Sen. Schumer to Apple: Offer free antenna fix

In open letter to Steve Jobs, New York senator calls on Apple to be more transparent about iPhone 4 antenna problems and provide users with free solution.

Steve Jobs at WWDC 2010 shortly after introducing the iPhone 4.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs at WWDC 2010 in June shortly after introducing the iPhone 4. James Martin/CNET

The iPhone 4's antenna problems already got the attention of Keith Olbermann and David Letterman, but now even a U.S. senator is getting involved.

The problems some customers are experiencing with with the iPhone 4's antenna have made it from a YouTube video, to tech blogs, the mainstream media, and now to the highest ranks of power in this country. On Thursday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), posted an open letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, expressing "concern" over the iPhone 4's reported reception problems.

Schumer, who serves as vice chairman of the Senate's Joint Economic Committee and also on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, writes that after reading Consumer Reports' review in which the publication identified the iPhone 4 as having a "hardware glitch," he believes Apple needs "to address this flaw in a transparent manner." He goes on to say that the nearly 2 million purchasers of the iPhone 4 may not have "complete information" about the device.

Apple has faced a growing outcry over the antenna issue since the day iPhone 4 arrived in customers' hands in June. Some iPhone 4 owners reported that when the device is gripped in a certain way--usually if the lower left part of the phone is covered--the phone's signal weakens or disappears. Apple at first said it was a problem common to any phone and suggested customers hold the phone in a different manner or purchase a rubber case for it . Several days later Apple said the cause was actually related to software--the phone was incorrectly displaying the number of signal bars, and had been since 2007--and could be fixed with a forthcoming update.

The senator also wrote that he wants Apple to give customers a clear, written explanation of the antenna problem, and publicly commit to offering a free solution to the people who've already bought the phone.

"The solutions offered to date by Apple for dealing with the so-called 'death grip' malfunction--such as holding the device differently, or buying a cover for it--seem to be insufficient," the letter reads. "These proposed solutions would unfairly place the burden on consumers for resolving a problem they were not aware of when they purchased their phones."

A solution could be coming in very short order. Apple has planned a press conference for Friday morning at its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The company would only say it will be talking about the iPhone 4. It's very likely Apple will address concerns over the antenna and offer some sort of fix to the problem beyond what's already been offered.

Here's the full text of Sen. Schumer's letter:

July 15, 2010

Dear Mr. Jobs,

I write to express concern regarding the reception problem with the Apple iPhone 4. While I commend Apple's innovative approach to mobile technology and appreciate its service to millions of iPhone users nationwide, I believe it is incumbent upon Apple to address this flaw in a transparent manner. According to Consumer Reports' review, released Monday on its Web site, the iPhone 4's signal-strength problem is a hardwire glitch triggered by gripping the device in a particular manner. This finding, according to Consumer Reports, "call[s] into question" Apple's recent claim that the problem is "largely an optical illusion caused by faulty software." Consumer Reports declined to recommend the iPhone 4 because of this hardware design flaw.

Given the discrepancy between Consumer Reports' explanation of the reception problem and the explanation provided by Apple in its July 2 letter to customers, I am concerned that the nearly 2 million purchasers of the iPhone 4 may not have complete information about the quality of the product they have purchased. The burden for consumers caused by this glitch, combined with the confusion over its cause and how it will be fixed, has the potential to undermine the many benefits of this innovative device. To address this concern, I ask that Apple provide iPhone 4 customers with a clearly written explanation of the cause of the reception problem and make a public commitment to remedy it free-of-charge. The solutions offered to date by Apple for dealing with the so-called "death grip" malfunction--such as holding the device differently, or buying a cover for it--seem to be insufficient. These proposed solutions would unfairly place the burden on consumers for resolving a problem they were not aware of when they purchased their phones.

I also encourage Apple to keep its promise to provide free software updates so that bars displayed accurately reflect signal strength; I further urge Apple to issue a written explanation of the formula it uses to calculate bar strength, so that consumers can once again trust the product that they have invested in.

I look forward to Apple's swift action on this matter, and once again laud Apple for its innovative efforts and service to millions of Americans.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

About the author

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.

 

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