhone 4s purchased before Sept. 30. In practical terms, Apple may have simply placed the lowest of speed bumps in front of customers looking to get a free case out of the company.
Either way, Consumer Reports was not amused. In Monday's post, the Yonkers, N.Y.-based magazine scolded Apple:
Putting the onus on any owners of a product to obtain a remedy to a design flaw is not acceptable to us. We therefore continue not to recommend the iPhone 4, and to call on Apple to provide a permanent fix for the phone's reception issues.
I suspect that CR's requests will go unfulfilled. It seems clear that the iPhone 4's design -- more so than that of other phones -- involves compromises that improve reception in many cases but degrade it in others. (Note that Apple's page of technical background about phone antenna design and testing no longer features videos of other phones suffering impaired reception when held the wrong way.) At the same time, it seems clear that Apple is done talking about the matter.
But let's keep some perspective about all this. As I was reminded during a recent sojourn in Los Angeles International Airport that saw a loaner iPhone 4 reduced to sub-dial-up Internet speeds, the biggest problem with iPhone reception is AT&T's occasionally overwhelmed network. And all the free cases in the world can't fix that.
September 13, 2010; 6:41 PM ET
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