Antennagate: Apple Explains All, Gives iPhone 4 Buyers Free Cases

Steve Jobs gave a detailed explanation of the iPhone 4’s antenna issue, and how Apple is responding to the problem.



The iPhone 4 is amazing, according to reviews and customer surveys. The media stirred up a huge storm about the supposed signal-dropping error with the antenna. Steve Jobs took the stage today, to try and fix the mess. His appearance comes after the general dissatisfaction with Apple’s previous response to the issue.

Right off the bat, he took a calm stance on the matter–the event even opened with the parody “iPhone antenna song” that’s been doing the rounds on YouTube. Jobs also mentioned the string of anti-iPhone posts on Gizmodo, which is amusing given the ongoing legal battle between the Apple and Gizmodo’s parent company. But then Jobs switched into his comfort zone, and gave a calm, logical, and scientific explanation of what’s been going on (as we thought he would). What did he say?

  • Smartphones aren’t perfect, and neither is Apple. All RF devices like cellphones exhibit some issues to do with attenuation as you hold them. This is down to the laws of physics.
  • AppleCare hasn’t been as slammed with complaint calls as the media furor would have you imagining. About half of one percent of iPhone 4 users have called AppleCare with reception or antenna issues.
  • There was an algorithmic error in the iPhone software that meant it mis-represented how well it was doing moment to moment in terms of signal strength, misleading users into imagining a bigger signal drop off was happening than was the case when they gripped the phone.
  • The antenna isn’t perfect, and it actually does drop slightly more calls than the 3GS does, on average. With data from AT&T on how many calls are dropped, the figure is less than 1 additional call dropped per 100 than 3GS.
  • Because some users have reported bumper cases help, Apple is giving them away for free. If you already purchased a bumper, they will refund the money. iPhone 4 owners can choose from a selection of cases on the website starting next week. The offer will extend through September 30th.
  • Apple’s also offering a full refund to unsatisfied customers who return undamaged iPhone 4s. 
  • It’s taking a pro-active stance, even though “antennagate” isn’t actually a problem, because it “loves” its customers.
  • Apple’s “tracking” a number of other small issues with the device, including some proximity sensor issues. Fixes are forthcoming.
  • White iPhone 4s, which have been delayed due to manufacturing problems, will start shipping “in limited numbers” at the end of July.
  • There is no product recall.


During the presentation Apple wasn’t afraid to air some dirty laundry: Including the return rate for its premier device, the iPhone. The 3GS had a return rate of 6%, and so far the iPhone 4’s is running at 1.7%. Jobs thinks this illustrates that the end user is pretty satisfied with the phone, and that there’s no real problem with the antenna in day to day use. Ignoring the spin on this point, the fact Apple was prepared to share this internal business data at all is very unusual–and those figures will become used and referenced as new industry standards. Also unusual: Normally super-calm Steve Jobs swore on stage when answering a question about the now famous, and discredited, Bloomberg report that alleged an Apple engineer gave Jobs an early warning about the antenna. Apple is serious about defending its iPhone 4, folks. 

Apple also shared one more statistic: Three million iPhone 4s have been sold in three weeks. That’s an amazing, sustained, million units a week folks. And if you think that’s just the early blush of success and excitement, then you need to remember that at the end of July 17 additional nations will start selling the iPhone 4. Which means that sales rate is going to soar past two million per week, and then stay there for a long time yet. No matter that Apple loves its customers … this is proof its customers love it right back, and aren’t worried about the antenna. 

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)