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Apple Rivals Reject Tarring With iPhone 4 Brush

By Katherine Noyes MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jul 19, 2010 12:05 PM PT

Apple's recent suggestion that the iPhone 4's reception problems are universal may have been intended to placate disgruntled consumers, but instead it appears to have stirred up a hornet's nest of protest among competitors.

Apple Rivals Reject Tarring With iPhone 4 Brush

Nokia, RIM, HTC and Samsung have all fired back with responses since Apple CEO Steve Jobs' Friday presentation, many of them clearly annoyed at being drawn into Cupertino's "Antennagate" morass.

"Apple's attempt to draw RIM into Apple's self-made debacle is unacceptable," RIM co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie said in a statement provided to MacNewsWorld, for example. "Apple's claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public's understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple's difficult situation."

'It Should Take Responsibility'

RIM, in fact, "has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage," Lazaridis and Balsillie added.

"Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple," they said.

Similarly, "Apple should face its own problems," HTC Chief Financial Officer Hui-Meng Cheng told The Wall Street Journal on Monday. "The reception problems are certainly not common among smartphones ... they (Apple) apparently didn't give operators enough time to test the phone."

'We Prioritize Antenna Performance'

Nokia, for its part, stressed the careful attention it has paid to antenna design.

"Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, Web browsing and so on," company spokesperson Laurie Armstrong told MacNewsWorld. "As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict."

Nokia also designs its phones "to ensure acceptable performance in all real-life cases," Armstrong added.

Similarly, "based on years of experience of designing high-quality phones, Samsung mobile phones employ an internal antenna design technology that optimizes reception quality," Samsung Electronics said in a statement provided to MacNewsWorld.

'Only Made Matters Worse'

Having added industry fury to ongoing consumer resentment, the question now is what Apple can do to recover.

"The words, 'I'm sorry' just seem so difficult for Apple to say," telecom and wireless analyst Jeff Kagan told MacNewsWorld.

"Apple is leading the way in wireless growth, and leaders have to act differently than followers," Kagan pointed out.

The comparisons between the iPhone and competing devices "only made matters worse for Apple," he added.

"If that were the case, this would not be the first time we heard about this problem on such a wide scale," Kagan noted. "Other handset makers from time to time do have smaller problems, but nothing to the extent that Apple is apparently dealing with."

'They Think They Are Bullet-Proof'

Apple's PR machine is "broken," Kagan asserted.

"Everything coming out of Apple has always been shining and positive over the last decade," he explained. "This is the first bad publicity they've had to deal with. Apparently they think they are bullet-proof, but they are not."

The whole mess would have quieted down if not for "Apple's arrogance," Kagan added. "If they took ownership of this problem and asked for forgiveness and promised to work harder to make sure it would never happen again, I think the world would be much nicer to Apple right now.

"They had a choice, either say they were sorry and ask for forgiveness, or stand there and try to deflect to the blame and take on the wrath of the marketplace," he said. "They chose wrong."

'He Did a Pretty Good Job'

Indeed, "Apple didn't do much to keep the media happy by staying quiet about the antenna issue for so long, and that was going to be a tough thing for Steve Jobs to overcome during his press conference," Jeff Gamet, managing editor of The Mac Observer, told MacNewsWorld.

Still, "all things considered, I think he did a pretty good job of handling what could've turned into a very ugly situation," Gamet added.

As for the irate competitors, "I have a feeling that while these companies are angry right now, they'll end up having to redesign their antenna systems for future phones because everyone will be trying to 'death grip' every smartphone," he predicted.

'Every Cellphone Is Susceptible'

"I semi-side with Apple on this in that EVERY cellphone is susceptible to modified RF patterns depending on how it is held or even how it sits in your pocket," Allen Nogee, principal analyst for wireless technology and infrastructure at In-Stat, told MacNewsWorld. "The devices are small, the frequencies they use high, and it's impossible to avoid it."

Having said that, however, "Apple's design is a bit unique" in terms of its antenna placement, so both Apple and the other manufacturers have valid points, Nogee conceded.

"I think Apple took the best steps it could, but it won't make all users happy," he predicted. "For one, once the iPhone 4 has a 'bumper' case, it may no longer fit into the zillions of iPhone accessories that third-party manufacturers produce."

'Apple Will Roll Out a Silent Update'

Looking ahead, "I don't expect to see Apple do much more to appease the public or the media," Gamet predicted. "Considering that iPhone 4 returns are surprisingly low, and people are still on waiting lists to get a hold of one, it doesn't look like Apple has too much more damage control to do -- at least from a consumer perspective.

"I'm betting Apple will roll out a silent update of sorts for the iPhone 4 by changing or adding a new coating to the antenna bands that reduces their conductivity with skin," Gamet added. "We won't get any kind of announcement about the change, but it'll probably be in place and tested before the end of September, when Apple's free iPhone case offer expires."

'This Could Hurt the Company'

If the problem is fixed quickly and is not followed by another, "then Apple will be hurt but will survive," Kagan predicted. "However, if this problem persists and Apple does not change their stance, this could hurt the company with customers and investors."

For now, "Apple just needs to move on, learn from its mistakes, and perhaps do a bit more testing of future products before they appear," Nogee said.

Overall, "Apple products are certainly not more buggy" than others, he concluded; "the difference is Apple products are now more visible and talked about than ever before, so Apple needs to be extra careful to keep its good reputation."

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