iPhone 4 Press Conference

Apple kicked off its press conference today with a good sense of humor. Opening with the iPhone Antenna song seemed at first to poke fun at the media’s so-called frenzy about the iPhone 4’s antenna issues, making us wonder if Apple was going to do anything at all to remedy the problem. As it turns out, though, the Cupertino company essentially offered a grand mea culpa.

“We’re not perfect” seems to be the humbling mantra of Mr. Jobs. Smartphones aren’t perfect, either. They all have weak spots. First, though, he pointed out that most critics have hailed the iPhone 4 as the #1 smartphone, and despite all the negative press, it has sold 3 million units in just 3 weeks.

Still, “Antennagate,” as Jobs referred to it, has been going on for roughly 22 days. The antenna issue has been “blown out of proportion.” It exists, he admits, but it’s not quite what you think it is. He pulled up video demos (not live) of three different phones experiencing the exact same problem: the Blackberry Bold 9700 (RIM), the HTC Droid Eris (Android), and the Samsung Omnia II (Windows Mobile). All have the problem.

Apparently, with current technology, it’s unavoidable. Jobs challenged the industry to continue to grow to find a solution, but we just aren’t there yet.

So what is Apple doing about it? Well, for starters, they’ve corrected the algorithm that displays reception bars, thanks to iOS 4.0.1 that went live yesterday. You are much less likely now to show “No Service” when holding the sweet spot in the lower left corner of the phone. Does this fix the issue? No, but it means that your phone will no longer lie to you about its reception status.

Steve Jobs cares enough to say he’s sorry.

He went on to talk about how they knew of the reception issue in that it occurs in every phone. He showed images of some of their 17, huge anechoic chambers that they use to test reception. They’ve invested $100 million and 18 top scientists and engineers to make it the best they can. So they knew about it, but they also thought it was not a big deal. Why? Because the iPhone 4 still gets better reception than other smartphones, including previous iPhones.

So what about the volume of complaints? According to Jobs, only 0.55% (approximately 1,500 people) of iPhone 4 owners have called in to AppleCare to complain. The new phone also only has a 1.7% return rate, less than a third of the iPhone 3GS’s 6% return rate. Apparently, people want to keep the phone. Apparently, people love the phone.

As to dropped calls, Jobs said that AT&T logs all dropped calls, and according to a report from 3 days ago, the iPhone 4 is not far from where the 3GS stands. The actual number of dropped calls is confidential, but the iPhone 4 drops less than 1 call per 100 more than 3GS. Is that more calls? Yes. Is it significant? Not in Apple’s mind.

The reason for the additional dropped calls is still being investigated, but Jobs has a (thoroughly unscientific) theory. He thinks the reason for the increase is because less iPhone 4 users are using a case than iPhone 3GS users. In fact, the attachment rate is vastly different. 20% of iPhone 4 users have purchased a case, whereas 80% of iPhone 3GS users have a case. The 3GS looks fundamentally the same as the iPhone 3G; the iPhone 4 looks completely different. Perhaps vanity is to blame in not wanting to hide the phone inside a case. Whatever the reason, because the iPhone 3GS has the same antenna issues at its core, it has a better dropped call rate because more cases are shielding the antenna. This is Jobs’ theory, anyway.

Every home should have one of these. Then maybe we’d have fewer dropped calls.

Regardless, Apple cares about “every” customer. Even though Jobs got 5,000 emails saying the iPhone 4 works perfectly, they want to make all their customers happy. To achieve that, iOS 4.0.1 was released. And, because everyone thought they should provide free bumpers, everyone is getting free bumpers.

Yes, if you own or purchase an iPhone 4 between its launch and September 30 of this year, Apple will give you a bumper gratis. If you already bought one, you get a full refund. If you don’t have one, Apple will provide the means to procure one from its website “late next week.” With 3 million iPhone 4s sold (and more on the way, thanks to 17 new countries getting it at the end of the month), they can’t produce enough bumpers, so they will offer alternative cases, as well, with consumers getting to choose which one they want.

After September 30, they will reevaluate the situation. Jobs also briefly addressed the proximity sensor problem that some are experiencing and promised that the next firmware update would correct the problem.

Of course, if you still aren’t satisfied, you can return your iPhone 4 within 30 days of purchase for a full refund. There will even be no restocking fee. Just be sure that your phone is undamaged.

The press conference concluded with a Q&A session, with many airing their complaints, asking some technical questions, and even checking on Jobs’ health.

Overall, we’re pleased with Apple’s honesty on the issue (finally), the free bumper cases, and acknowledgement about the proximity sensor problem. There is light at the end of the tunnel, after all.

[Photos via Engadget]

Apple is holding an invite-only press conference this morning at 10am PST. What Apple intends to discuss is unknown, although the web is full of rumors. Will an updated version of the iPhone 4 begin shipping that circumvents the reception problem? Is Apple giving all customers a free bumper? Will Steve Jobs continue to dismiss allegations that the phone doesn’t work properly? Come back after 10 for the answers.

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