Apple hits back over iPhone 4… but offers free cases

Apple has launched a staunch defence of the iPhone 4’s antenna performance – but is offering customers a free case to overcome reception issues.

Apple hits back over iPhone 4... but offers free cases

A defensive, and at times bullish, Steve Jobs told a press conference that the entire mobile industry suffered from antenna problems, and demonstrated signal bars dropping on rival handsets from BlackBerry and HTC when they were held in a certain way.

The Apple chief claimed “Antennagate” had been “blown out of proportion” and issued a barrage of statistics to back up his claim.

If we screw up, we pick ourselves up and we try harder

Jobs claimed that early return rates of iPhone 4 handsets were pegged at 1.7%, compared to 6% for the iPhone 3GS. He said that only 0.55% of iPhone customers had complained to Apple about a reception issue. However, Jobs did admit that the iPhone 4 dropped marginally more calls than its predecessor.

Jobs attributed this increased drop rate to a hunch that more people used cases on their 3GS handsets than on the iPhone 4, largely because the new design wasn’t compatible with old iPhone cases.

Apple’s solution is to offer every iPhone 4 owner a free bumper case. Jobs said customers would be able to order the cases from the Apple website at the end of next week, and that the company would source extra cases from third-parties if demand outstripped supply.

Customers who have already bought a case will be offered a full refund, although it’s not clear if there’s an upper limit on that rebate or how customers apply. Customers who’ve bought third-party cases will not receive a refund.

Apple said it will also offer a full refund on the handset to any unhappy customer within the first 30 days of ownership.

Jobs denied reports that Apple knew of the reception flaw in advance. “If we screw up, we pick ourselves up and we try harder,” Jobs claimed.

The company said it will re-examine iPhone 4 call data at the end of September to evaluate whether the free cases have resolved the issue.

Mixed message

Analysts claim Apple sent out mixed messages with its press conference. “It’s still a little unclear if it’s admitting to a fault or not,” said Carolina Milanesi, vice president of research at Gartner. “It’s saying the drop in signal is similar to other devices, but it gives you a bumper [case].”

Milanesi thinks it will be a while before the fuss dies down, but said Apple’s probably done enough to appease iPhone owners. “From a customer perspective, most people will be happy with it,” she said.

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