At a hastily-called press conference at Apple’s corporate campus today, Apple CEO Steve Jobs admitted that Apple isn’t perfect at everything it does, but the company does want to make all its customers happy. After highlighting the iPhone 4’s stunning initial sales, Jobs moved directly to address issues with iPhone 4 reception: in a nutshell, Apple says the issue has been blown out of proportion—virtually all smartphones exhibit the same problem—but Apple will be offering iPhone 4 customers free cases through September 30. And if users are still unhappy, they can get a full refund within 30 days of purchasing an iPhone 4.
Jobs claimed the”grip of death” reception problem erupted into the public sphere just 22 days ago. Since then, the company has re-examined the issue and found it is not unique to the iPhone 4: Jobs showed video of other smartphones (including a BlackBerry device, the Droid Eris, and the Samsung Omnia) showing significant dips in signal strength when gripped particular ways. Jobs’ message: signal drop from gripping a mobile phone is by no means unique to the iPhone 4. “Every phone has weak spots,” Jobs said.
Jobs said that Apple’s internal testing revealed that the iPhone 4 would experience signal loss in some circumstances, but they hadn’t been hugely concerned about it because the behavior is common to virtually all phones. Jobs then cited statistics from Apple’s AppleCare customer support service showing only only 0.55 percent of iPhone 4 buyers called over the issue, and the overall return rate for the iPhone 4 is 1.7 percent, so far far less than the 6 percent return rate Apple saw with the iPhone 3GS. Jobs also says AT&T logs dropped voice calls, while while the company considers that data confidential, AT&T says the iPhone 4 drops less than one call per one hundred more than the iPhone 3GS.
[Note: Without hard call drop information, the value of call drop figure is hard to judge. If the iPhone 3GS dropped one call per one hundred and the iPhone 4 drops two calls per one hundred, then theoretically the iPhone 4 could be dropping twice as many calls as the iPhone 3GS. If an iPhone 3Gs drops five calls per one hundred, then the iPhone 4 would drop only 20 percent more calls.]
Jobs indicated his “pet theory” about the problem is that only 20 percent of iPhone 4 users are buying a case at an Apple Store, whereas 80 percent of iPhone 3GS users bought cases for their devices. So, Apple will be offering iPhone 4 users free bumper cases through September 30: one free bumper case will be available for every iPhone 4 sold, and users who already bought a bumper case will be eligible for a refund. Users will be able to apply for their free bumper via the Apple Web site beginning next week. Users who are still dissatisfied can return their iPhone 4s within 30 days for a full refund. Free bumper cases will also be available to international customers.
Apple’s bumper cases were initially being sold for $30.
Jobs also promised the white version of the iPhone 4 will go on sale at the end of July; at the same time, Apple will also be launching the iPhone 4 in a host of new international markets. Apple also plans to roll out a fix for issues with the iPhone 4 proximity sensor soon.
In comments after Jobs’s formal presentation, the Apple CEO characterized a Bloomberg story that he had been warned of iPhone 4 antenna problems before the product’s launch as a “total crock,” and that Apple has challenged Bloomberg to produce evidence of their claims. Jobs also dismissed a New York Times story that reported signal attenuation problems could be corrected with a software fix.
The Apple CEO also waxed a bit rhapsodic, noting that online media’s “search for eyeballs” can be damaging and blow issues out of proportion: he would like to think that Apple’s 34-year history would give the company a little credibility with regard to its motivations. Jobs also emphasized the vast majority of iPhone 4 customers are pleased with their devices, and that return rates at Apple Stores have been very low.