Apple To Face The Music Over iPhone ‘Death Grip’

In the face of continuing criticism, Apple is to hold a press conference on 16 July regarding the iPhone 4

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Apple has scheduled a press conference for Friday 16 July at its Cupertino, California, headquarters to talk about the iPhone 4.

No further details on the event were available, though speculation centres on the iPhone 4’s much publicised antenna woes.

Since its 24 June launch, the iPhone 4 has been a success in sales terms, with Apple announcing that it sold 1.7 million of the smartphones within the first three days. However, the phone has also created a public-relations debacle for the until-now fastidiously marketed and managed company.

Death Grip

The iPhone 4’s attractive and unusual design – front and back glass panels held together by a stainless-steel band that incorporates the antenna – has caused a number of users to complain about reception issues, particularly when, holding the phone, its bottom left corner is covered over.

Apple initially dismissed the issue – in an email to an iPhone 4 owner, Apple CEO Steve Jobs allegedly responded, “Just avoid holding it in that way” – and later followed up by saying that engineers in its lab had discovered that the fault lay in the formula for calculating the number of reception bars displayed. That the antenna wasn’t failing to provide reception, the phone was just misrepresenting its actual reception quality.

The antenna issue has spurred at least two class-action lawsuits – one against Apple and the other against both Apple and AT&T. It also, for the first time, prevented Consumer Reports, which in all other feature areas was enormously impressed, from being able to recommend Apple’s newest offering.

Product Recall

While a recall is considered unlikely, Apple may use the press conference to try to smooth over any bad feelings created by the antenna situation and to possibly announce that it will be offering iPhone 4 owners free bumpers – thin rubber cases that Apple currently sells for $29 (£25 in the UK) and that are said to allay the antenna issue. Whether Apple can as easily re-polish its reputation is another story.

Ken Hyers, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said the timing of the problem is particularly unlucky for Apple.

Android Competition

“Apple’s iPhone problems couldn’t come at a worse time, as other devices, primarily those running the Android OS, are proliferating,” Hyers told eWEEK.

Sprint recently introduced the Android-running HTC Evo 4G, the nation’s first 4G-enabled smartphone. The HTC’s Droid Incredible, as well as the Motorola Droid, have also been well received, and on 15 July, Verizon Wireless is launching the Motorola Droid X, which early reviewers have described as a solid competitor for the iPhone.

“Those phones are also getting great reviews, and consumers who are not wedded to the Apple experience are giving them a look,” Hyers continued. “I don’t think the iPhone 4’s problems are severe enough to require a recall – but couldn’t Apple spring for a five-cent rubber bumper to slip on the device and fix its reception problems?”

Maybe it will.

On 20 July, Apple will also conduct a conference call to announce the financial results of its fiscal third quarter for 2010. During its second fiscal quarter, it posted revenue of $13.5 billion (£8.8 billion) and a net quarterly profit of $3.07 billion (£2 billion).