Free cases to alleviate iPhone 4 problems: Apple

Apple Inc. will give free protective cases to buyers of its latest iPhone.

Last Updated: Jul 17, 2010, 00:13 AM IST

Cupertino: Apple Inc. will give free protective cases to buyers of its latest iPhone to alleviate the so-called "death grip" problem in which holding the phone with a bare hand can muffle the wireless signal.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the giveaway Friday during a news conference at the company`s headquarters, even as the company denied that the iPhone 4 has an antenna problem that needs fixing. The more than 3 million people who have already bought the iPhone 4 and new buyers through Sept. 30 will all be eligible.

People who already purchased the $29 "Bumper" cases will be refunded.

Jobs began the event by saying, "We`re not perfect," but was quick to point out that no cell phone is perfect. He played a video showing competing smart phones, including a BlackBerry from Research in Motion Ltd., losing signal strength when held in certain ways.

Phones usually have an antenna inside the body. In designing the iPhone 4, Apple took a gamble on a new design, using parts of the phone`s outer casing as the antenna. That saved space inside the tightly packed body of the phone, but means that covering a spot on the lower left edge of the case blocks wireless signal.

Consumer Reports magazine said covering the spot with a case or even a piece of duct tape alleviates the problem. It refused to give the iPhone 4 its "recommended" stamp of approval for this reason, and it had called on Apple on Monday to compensate buyers.

On Friday, in the company`s first remarks following the magazine`s report, Jobs said Apple was "stunned and upset and embarrassed."

Jobs said the iPhone 4`s antenna issue isn`t widespread. He said just over five out of every thousand users have complained to Apple`s warranty service, and less than 2 percent have returned the device.

"We`re not feeling right now that we have a giant problem we need to fix," Jobs said. "This has been blown so out of proportion that it`s incredible. I know it`s fun to have a story, but it`s less fun when you`re on the other end of it."

Analysts have criticized Apple`s first responses to reports of reception problems as dismissive, and cautioned that the company shouldn`t come across as arrogant.

Earlier, Apple said the problem with the phone was primarily a software issue, with iPhones displaying more cell phone signal "bars" than they should have been — leaving people who believed they had a strong signal frustrated by dropped calls. Apple issued a software update Thursday it said would make the number of bars shown on the phone`s face more accurate. But Consumer Reports painted the problem as much broader.
Jobs apologized to buyers who had less-than-perfect experiences with the new device.

"We`re going to do whatever it takes to make them happy and if we can`t make them happy we`re going to give them a full refund and say we`re really sorry we inconvenienced you, and we`re going to do better next time," the CEO said.

The refund applies even for those who have long-term contracts with AT&T Inc., the iPhone`s exclusive U.S. wireless carrier.

Jill Small, an iPhone 4 owner who runs a fashion consignment business in Los Angeles, said she was of two minds about the antenna issue. On the one hand, she hadn`t noticed any problems with the phone. On the other hand, if there really is a problem, she finds Apple`s response inadequate.

"A case you can get for $10, but the antenna issue you`ll have for the life of the phone," she said. "If it was my business, I`d do a recall,"Ed Brown, who sells accessories for Apple products from a table set up on the street outside an Apple store in New York, said he`s had people come hunting for cases for the iPhone 4 because they`ve heard of the antenna problem. But they`re not mad at Apple.

"They love Apple and they`re dedicated customers," Brown said. "I haven`t heard much negative feedback."

Jobs, a cancer survivor, also addressed a question about his health Friday.

"I`m doing fine. I was even better earlier in the week (when) I was having a vacation in Hawaii, but I decided this was important enough to come back for," he said. "I`m doing great."

Bureau Report