iPhone 4 Hell: A Personal Tale of iPhone 4 Woes

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iPhone 4 Number Three

Apple iPhone 4 on AT&T
I received my third iPhone 4. While I was at the Apple Store, it activated smoothly--but it showed that it was connecting only to AT&T's 2G EDGE service. And once I was outside the store, even the EDGE connection devolved to 'No Service'. In my 12 hours of use, the third handset never achieved anything better than an EDGE signal (in areas that AT&T's 3G signal serviced just fine), and it achieved EDGE only twice, for minutes at a time. The rest of the time it showed a steady 'No Service'. Sigh.

The next day I was back at the Apple Store, and I watched as it regained EDGE service--albeit just one weak bar. Again, suspect behavior. And again, a swap.

iPhone 4 Number Four

Both times the swapped phones came in sealed black plastic cases--just the phone, no accoutrements. Both times the phones appeared identical to my first one, contrary to some Web reports of different hardware being deployed in replacement phones (as reported anecdotally on Gizmodo and Engadget). I have no way of verifying whether my replacement phone's internals are any different, as one analyst claims may be implemented in newer iPhone 4 units.

iPhone 4
It will be interesting to see if my fourth iPhone 4 proves to be more stable than the other handsets I've tried. And it won't be a direct comparison: I'll soon be downloading iOS 4.0.1, which is now available.

Three Genius Bar techs told me that at this early stage, just weeks after the iPhone 4's release, these replacement phones are indeed new. One of the techs, though, told me that eventually the supply of new replacement phones will be supplanted by refurbished models--an idea that bothers me both as a consumer advocate and as a consumer who dropped the $300-plus asking price (closer to $400 when you factor in AT&T's tax on the full, unsubsidized cost of the handset) on the iPhone 4 with the expectation of getting a new, not factory-refurbished, device.

Poor Quality Control?

When I recieved my fourth iPhone 4, the Genius Bar tech made a point of looking through the drawer for a unit from a different batch and/or different factory. When he mentioned that, it got me thinking.

Apple disappointment
Artwork: Chip Taylor
The antenna grip-of-death is clearly a design flaw; that Apple never caught this design flaw before sending the phone out into the wild is shocking. So too was the company's admission that its software was misreporting the service bars. And I expect that we'll hear plenty about this from Apple on Friday when it holds its press conference.

But that's a separate problem from this consumer receiving not one, not two, but three flawed devices.

That all consumers aren't running back to the Apple Store for a return speaks to the fact that some devices are clearly less affected than others. I guess I'm just unlucky when it comes to iPhone 4s. Even in Engadget's survey of technology press, experiences vary dramatically.

Nonetheless, I keep coming back to the same question: Can at least some of the reported behavioral issues be attributed to poor quality control?

Considering that this was the largest iPhone launch to date, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Apple tripped up and fell flat on its face. The stats are clear: 1.7 million iPhone 4 handsets were sold in five countries in the product's first three days. Apple was quick to brag that it took more preorders and sold more handsets with this debut than ever before.

Could all of this point to Apple and its contract manufacturer Foxconn simply failing to maintain Apple's vaunted quality control on the initial production lines of the iPhone 4? That's a random musing I have no hard evidence for, save my own experience. But this experience--along with the countless complaints on the Net of faulty proximity sensors--makes me wonder if the quality control slipped. These issues are beyond normal tolerances.

Reasons to love Apple
Artwork: Chip Taylor
So why not ditch the iPhone 4 and buy an Android model? There are areas where the iPhone 4 continues to excel, and to provide a marked improvement over the iPhone 3GS and other smartphones. I want to keep the device for the same reasons why I purchased it to begin with: an incredibly sharp display, a better camera, and HD video.

Let's hope Apple can deliver on its promise.

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