iPhone 4 Press Event: New Leaf or Same Old Apple?

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When Apple summons the press on Friday to talk about the iPhone 4, the company makes a pivotal decision about how to present itself, and the iPhone 4 antenna issue, to the world.

I'm assuming, like everyone else, that Apple is calling a press conference to discuss the iPhone 4's antenna problems. My colleague Daniel Ionescu has already guessed at a few practical scenarios for how it'll play out, but I'm also interested in the philosophical approach Apple will take, a choice of attitude between indignant and apologetic.

On one hand, Apple can be Apple, the confident, some might say arrogant company that polarizes technology enthusiasts. This is how Apple has approached the iPhone 4 antenna situation so far. At first, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said any signal loss that occurs when the phone is held over its lower-left corner is a "non-issue" -- just don't hold it that way. Then the company said the problem was a mere illusion, caused by the way signal bars are displayed on the screen.

By now, there are enough field tests, scientific measurements and anecdotal reports to refute what Apple says, culminating in Consumer Reports' decision not to recommend iPhone 4, despite loving everything but the antenna. This is where the old Apple approach goes wrong.

On the other hand, Apple can do something remarkable and pronounce a mea culpa. Apple can apologize to its customers -- a rarity, as seen in the recent case of yellow-tinted iMacs -- and admit that at some point in the iPhone 4 design process, the company messed up. Maybe Apple could even take a few questions from the press to talk about what happened.

Fixing the problem, whether by free bumper case or recall, has little to do with Apple's attitude. The company can insist that the iPhone 4 is wonderful, that it has the best reception of any iPhone to date and that the antenna fiasco was blown completely out of proportion. And then it can begrudgingly hand out cases, stick something on top of the phone's metal frame or do whatever it takes to stop signals from dropping when the iPhone 4 is held a certain way. Apple can do all of this without an apology.

But maybe Apple can behave differently. One reason the iPhone 4 antenna issue has gotten so much attention, I think, is Apple's unwillingness to find fault with itself. The antenna problems aren't some debatable point like whether Flash would've worked on the iPhone, and now the tech press is preying on Apple's vulnerability. An earlier apology might've brought calm to the daily headlines, but now the issue has trickled to the mainstream press, and even became a top ten list on Letterman.

Friday's press conference is a chance for Apple to come down to earth. What will the company choose?

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