The Apple iPhone revolutionized the smartphone market and has succeeded in breaking down barriers with the IT department and becoming an accepted part of the network and communications environment at many companies. Businesses that embraced the new iPhone 4, though, are faced with a handicapped device and a ticking clock to decide what to do about it.
The nearly two million iPhone 4 users have a long list of seriously debilitating issues with the new smartphone. While Apple continues to come up with ludicrous justifications and ridiculous recommendations, customers are waiting for an actual solution. Users can return the iPhone 4 for a full refund, but the clock is ticking and the options are limited.
It seems like just yesterday that Apple was a paragon of customer service, and a shining example of how to create a culture of devices with exceptional customer experience–devices that “just work”. Oh wait. It was just yesterday.
Now, Apple either believes it really is magic, or that its users are just that dumb, or both–because the response so far to the iPhone 4 issues amounts to trying the Jedi mind trick on customers and attempting to convince users there are no issues or that the concerns are being exaggerated.
The official Apple response to the iPhone 4 antenna issue was originally “Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone.”
When that explanation failed to appease the disgruntled masses, Apple did some further investigating and determined that the real signal is fine, but the way iOS calculates and displays the signal strength bars has been wrong for years.
Apple issued a statement saying “Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.”
Both of these statements are true (I assume it’s true that there is some problem with signal strength calculation), yet ridiculous at the same time. Yes, it’s true based on the physics of antennas that holding the device is bound to affect or attenuate the signal–and that holds true for all smartphones. However, it is only the iPhone 4 that has such an issue with these basic laws of physics that it no longer functions as a phone–so apparently the iPhone 4 has a design flaw that doesn’t exist in other smartphones.
Assuming that it’s true that Apple has miscalculated signal strength for years, that is neither an explanation for the current problem, nor is fixing it a solution for the issues with the iPhone 4. Estimates suggest that nearly 80 percent of the iPhone 4 users upgraded from a previous iPhone model. Those 1.3 million iPhone 4 users were already subject to this alleged miscalculation for years, yet never noticed a problem until switching to the iPhone 4.
With my iPhone 3GS, I used to sometimes get annoyed at how I had to pull the phone away from my ear, and give it a shake to get the display to light up again if I had to enter a code to join a conference call or “press two” for customer service. Now, I long for that experience because instead I have a dysfunctional proximity sensor that enables and disables the display–creating a slow motion strobe effect throughout my calls–and resulting in random buttons being pressed, like turning on speakerphone, or hanging up the call without notice.
Apparently, one Apple Genius explained to an iPhone 4 customer that the problem is with his ear–not the proximity sensor on the iPhone 4. A blogger reported that he was informed that “Apparently, the re-location of the proximity sensor in iPhone 4 causes the sensor to be more likely to be triggered by light ‘bouncing around the ear canal’.”
The recommended solution? The Apple Genius told the blogger–allegedly with a straight face–“try closing the windows because extra ambient light bouncing around my ear will cause the sensor to light up the screen.”
So–to sum up–the iPhone 4 does not have a signal issue, it just displays the signal bar icons wrong, but if you hold the iPhone 4 at just the right angle you might be able to maintain enough signal strength to carry on a call. But, make sure you don’t clean your ears too often, and draw the curtains and turn off the lights or your ear might trip the proximity sensor and cause you to inadvertently hang up the call.
I haven’t even addressed the exceptionally poor sound quality of calls on the iPhone 4, or the complaints of poor battery life spanning the iPhone 4, previous iPhone models, and iPod Touch devices following the upgrade to iOS4.
Can I just have my old iPhone 3GS back? Well, yes–but only if I act quickly. Apple has responded to the backlash and various law suits by dropping the restocking fee. Any iPhone 4 customer can return the iPhone 4 for a complete refund–as long as it is within 30 days of purchase. For those who purchased the iPhone 4 online, that clock started when the device was shipped, not when you received it and took it out of the box.
The problem is that returning to the iPhone 3GS is really the only viable option available at AT&T. The Android options are improving at AT&T, but are still notably inferior to the compelling Android smartphones available from other carriers. The HTC Aria is a step in the right direction, but AT&T won’t have a truly competitive Android smartphone until it unleashes the Samsung Captivate later this year.
Besides, switching platforms is not that easy. What Apple understood, and other mobile OS developers have followed suit on, is that the app culture shackles you to the platform. Businesses have invested in a portfolio of apps to make the smartphone productive. Switching platforms means starting from scratch to find suitable alternative apps, and paying for them all over again.
Customers like me who pre-ordered the iPhone 4 online have a little less than two weeks to take advantage of the option to return the device for a full refund. Hopefully, Apple will stop living in denial, and issuing ridiculous explanations and workarounds, and really address the issues during that time. Otherwise, many iPhone 4 customers will be forced to make a difficult decision between the lesser of two evils.
You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .