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Jobs: There’s No “There” There

July 17th, 2010

So Jobs had his mini-follow-up keynote explaining the antenna issue. His take: there’s no problem, but since we love you guys, if you really insist, here’s a free bumper and you can get your money back, okay? Just because it’s you.

Now, the numbers he gives seem convincing: only one more dropped call out of 100 than the 3GS, 1/3 the return rate compared to the 3GS, and only one-half of one percent of iPhone 4 users contacted AppleCare about the problem.

Sounds like there’s no problem. Should we believe him? Well, the numbers could be solid evidence–but they could also be cherry-picked and deceptive.

If we want to give Jobs zero leeway, one could certainly imagine some dissembling there. Compared with the 3GS, only one more call per hundred is dropped: is that a good rate or a bad one? If the 3GS drops 20 calls per hundred and the 4 drops 21, that’s both bad. But if drop rates are usually 1/2 of 1% and the iPhone 4 drops 1.5%, that’s 3 times worse. Also bad. What’s a “good” rate? We’ll probably hear opinions very soon. But as someone pointed out, that number probably doesn’t count calls that were attempted but never got through.

1/3 the return rate of the 3GS: within what time frame? He only said “early” returns, but I don’t think he specified that the numbers for the 3GS were for exactly the same number of days as we’ve seen for the iPhone 4. Also, why were people returning 3GS’s at that frequency? 6% sounds like a lot. And is it a fair comparison even if accurate?

Finally, the number of iPhone 4 users who contacted AppleCare about the reception issue: someone calculated that 0.55% is about 16,500 calls about that issue–not an insignificant number. Also, let’s not forget that if it’s a reception issue, people will probably call AT&T more often. And, he didn’t compare this number with iPhone 3GS numbers like he did the other two figures–why not?

Jobs also showed 3 other phones with bar-drops caused by “death grips,” and “we could have gone on and on” about more phones. Okay, but it’s a good bet that those were the three worst-performing phones, that the signal strength was set just right to cause a maximum apparent loss, and the grip exactly right for greatest effect. And the “on and on” was, what–90% of all phones? Or 2%?

I want to defend Apple, but when someone is selling something, and their pitch has openings like that, there’s usually a reason why.

Nevertheless, it could be exactly as Jobs portrays it: not a big deal, but getting blown way out of proportion by media hype–so Apple has to do something.

So, everybody gets a free case. Whee! I already have a couple, using one most of the time. But hey, I’ll take it. Apple can’t make enough of their “bumpers,” so they’ll contract out for a few different designs and then everybody gets to choose. Apple can afford it. And if that isn’t enough for you, you can just return the phone for a full refund, no restocking fee.

So, has Jobs stopped the whole panic thing? Who knows? Probably the media will get tired of covering it anyway and people will still buy the phone except for those who have huge difficulties. In the end, however, what Jobs said won’t make too much of a difference in real life: if your phone is not performing well enough, you’ll return it. If it’s OK for you, or the case is something you can live with, then you’ll keep it.

My guess: there is an issue, but it depends on a number of factors, including the variances in parts quality and construction, user handling, reception strength, and probably voodoo figures into it somehow–but in the end, maybe only 1 in 20 or 30 users will even notice anything, and probably only 1 in 20 or 30 of them will have any real problems with it. Not to downplay it, but it’s only partly a phone, and even with its problems, it’s still a pretty good one. Even CU thinks so.

So a few will be unhappy and return theirs, the Apple haters will add this to the standard list o things to carp on, and tons of people will sign up for the free cases and just keep on going like they were. Meanwhile, life goes on.

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