Thursday, July 22, 2010

iPhone, Once and Future King

It has been almost a week since Steve Jobs held an impromptu press conference and announced his thoughts on "Antennagate." It was a surprise for me because, up until then, the only term I had heard being used was "deathgrip," referring to ease in which it was possible to block reception on an iPhone when holding it in your hand. But Steve Jobs preaches Apple gospel, even in the midst of hard times, so the Antennagate has become the de facto label.

 Jobs might have been pushing to create a little comedy, hoping to down play interest in Apple's demise, but there is more at stake than Consumer Reports recommendation to not buy. Ok, so it is not really a demise. iPhone sales have been astounding. It seems pretty obvious Apple's press conference was squarely aimed at the Consumer Reports recommendation, with plans to hand out free cases to iPhone 4 consumers. Cases are only a short term solution because there is a legal battle brewing in the background. In the long run this is the far more dangerous for Steve Jobs and Apple as a company. Calling it Antennagate aptly describes the conspiracy these lawsuits claim exists.

Ever since Apple released the original, iPhone the burden of reception has been put on AT&T's shoulders.  With the iPhone 4, the problem of reception has shifted back to Apple radically. The design is flawed but in the press conference Jobs stated the issue as an industry problem, presenting no real solutions. I have an idea, turn the antenna around, this would put the sweet spot mostly out of reach of most users. Of course this would require admitting something could be done. It would also require a recall and a restructure of the manufacturing process, so it is not going to happen.

Cases are not going to be enough to satisfy the legal interest. For one, buying a case is going to require covering up the sexy design. Never mind most people encase their phones, even with a free case, the issue will be about the reception and the fact users are forced to use something to cover the problem.

Then there are bigger issues. Apple stated there was a problem, existing from the original iPhone and the iOS software, which reported the wrong amount of bars for the phone. In other words, the problem is really an optical illusion and if you just knew how many bars really weren't there in the first place, you would already know you cannot use this device as a phone in the first place. Ok. There is some tongue in cheek finger pointing going on here. Apple is definitely trying to push the issue back to AT&T.

I am sure this is will all be very fascinating as these class action lawsuits start making headlines. Even if Apple wins, and I am sure they will, the long term damage might already be done. AT&T owes its growth to the iPhone, but for other carriers the issue may already be done. When Apple's exclusive contract is up with AT&T, other networks might just pass on the product. If this happens it will leave Android, RIM, and even Windows 7 Phone, all the room it needs to eclipse the iPhone.

*Update: an excellent article on iPhone 4 and its relative nonsense can be found here

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