Time for an iPhone 4 recall?

Apple's iPhone 4 has antenna problems that the company's admitted, that can be replicated, and that caused even Consumer Reports to say it's flawed enough not to recommend.

Molly Wood Former Executive Editor
Molly Wood was an executive editor at CNET, author of the Molly Rants blog, and host of the tech show, Always On. When she's not enraging fanboys of all stripes, she can be found offering tech opinions on CBS and elsewhere, and offering opinions on everything else to anyone who will listen.
Molly Wood
3 min read

The mountain of damning evidence is incontrovertible: Apple's iPhone 4 antenna design is flawed. Consumer Reports is only the latest publication to complete a battery of testing and declare what other reviewers have discovered as well: holding the phone a certain way causes repeatable reception problems that, in weaker signal areas, can lead to dropped calls.

The 3GS is rendering the page just fine. Maybe he was holding the iPhone 4 wrong?

Those lucky folks who live in areas with rock-solid AT&T reception likely won't run into the problem. Those less fortunate can reproduce it virtually at will. Here at CNET, Kent German demonstrated in video how dramatically a hand over the bottom left corner of the phone can affect signal quality--in his first test, his voice drops off completely when he's got the phone in the "death grip."

Everyone's testing. Engadget gets the same results; Anandtech stripped the phone to its guts and found that, "(t)he fact of the matter is that cupping the bottom left corner and making skin contact between the two antennas does result in a measurable difference in cellular reception." Lefties: you're out of luck. One researcher found that oven gloves seem a safe way to hold the thing. And so on and so forth. One Ph.D. in wireless network planning, Richard Gaywood, confirmed the antenna design flaw and said "(t)he best scenario is for Apple to coat the antenna and replace all existing phones with a revised model."

I agree.

But as you know, Apple's response has been less than consumer-friendly. As we know, there's the infamous, "don't hold it that way" advice. The same statement told users to simply purchase one of many available cases, including one Apple sells.

Next up, the company unveiled a "stunning" software problem that over-inflated signal quality...but shortly thereafter, AppleCare started advising customers that any forthcoming software fixes wouldn't fix the hardware-based antenna problem. And of course, the official customer service script, if this leak is to be believed, advises tech support to tell customers that, in fact, the antenna is awesome, but even so, don't hold it that way, maybe buy a case, and no, AppleCare is not to give out a free case, offer any kind of warranty repair, or deal with the problem in any satisfactory manner at all.

Oh, and now Apple is deleting mentions of the Consumer Report findings on its support forums, as it's wont to do when problems crop up that it doesn't want to acknowledge.

Now, I know Apple's selling new iPhones like Rocket Pops on the Fourth of July, but this is the kind of issue that's melting into the mainstream, fast, and it's going to leave a stain. When Consumer Reports starts advising mainstream consumer electronics customers against buying your product, you've got a problem, and it's time to address it.

Apple has responded with arrogance and dismissal to the fact that it's shipping a flawed product. And that arrogance and dismissal comes at a time when Android market share is growing up and to the right, self-proclaimed Mac freaks are turning to other platforms, and journalists are daring to write about a geek backlash against the iPhone. Well, if geeks are the canaries in the coal mine, Apple would do well to start counting carcasses. And as Consumer Reports goes, so goes much of America.

Apple should recall the iPhone 4 and start disseminating new phones with properly coated antennas--and I'm not talking duct tape or neon-colored rubber bands. A recall would give Apple major goodwill and prove its commitment to the impeccable quality and design principles it's always espoused. Yes, it would be expensive and unprecedented. But wow, would it win back some flagging hearts and minds. I know Apple's not used to having to work for the love of its consumers, but now might be a good time to start.