Apple's Answer to User Gripes: A Giveaway

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Apple Friday responded to the controversy surrounding its flawed antenna design by using a classic public relations maneuver: giving people free stuff.

In his attempts to appease critics who say that the iPhone 4's poor antenna location makes it more likely to drop calls than other mobile devices, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the company would give free rubber bumper cases to all iPhone 4 users or would give iPhone 4 users full refunds if they weren't happy with the device. Consumer Reports said this week that the rubber cases solved the signal problems caused during tests when users put their hands over the phone antennae.

iPhone rules the smartphone roost

So far, reaction to Apple's bumper giveaway has been mostly positive. Ars Technica, which has been critical of Apple during the whole antenna ordeal, now says that giving away bumper cases is a step in the right direction for the company.

"We called Apple's iPhone bumpers a ripoff at $30, but it's hard to argue with free," writes Jacqui Cheng. "Those of us on staff who already have bumpers plan to apply for the refund."

Computerworld's Sharon Machlis also gives Apple kudos for offering users free bumpers, but scratched her head at the company's slow response. She singles out Jobs' "tendency to want to control all aspects of the narrative around his company's products" as a possible reason why it took Apple so long to acknowledge the controversy. Even so, she says that Friday's announcement will go a long way toward easing user anger over the device's antenna woes.

"Whatever the reason, Apple has finally done the right thing for its customers," she says. "Today's announcement that iPhone 4 users will be able to request a free case to solve reception issues should get Apple out from under the deluge of negative publicity it's suffered over the issue."

The Huffington Post's Larry Magid also says that he's satisfied with Apple's free-bumper fix but is also taking issue with Jobs' assertion today that a lot of other smartphones on the market have signal strength problems if you hold your hand up over the antenna.

"I was pretty pleased with Apple's response except for one thing," he says. "Jobs spent a fair amount of time claiming that other phones have similar problems. According to the New York Times live blog he showed a BlackBerry Bold, Droid Eris and other phones dropping bars when gripped… I'm not sure how true that is. I've used a BlackBerry Bold and never noticed that problem and although I haven't tried the Droid Eris, I've used many Android phones including the Droid and Droid X and have never encountered a 'grip of death.'"

Investors were also apparently satisfied with Apple's fix, as the company's shares climbed in the wake of the announcement, rising by 0.2% immediately following the press conference. As the Wall Street Journal has noted, Apple shares have declined overall by around 7% since the release of the iPhone 4 last month.

But while the reaction around the Web and the markets has been mostly positive to Apple's offer, not everyone is quite so sanguine. TGDaily's Trent Nouveau called Jobs "arrogant" and fumed that the company thought it could appease users with a "bumper bribe."

"According to the unrepentant Jobs, the iPhone antenna is still one of the 'most advanced' ever designed for a smartphone," he fumes. "Is it just me, or are those Evo 4G and Motorola X smartphones looking really good right about now!?"

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This story, "Apple's Answer to User Gripes: A Giveaway" was originally published by Network World.

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