Consumer Reports Reiterates iPhone 4 Warning

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The second review of Apple’s iPhone 4 by Consumer Reports claims that Apple’s new antenna-bumper policy is less than consumer-friendly

Apple may have tried to close the case on its iPhone 4 antenna issues, but Consumer Reports seems to have other ideas.

Within days of the iPhone 4’s blockbuster launch this summer, some owners began complaining about dampened signal whenever their bare skin touched the smartphone’s exterior antenna rim. On the strength of those complaints, and its own internal testing, Consumer Reports refused to endorse the device.

“When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone’s lower left side — an easy thing, especially for lefties — the signal can degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you’re in an area with a weak signal,” Consumer Reports’ Mike Gikas blogged on 12 July. “Due to this problem, we can’t recommend the iPhone 4.”

Bumpers and excuses

Two weeks later, Apple launched a free bumper giveaway to anyone purchasing an iPhone 4 before October 2010. The bumpers cover the antenna rim, supposedly correcting the issue. By 10 September, the company had posted a note on its website declaring the whole controversy at an end: “We are discontinuing the free case program on all iPhone 4’s sold after 30 September, 2010… Users experiencing antenna issues should call AppleCare to request a fee bumper case.”

But in a 13 September blog posting, Consumer Reports — considered a trusted source for product advice — declared Apple’s policy “less consumer-friendly in several respects.” In particular, the publication cited the need for consumers to call AppleCare as a non-solution.

“Putting the onus on any owners of a product to obtain a remedy to a design flaw is not acceptable to us,” the publication wrote in the blog posting. “We therefore continue not to recommend the iPhone 4, and to call on Apple to provide a permanent fix for the phone’s reception issues.”

Strong sales

Consumer Reports’ initial non-recommendation, in July, seemed to have little effect on the iPhone 4’s overall sales. “My phone is ringing off the hook [from] people that want more supply,” Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said during a 20 July earnings call, in response to an analyst’s question about whether the antenna issues were affecting the phone’s marketplace prospects. “Right now it is hard to address the real question you’re asking about, ‘Is there an effect or not?’ because we’re selling everything we can make. You can’t run an experiment that way.”

Apple executives previously announced that the company would pay out roughly $175 million in free rubber bumpers.

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