Apple has been under the technological and consumer microscope since the release of their iPhone 4. There was the issue where a user had the screen break within the first few hours of owning it, calling the quality of Apple's glass into question. Of course, everyone knows about the overall shortage of handsets across the country. People who had pre-orders at Best Buy, RadioShack, AT&T and Apple still haven't received their phones a full 3 weeks after the launch and are still not being told when they might receive them. Their biggest public issue, however, has been reception.
Now, before we get started here, I want to clear the air. Yes, we are sponsored by Microsoft at this time. Yes, most of the company is run on Palm phones. We do, however, have an iPhone 4, an iPhone 3Gs and a Blackberry running around the offices and studio as well. That being said, Apple is getting a lot of crap about the reception of the iPhone 4. Some of it deserved, some of it normal usage issues. All smartphones, and in reality, all phones have reception issues. If the antenna is inside, the phone has a place you can hold that will cut off reception. It is the nature of the technology. The sign of a good or bad phone design is where that is placed.
Hit the break for more of "antennagate" and a video from the presentation.
Apple decided to place the weak spot right where the palm of the hand would be for a left-handed person. While most right-handed people will probably never hold the phone is such a way that will affect it, unless they are really pissed and gripping their phone so as not to kick the dog, but it does present a huge problem to about 10% of the population.
Rather than owning up to making a design mistake, Apple CEO Steve Jobs (shown right, preparing for the iPhone launch) seemingly blamed technology itself for the problem. As example, he showed video of a Blackberry Bold 9700, an HTC Droid Eris and a Samsung Omnia II, all having reception issues when held a certain way. The problem with these videos was that the way they were being held would not be natural for anyone in any situation. He also called out all smartphone makers for hiding their reception issues.
Naturally, several of these manufacturers took offense to the biased portrayal of their products to help Jobs make his own point. Chief amongst them was the first to be indicted, Research in Motion. They put out a fairly short, to the point press release direct from the heads of the company aimed directly at Jobs.
Apple's attempt to draw RIM into Apple's self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple's claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public's understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple's difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM's customers don't need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.
Though their name was never said directly, Nokia also got its feelings hurt in the proceedings. They released a statement that was less directly aimed at Apple, while still being very clearly intended for Jobs.
Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.
In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That's why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.
These companies have been upset about the category of smartphone being opened up to include phones like the iPhone that do not have the features and functionality that the industry used to consider essential to be considered a smartphone a few years ago, and now are being lumped into the same design flaw category with the iPhone today. Both Nokia and RIM have been international leaders in reception and are the leaders in their respective sales categories. RIM is the largest maker of business phones and Nokia is the largest maker of phones period, worldwide. They would not have gotten there if their main concern had been visual as opposed to operational. Hopefully Apple will have learned its lessen and design proper devices in the future.
I guess the only light at the end of this tunnel is that they can't seem to get the phones to retailers, so they don't have to worry about too many people having the issue.
Below is a video from the press conference itself, with Jobs talking about the other smartphones on the market and their issues.