Over the past few days, reports have been all over the web about Consumer Reports' rating of iPhone 4. Namely, says the respected consumer products review agency, the iPhone 4 has a design flaw that seriously upsets its reception.
Normally, I'd dismiss such a statement as alarmist, and probably based on anecdote. Normally, I'd probably be right to do so. But remember those rational reviewers I was talking about? Consumer Reports used similar (actually more exacting) methods, and a diverse sample of iPhone 4s in its tests. This morning, I began to see stories discussing the need for Apple to recall iPhone 4, and I began to wonder. What does this mean for the white iPhone 4?
The Consumer Reports test, as I said, was exacting. They first bought three different iPhone 4s from three different stores around New York. They then tested the reception using a simulated cellular signal in a radio isolation room, to avoid any interference. There, they confirmed that iPhone 4's signal degrades significantly when held in the lower lefthand corner, to such a degree that calls could be dropped and data transmission interrupted in low signal areas.
They repeated the tests with a 3GS, a Palm Pre, and other phones, and could not replicate the same signal problems. So they concluded that as much as they liked iPhone 4 overall, they couldn't recommend it because its voice and data function is impaired by a design flaw.
When I first read this story yesterday, I didn't immediately report on it. I needed a bit of time to think about how to approach it. They did merely confirm what I'd already read elsewhere, that the problem, while arguably somewhat minor (at least more minor than the Droidbags make it out to be), is definitely a design flaw, one not shared by other handsets with internal antennae. What to say about a respected agency, using methods I respect, tearing down something I think is awesome?
Well, my pause let the story develop further, because this morning I was greeted by news that PR experts are saying Apple needs to issue a recall to actually repair or replace the hardware. Craziness? In light of all we've seen, I don't think so.
Apple is, as we know, a smart company. They've no doubt already run similar tests, and are similarly aware of the problem. They no doubt have figured out what a solution will entail, and if anything is left to be done, it's for the solution to be implemented, or for Steve Jobs to OK the solution. Another thing we know about Apple is they love to keep things quiet, especially bad news. Hell, it took them a week to make a tortured three-sentence admission about the absence of white iPhone 4 from launch-day sales.
Is a recall necessary? Probably not. The problem is a minor one. But public pressure, from the Droidbags in the tech media in particular, is mounting. And a recall that permanently put the issue to bed would hurt in the short term, but would shut up the naysayers as soon as the story was old news (so long as the fix worked properly). So I think it would be smart of Apple to do a PR-motivated recall. I think Apple will actually do it.
However, white iPhone 4 is still off the market. They don't have to recall it. It's hasn't been sold yet. So maybe while they mix up a vat of hydrophobic coating for the antenna band, they'll just hang onto it. They surely can't release the white one with the antenna fix applied before they're prepared to fix the black one as well.
This is all extreme speculation, but my guess is that we won't see the white iPhone 4 until at least the end of July now, because a recall is probably going to happen. Then again, you never know. Maybe they'll fix it on white first, and then recall the black ones. Maybe they'll continue to treat it as a minor problem (as it is), and not bow to public pressure for a recall. Maybe they'll just give out free bumper cases (I really hope not, I'm not planning on casing my iPhone 4, it's too pretty).
Tell us what you think of the problem. Is iPhone 4 going to get recalled? Will the oleophobic coating on the glass spontaneously combust when introduced to the hydrophobic coating on the antenna? How will continuing antenna problems affect the release of the white iPhone 4?
More to follow. Stay tuned.