Wednesday, July 14, 2010

iPhone 4: Don't Expect A Recall

Unless you've been living at the bottom of a well sided in RF-resistant stone, you have seen several volleys of iPhone4 signal-reception complaints, criticisms, defenses, reviews, "analyses", explanations, translations, refutations official-sounding corroborations, and commentary. The highlight may be Consumer Reports' swift reversal from giving the iPhone the highest rating it gives any phone (if you don't have a subscription, trust me: max rating is 76 the day this was written, and that's the iPhone4's CR rating), defending the phone's reception issue as "not unique" and possibly unimportant, then suddenly refusing to endorse the iPhone4 on the basis of in-house RF testing.

The latest in this running gunfight is the latest entry on the blog of electromatic engineer Bob Egan that derisively explains that Consumer Reports' methodology was poorly designed and its conclusions were incapable of being supported by the claimed evidence. For only a couple more iPhone4s, Bob offers to produce real RF testing using a shielded room and a proper experimental design intended to identify the real source of the observed phenomenon.

The Jaded Consumer hasn't gotten an iPhone4, but it's not because of conscientious objection: there's too much time left on last year's AT&T contract to get another subsidized phone. For the record, I tried using an iPhone without a protective case and decided it was too risky because my hands were often dry and the thing could slip out of my hand while pocketing/withdrawing it, which involves turning it about behind my back while aiming into a pocket or past the pocket's hem. The very people with the greatest risk of accidentally bridging the iPhone4's metal-edge antenna are the damp-handed folks for whom adequate friction has never been a problem, and who are least in need of a protective case because they hardly ever have anything slip out of their grippy fingers. For the most of us, who don't want to drop the phones or prefer they were protected in case of a fall, the Consumer Reports suggestion users band-aid the problem with ugly duct tape is superfluous: we've been using cases that would avoid the bridging problem and would never have noticed it except for Consumer Reports trying to boost traffic with an apparently half-baked iPhone4 criticism.

So, with crisis communications experts calling a recall inevitable, what's Apple to do? The Jaded Consumer's view is pretty straightforward: as long as the thing keeps flying off the shelves, and holds Consumer Reports' top phone rating, Apple is clearly selling what the people want and what the critics like. (Well, Mossberg isn't recommending it unless you think AT&T is adequate, which given the rest of his commentary isn't so much a dig against Apple's product as against AT&T's service.) And Apple usually end up selling a phone case, too.

The Jaded Consumer says: Keep up the good work! And don't hold your breath for a recall unless you have medical assistance standing by.

The Jaded Consumer expects the folks who sell adhesive shields for phone screens to be out soon with a product for people who don't want a case, that covers the metal edges so that sweaty-palmed users have a grippy but non-conductive but largely invisible layer protecting the iPhone 4's three external antennae sections from being bridged. Just like some folks pay a few bucks to have the usually unscratchable screen protected from keys in a purse or pocket, and do so without a public outcry for recalls despite the importance of a screen to a modern smartphone, some folks will be willing to pay for similar treatment of the phone's edges. I expect that the fraction of folks using the phones au naturale will have been low enough that there's no serious rebellion among users (there are, after all, no widespread reports of returns despite that Apple waived the restocking fee), but that the large number of iPhone4 users combined with the press on this issue will make protective devices a competitive market.

The more competitive, the better pricing for later buyers like the Jaded Consumer. Bring it on!

No comments: