“Antennagate” Press Conference Recap

Sun, Jul 18, 2010


Two days ago, Steve Jobs took the stage and announced that he’d be taking his talents to South Beach to join Lebron and D-Wade on the Heat. Oh wait, here we go again, confusing one controversy for another.

So we all know that the big announcement coming out of Apple’s hastily organized press conference last week was free bumpers for all iPhone 4 users. Having since sat down and watched the event in its entirety, here’s a short and sweet run down of Jobs’ presentation along with some minor talking points that may have gotten lost in the general discussion.

Per usual, Jobs kicked things off on a positive note, stating that Apple has sold over 3 million iPhone 4’s since the device first went on sale 3 weeks ago. So while it would appear that iPhone sales are slowing down, given that Apple sold 1.7 million units during launch weekend alone, keep in mind that it took Apple over a month to sell 3 million iPhone 3GS devices. Moreover, Apple may very well have been able to sell a lot more iPhone 4’s but for the fact that they’re still struggling to keep up with demand.

In any event, onto the meat.

First things first, Jobs reminds people that Apple has been working hard to address and get to the bottom of the widely reported iPhone 4 reception problems, and he specifically took umbrage with the sentiment that Apple has been lazily ignoring a problem that was seemingly spiraling out of control.

We heard about this not long after we started shipping, just 22 days ago from today. It’s not like Apple’s had its head in the sand for 3 months on this guys, it’s been 22 days. Apple is an engineering driven company, we’ve got some of the finest scientists and engineers here, in the world… we want to find out what the real problem is before we find the solution…we’ve been working our butts off for the last 22 days to understand what the real issues are here, so we can come up with real solutions.

Next, Jobs explained that antenna problems based on how one holds a device aren’t unique to the iPhone 4. Jobs proceeded to show the crowd video footage demonstrating how other devices exhibit similar drops in signal strength when gripped towards the bottom. The first example showed how a Blackberry Bold 9700 from RIM started off with 5 bars and dipped all the way down to 1 when held in a normal manner. Next up, an HTC Droid Eris, an Android phone, was seen dropping from 4 bars all the way down to 0 when held casually. And lastly, Jobs showed a video of the Samsung Omnia II, a Windows Mobile Phone, with signal bar strength that plummeted from 4 to 1.

“Most smartphones behave the exact same way,” Jobs stated. “This is life in the smartphone world.. and it’s a challenge for the whole industry, and we’re all doing the best we can, but every phone has weak spots.”

Jobs went onto say that this problem was compounded by Apple’s faulty algorithm for displaying signal strength, which resulted in signal droppage looking far more catastrophic than it was in reality. So what appeared to be a drop from 5 bars to 1, Jobs explained, was in actuality a drop from 2-3 bars to 1 bar.

Next, Jobs took some time to describe the stringent testing it puts each iPhone model through, highlighting Apple’s state of the art testing facilities, its 17 anechoic chambers, and the 18 PhD scientists and engineers that they have on staff who “do some very advanced antenna design.”

Next, Jobs whipped out the hard data, explaining that only .55% of users, or 1/2 of 1%, have called AppleCare about issues related to reception. Jobs noted that for Apple, historically, this isn’t a large number.

Up next were return rates, a telling statistic if there ever was one. Jobs explained that early return rates for the iPhone 3GS checked in at 6%, which is still below the smartphone average. The return rate for the iPhone 4, meanwhile, is only 1.7%, less than 1/3 of the return rate for the iPhone 3GS.

Jobs then brought up another data point – dropped calls. Jobs explained that AT&T provided Apple with dropped call data 3 days before the press conference, and while absolute call drop data is confidential information, AT&T gave Jobs permission to release the “delta to the iPhone 3GS.”

How many additional calls are dropped per additional 100 calls you make, and I can tell you, since we’re being transparent.. that even though we believe the antenna is superior, I must report to you that the iPhone 4 call drops more calls per 100 than the iPhone 3GS. That’s what the data says. So how many more calls per 100 does the iPhone 4 drop than the iPhone 3GS? Again, listening to antennagate, it must be dropping nearly half the calls… This is the hard data. The iPhone 4 drops less than 1 additional call per 100.

We wanna drive this lower than the 3GS, but this does put it in perspective.

In essence, the theme of the press conference was quite apparent. Apple concedes that the data shows that there is, in fact, a problem, but maintains that it only affects a small percentage of users.

And we think we’ve gotten to the heart of the problem here. Smartphones have weak spots. We made ours extremely visible. Some took advantage of that to demonstrate it.. we screwed up on displaying too many bars, and made that demonstration more theatrical than it needed to be. And for those small number of customers who are having problems, we’re gonna give them cases.. and that’s everything we can do to try and make every customer happy… but data supports the fact that the iPhone 4 is best smarpthone in the world.. and that there is no antennagate…

In any event, Apple’s hand was forced, and free bumpers are the result. Time to move on, folks.


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