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iPhone 4: “Apple’s Vista”?

July 15th, 2010

Wow. Pretty interesting quote:

“It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I’m okay with that,” said Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s chief operating officer, in a keynote speech at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), which runs through Thursday in Washington, D.C.

First of all, this is the first time I can recall a Microsoft official publicly admitting that Vista sucked. I am pretty sure they never did that before. Nice to have it officially confirmed by Microsoft itself. However, Turner might be jumping the gun a wee bit. Apple definitely has something it wants to say, as it has announced a press conference to be held this Friday, just a day or two off. And I doubt it’s to say that the iPhone 4 has unresolvable problems. It’s possible they could be announcing a recall or admitting to something bad, but Apple press conferences usually aren’t about that. Apple tends to deal with bad news more quietly, though I don’t think they’ve ever had a product get this much bad press before.

Nor does it seem likely that Apple will just make another smoke-blowing announcement like the one where they said that the problem is due to how the bars are calculated–Apple corrects that in iOS 4.1, but it has no effect on the reception loss, nor did anyone really buy that as the core cause of the problem. As I commented in an earlier post, if it was just a matter of how bars are displayed and not reception loss, then calls would never be dropped. I doubt Apple would actually hold a press conference, especially at this point with so many seeing the reception issue as a big deal, to make another flimsy excuse.

However, there is something significant that might help predict what’s coming: people have reported that signal loss issues are primarily experienced by people who got their iPhones the first day of release (see comment #2 for this post). The idea is that the reception issue was either a bad initial batch or was an issue that Apple fixed very quickly. Gizmodo is reporting that Apple is somehow involved in a “silent recall,” as people with reception issues returned their iPhones for whatever reason and got a new one in return and found the reception issue didn’t exist with the replacement device. This is not universally accepted, but it could explain a lot.

Some report that the switch involves physical differences between the iPhone as originally released and the one being delivered now, possibly including a new, faint coating along the metallic edge, giving the metal more of a matte finish.

Whatever the case, one thing seems clear: the reception issues are not universal. Most iPhone 4 users simply cannot replicate the signal drop at all. Of those who can, some say that it only happens in certain areas, others say they have to try hard to get it to happen, and others report that despite the drop in bars they don’t get dropped calls or have problems with data rates. Of the remainder, many use cases, and some simply adapt by holding the phone a certain way. So despite the huge publicity about the whole thing, the fact is that few iPhone 4 users really have any real-world difficulties due to this issue. It is telling that CU, which has made the loudest splash by “not recommending” the iPhone 4, also did not notice the issue in their initial review. Of the people who now say they notice the issue, how many would have seen it without the huge media hype around it?

And there still remains the remote possibility of Apple somehow devising a software fix; some have mentioned that the issue could be resolved by the way the iPhone switches frequencies to find the strongest signals.

So, what will Apple announce Friday? My guess is that it will identify the problem as some sort of limited glitch with only certain batches, probably identifying it as nothing wrong with their design but instead some mistake by a parts maker, like a bad batch of antenna parts which lacked a specified coating or whatnot. While they will not call it a recall, they will instead probably announce that anyone with a bad iPhone can submit theirs for an exchange if they are suffering any issues–which is kind of what they have been doing anyway already.

Ironically, even though CU hit Apple for the reception issue and said it could not recommend the phone, it nevertheless gave the iPhone 4 the highest rating of all cell phones currently out there–even counting in the down-checks for reception loss. Not to mention that the iPhone 4, in the United States, despite all the bad press, still has a wait time if you order it, of 3 weeks.

I don’t recall Vista ever having those issues.

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