Rehashing Apple’s ‘Antennagate’: The Emperor’s New Bumper

You know, I was planning to completely avoid a post mortem on the Apple iPhone 4 antenna issues circus.  I really was.  Until I stumbled onto this hyperspinning blog article and its incredible follow-up comments.

The little journalist in me lost his lunch on the ride.

It may come as a surprise to some that I’m allergic to marketing bull.  Yeah, I do occasionally dip into it here but it has to be worth the inevitable rash.

I’m also a devoted fan of hardcore journalism.  The kind that defrocks pedophiliac priests and dethrones corrupt kings.  Which makes me an antifan of Apple’s approach to communications.  The iPhone 4 debacle is a textbook example.

Of course if I’m going to explain further, it’s helpful to detail the chronology.  That means going back to April, 2010.  I’ll even spread the source love around:

April 19: Apple iPhone 4 leaked by Gizmodo
Gizmodo staff subsequently banned from WWDC 2010.  My take: I can’t really blame Apple there.

April 23: Police raid home of Gizmodo editor after iPhone leak
Does this come under journalism protections?  My take: a device was essentially stolen, so, no.

May 14: Cnet reports that Apple urged police action in Gizmodo case
Apple attorney George Riley reportedly said, “People that would have otherwise purchased a currently existing Apple product would wait for the next item to be released, thereby hurting overall sales and negatively effecting Apple’s earnings.”  My take: total crap, George.

June 7: iPhone 4 formally launches to expected fanfare, with some glitches
Steve appealed to the audience to turn off wifi devices, and got jeered for it.  My take: Jobs may lack serious tech savvy, but he probably had a point (read on).

June 25: Steve Jobs addresses reception issues
His take?  “You’re holding it wrong.”  My take: what a load, Steve.  You deserved all the flack you got for that flippant tripe.  And quit dragging other phones into this– unlike your competition, you guys chose to go with an external antenna for aesthetics.  Now you deal with the consequences.

June 28: Nokia pokes fun at the iPhone “grip of death”
“How do you hold your Nokia?”, they ask.  My take: the most comfortable way possible, and I expect reception!

June 29: iPhone 4 wifi issues at launch event due to multiple mifi devices in audience
See?  Jobs was actually right!  My take: mifi is going to be a big pain in the butt some day.

June 30: Class action lawsuit filed
(added after initial publication).  My take: expensive exercise in futility.  More where that came from.

July 13: Consumer Reports confirms iPhone 4 external antenna is flawed
CR likes the iPhone 4 overall, but can’t give it a recommended rating due to antenna issues.  My take: agreed.

July 15: Anandtech analyzes the situation
iOS 4.0.1 now reports fewer bars in more places.  My take: better to under-represent than exaggerate…

July 16: Apple announces their corrective action
In typical breezy fashion, Jobs both denies and admits there is an antenna problem.  Solution: accept a free bumper (or refund) or return phone in 30 day window.  My take: a phone condom is a solution???  So much for the external antenna aesthetics…

July 16, part 2: MarketWatch echoes the Wall Street Journal’s report that Apple knew about antenna issues early on
Well, that makes sense.  After all, Steve did say there were numerous scientists working in a state-of-the-art facility for this project.  My take: Apple stock should suffer, but won’t.

Stung by Jobs’ broad allegations that “they do it too!”, Nokia and RIM fired back with quick rebuttals. 

I was already taken to task over my opinions on this by one member, so let me be completely clear: assailing Apple does not directly translate into defending Nokia.  Indeed, my record there is plainly balanced.  I will offer praise where it is due, and criticism when it’s deserved.

Now, I’m nowhere near the first to opine on the Jobsian Reality Distortion Field and surely won’t be the last.  And even as I can reluctantly admire its effectivity, I’m still sickened by the mechanism.

The more I hear from Steve Jobs the more I am reminded about the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes“.  Jobs’ disingenuous spiels indicate he could really benefit from more mirrors and fewer sycophants.

To me, Apple exemplifies everything that’s bad and getting worse about American business (and government).  A willful resistance to intellectual honesty.  Treating customers with contempt while pretending to respect them.  Employing The Big Lie to make a few (billion) bucks.

I chastise Apple for the same reason that hardcore devotees defend them: the sneering, arrogant yet highly-adept reality manipulation of Steve Jobs.  I won’t apologize or make any excuses for that opinion.  Objectivity is great– until it runs up against Orwellian messaging.

Someone has to point out the emperor’s lack of clothing.


22 responses to “Rehashing Apple’s ‘Antennagate’: The Emperor’s New Bumper

  1. Julien Fourgeaud

    Thanks for linking to my post.

    As much as I appreciate how Steve Jobs uses communication, marketing, theater and other arts to promote his company/services, as much as I have to agree with you.

    I’ve never been a fan of anything, I prefer practicing sports than watching them on TV and I do my best to always see the two sides of the coin.

    Some people like being fed with a spoon all their life, some don’t have a choice and a force fed by their governement/cultures.

    In the end, we’re lucky that there is the internet and that we can now exchange/confront opinions with so many different individuals.


  2. “To me, Apple exemplifies everything that’s bad and getting worse about American business (and government).”

    I think the opposite. Apple makes the best products possible. This antenna thing is just a bunch of overblown garbage. I have one and it works great. Users have not been returning them (less returns than the GS – like 0.58%).

    Go Apple. Keep making great stuff and your buying customers will be happy.

    • He didn’t make that comment on their products, but more on their direction and the way they hold themselves. I too think they make some decent hardware with a very nice user experience. However, I also agree with the statement in question. What I believe he is trying to say here, is that businesses are trying to decide what is best for your interests and not allowing you to make the choice yourself. Very similar to what some say governments are trying to do these days. He will chime in, I’m sure, but I believe that was his meaning there.

