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  • Serving the Interests of Apple’s Competitors

    July 15th, 2010

    As all the bad news about Apple and the alleged iPhone 4 antenna problem piles up, I fully expect that the company’s competitors are cheering loudly, not to mention people who already prefer other mobile platforms.

    And I am loathe to refer to this episode as Antennagate, as some have done.

    Certainly, Apple’s stellar success with the iPhone, iPod and now the iPad has helped put the company well over the top when it comes to stock price and sales. Even though it’s still extremely hard to get ahold of an iPhone 4 at any dealer, even an Apple Store, you have to agree with me that sales will be impacted to some degree because of this problem. It’s not as if the momentum will suddenly stop, though.

    On the other hand, it’s a sure thing some members of the tech media and even some industry analysts are taking advantage of the situation to feed the flames. You’ve already read estimates of the hundreds of millions of dollars Apple stands to lose if they decide to recall the iPhones for repair or replacement. There are also some unconfirmed reports that Apple has already begun to affix a matte coating to the naked antenna on newly-manufacturered iPhones to fix this purported defect, but don’t take that seriously. At least not yet.

    The media rabble rousers are having a ball demanding that iPhone 4 recall. An example is CNET’s Molly Wood, who, based on my personal experience working with her some years back, never met a fact that she couldn’t mangle. Her grasp of complicated technical issues has always been questionable, and I dare say she’s utterly out of her depth here. I mean, if Apple were to issue a recall, what would it accomplish? Would they replace all iPhones with units that had a special coating applied to the antennas? Or toss them into the trash? What’s the end game here? I’m wondering.

    More to the point, the real question is, other than people who have tried hard to hold their iPhones the wrong way, how many people are really suffering from this alleged defect? If there are truly dropped calls when signal strength dips, would those calls have succeeded on previous iPhones, or other smartphones? This clearly needs careful testing, but Consumer Reports, who now says the iPhone 4 isn’t recommended, doesn’t seem to be willing to perform those trials, free of junk science and bias.

    I’ve already provided a link in yesterday’s column to the comments from an antenna expert who disputes the methodology in CR’s tests. My problem is that, even though it has been confirmed that other smartphones suffer from some degree of signal loss when you touch the region where the antennas are placed, CR couldn’t duplicate such symptoms.

    Now I suppose I could rag on CR for being unfairly prejudiced against Apple, and suggest that the particular test they devised was designed to put the iPhone 4 in its worst light compared to any other gadget. Maybe so, but I’m not the antenna expert, and I don’t play one on TV. I rely on others to make that determination.

    Besides, even if it is shown that CR is utterly wrong, would they go back to the drawing board and redo the tests properly? CR rarely backtracks on published test results. If they are wrong, Apple would probably have to hit them hard with a pointed statement, QuickTime videos of demonstrations showing contrary results, and possibly the threat of legal action.

    But drawing too much attention to one’s critics often gives them greater credibility, regardless of the truth or falsity of their claims. Suddenly it becomes a debate, rather than a question of fact versus fallacy, and actually winning the resulting PR wars may be difficult, if not impossible.

    Whatever Apple decides, would a new press release make a difference? They’ve already asserted that the extent of the signal loss is inflated because you’re seeing too many bars. If you had two bars and it dropped back to one, it wouldn’t be so big a deal. At the same time, columnist Daniel Eran Dilger, who guests this weekend on a segment of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, says that the antenna controversy is very much serving the interests of Apple’s competitors, rather than resolve the honest concerns of people who simply want a reliable smartphone.

    I even thought that the whole brouhaha would soon blow over, only to hear a CNN report while driving home this afternoon where the entire issue was resurrected. Every major newspaper has also weighed in.

    Of course, all or most of the lingering questions about Apple’s strategy going forward should be answered Friday morning, during that special press event scheduled for 10:00 Pacific time at the company’s Cupertino, CA headquarters. I’m not going to make any predictions at this point, other than to repeat my skepticism about a possible recall. But the possibility of affixing some sort of permanent coating on the bare antenna might end up being the best idea of all, if there’s no viable software solution of course, other than cosmetic.

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