      Your phrase of “best products possible” isn’t really accurate for everyone though. To me, they are the worst products possible. I have no control over what I do with my device and I have no control over what software I use to interface with the device, among other things.

      Apple makes what they feel you need and no more. They make a great user experience, solid software and until this antenna issue, they had near spotless QA and hardware. For you, what they allow you to do is obviously enough and that is great. For others, like me, I don’t want any restrictions on how I use my device, so hence them being the worst possible products for me! 🙂

      I do hope they continue to make great stuff, as that only helps promote competition in the industry, albeit lately the wrong focus on “apps,apps,apps”, but with competition comes true innovation, which many companies have been doing lately.

    • The statements that followed that quote were important to understanding what I’m saying.

  3. Maybe you’d rather listen to Steve Ballmer:

    Or maybe Eric Schmidt?

  4. Pingback: World Wide News Flash

  5. good post if for nothing else more than the nice timeline.

    I agree, apple couldve emerged with a bit more class and a bit more respect from reality based indivduals if they just said, yeah we messed up and free bumpers and 30 day return full refund, but, NOOOOO, they had to drag others into it and that just lets the story live on.

    I give credit to some of the journalists there to specifically ask about the fact that you can just touch the magic spot on the iphone 4 and it loses reception, he/she mustve made it through the detectors at 1 infinite loop 🙂

    All in all, it is a bad antenna design for something that is meant to be held in your hand. Aerially, I am sure the antenna design is superior to the 3gs.

    Apple has finally had to eat the just desserts of putting form over function. it was hard to get to them in that regard in just the software field, but now they have taken on antenna design, uhoh

  6. Whats is of interest to me is what the exact fix was that was included in iOS 4.0.1. Apple suggest that the algorithm for calculating the bars on the phone were incorrect. For me this is an over simplification, are we talking about simply incorrect conversion of dBm to bar representation or the incorrect calculation of the dBm values. If it is the later, is the phone using this value in it open/closed loop power calculations, in the dBm reported to the network?? If so then this would have an impact the handover control and power control mechanisms that are initiated by the network, thus also introducing a second reason for dropped calls.

  7. I can not understand all the big problems. I mean really almost every smartphone has some connections problems if it isn’t properly in the hand. But I still think Apple should do something for the best smartphone ever. But I guess they will rather make an iPhone 5 to earn some more money.

    • Everyone can lose a significant amount of signal strength when touching it with a finger? I must have missed that memo.

      The “big” problems are people not understanding what one of the real issues here is, it’s not a “grip” that is required to stumble across this issue, it is a mere finger tip.

      THAT is the real problem. The whole discussion (and me thinks, Apple’s instance on continuing to show GRIPS) on it being a “death grip” is a deflective argument from the finger tip.

      The other major issue, is Apple not merely coating it with something, anything, to completely avoid this PR nightmare.

      Had they done that, no .. one .. would .. have .. ever .. known!

      • allnameswereout

        In my world, a death grip does the following:

        “Harness the unholy energy that surrounds and binds all matter, drawing the target toward the death knight and forcing the enemy to attack the death knight for 3 sec.”


        “death grip (plural death grips)

        1. An extremely tight grip.

        The walker held with a death grip to his stick lest he drop it down the hill.

        1. The grip of something dead or dying.

        I gently tore the bloodied piece of paper out from her death grip.

        2. A grip that kills.

        The wolf held the chicken in a death grip until it stopped moving.

        2. A perilous situation or stalemate where failure or death is imminent.

        The armies came together in a death grip at the bottom of the valley”

        I see it figural; not literal. It isn’t a literal grip around the device like a choke around a neck strangling someone. But the _effect_ is the device _is_ choked. It cannot speak anymore over 3G 😦 like darth vader’s “force choke” ability.

        Maybe call it “a touch of frost”?

  8. allnameswereout

    “July 15: Anandtech analyzes the situation
    iOS 4.0.1 now reports fewer bars in more places. My take: better to under-represent than exaggerate…” All their previous products have provided false information about their performance. Was this really unintentional? I wonder about that. It certainly became a convenient excuse.

    This timeline points out though that a corporation once again doesn’t admit its fault, until a storm brews, and when that doesn’t go away, they will pick eggs for their money (?), and still not fully admit their mistake.

    Nice timeline Randy, but the behavior itself it nothing special. We see this all the time. With Intel and Microsoft being prosecuted for their monopoly behavior to bugs in products from corporations such as red ring of death in Xbox like I described in a post elsewhere.

    One difference is, that in these Xbox problems I don’t really see people strongly defending Microsoft. Microsoft is quite lonely in their position, and when Intel and Microsoft got prosecuted and were found guilty the verdict was spoken. In case of red ring of death the product is 100% broken, while in Apple’s deathgrip case the performance is very situational. E.g. we have a good 3G network in Netherlands; chance of trouble is hence lower. This situational aspect allows both zealots as well as those seeking for a balanced viewpoint to take factors into account leading to an unclear ‘verdict’.

    So what Apple did was ship a product with a known hardware flaw which wasn’t 100% deadly (like a red ring of death or an exploding battery), and they tried to fight the media in their own distortion style full with misinformation.

    They lost, and yielded with a solution (condom or money back) while denying the loss. This is very typical for any corporation losing such a media fight. They didn’t know the outcome of this fight beforehand, nor did they know the impact of the bug. This is also typical (must release product on target timescale). Every product, yes every product, ships with negative aspects (e.g. bugs) but the impact of them isn’t always known, nor how they will be fixed.

  9. Your blogs are always about fact and best products winning. Enjoy your blogs and are very informative.

  10. Very good article and picture, well written and very thought out. i like it so much…thanks

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