Home > iPhone > The iPhone 4 Is Dead Because We Say It Is

The iPhone 4 Is Dead Because We Say It Is

July 17th, 2010

Okay, in my last post, I was trying to be as critical as possible about Jobs’ presentation about the iPhone 4, trying to see the worst-case scenario about Job’s claims. However, this guy at PC World is an excellent example of how ridiculously inflated this whole thing is–he says that Apple must “kill” the iPhone 4 ASAP and rush out a new model:

Jobs went to great lengths to defend the iPhone 4, arguing that the antenna glitch was overblown, and claiming that phones from other manufacturers suffer from the same problem. He also presented statistics to bolster his case: A measly 0.55 percent of iPhone users have contacted Apple support to report antenna or reception woes.

But none of that matters. The iPhone 4 is now tainted in the consumer’s eyes. It’s no longer a triumph of form and function, but rather a crippled device that requires protective headgear to work properly.

We could debate the merits of the iPhone 4’s antenna design all day, but that’s beside the point. Perception is reality here, and the public now views Apple’s latest offering as The Phone That Drops Calls. And no one can blame AT&T this time either.

Oh, please. Frankly, the whole issue is overblown, incredibly, way out of proportion. Look, I don’t fully accept Jobs’ numbers as proof that there’s no issue–the low return rates, for example, are in part due to the fact that the early adopters are heavily populated with Apple fans who are less apt to part with their sweet new device–but Jobs has a perfectly valid point in that several other phones have similar problems and nobody is even complaining about it, much less saying that the models are doomed to oblivion because of it.

Let’s be objective here: the iPhone 3G had similar reception issues. So did the 3GS. So does the Droid Eris. So does the Blackberry, and other phones as well. Why is it that with these other phones it is a non-issue but the iPhone 4 is supposedly radioactive and now a pariah? As the author says, “none of that matters.” The facts don’t matter. Reality doesn’t matter. The media–him, for example–have spoken, they have judged the iPhone 4’s problems to be treated completely differently than other phones’ similar flaws, and have relegated it to the trash bin of consumer electronics.

The iPhone 4 antenna story is the result of a snowball effect, amplified by a media sector looking for a hot story to sell ads and Apple-hating crowd which live to puncture the inflated hype about Apple products. A few users note the antenna signal dropping when the phone is held a certain way. For a few days, most other people are like, “Really? I hadn’t noticed. Hey, how can I replicate that?” The story gets out, videos are produced, more people try to find the problem, and while most can’t, more than enough can make bars disappear and take more videos of that, causing more people to try it. Meanwhile, the media sees a story it can’t resist making a brouhaha about it. Rinse and repeat. As Andy Ihnakto wrote:

Yes: customers wailing and rending their garments in anguish and outrage en masse. It’s a demonstrable and repeatable problem, but mostly it’s being experienced by people who are actively trying to make it happen … folks like me, who write about technology and review new hardware.

How many people would have even noticed there was a problem at all without the media hype? Vanishingly few.

The PC World author’s rant is a classic example of the media creating a story and then reveling in it. The author himself dismisses the fact that there is high user satisfaction with the device, and instead insists that the product is now worthless only because people like him have said so and now everyone should believe it. Facts don’t matter, only what we tell you to believe.

When Steve Jobs does this, it’s called the “Reality Distortion Field” and is called out as bogus. What happens when the media does it?

Categories: iPhone Tags: by
  1. stevetv
    July 17th, 2010 at 16:04 | #1

    FWIW, that wasn’t my perception. I read gadget websites, and there were user complaints long before the media picked up on it. But that aside, there’s a general “bigger they are, the harder they fall” theory that can also be applied to any corporate behemoth that Apple and their devotees shouldn’t take personally. Branding is something Apple spends a lot of time and money on, and as with any huge name (be it a corporation, a politician, a celebrity, etc.) this can be a both a huge positive and negative, depending on the circumstances. Often it gets the desired effect, as we see every time a new product is released and the media hype is in full swing. But when you set out to be that huge, you run the risk of taking a very public fall when you screw it up. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is.

    Barring any unforeseen developments, I’d say Apple has not much to worry about. They’ll come out of this unscathed. But isn’t it amusing they can produce iPhones and their cases faster than they can the rubber bumbers?

    Any cell phone can experience a loss of signal if your hand blocks it a certain way, usually in an unnatural position. But the iPhone goes further. Your body can serve as a conductor between the iPhone and another antenna, thus physically detuning it. It’s a bad design decision any way you look at it.

  2. Tim Kane
    July 17th, 2010 at 21:35 | #2

    Well, I’m happy to see Apple doing good selling phones. I really love it that they stole the show here in Korea. So I hate seeing them have this problem.

    I no longer have any faith in themes that come over the media. I’ve learned from politics that big money shapes the meta-message that gets knocked around the media. Obviously I don’t know much about the cell phone industry, however, I am enjoying reading up on this industry because I think it is important, but my impression is that Apple created the smart phone. They got huge amounts of mojo – that I believe they very much deserve – and it flowered with the iphone and now ipod.

    But there are some VERY powerful interest out there that they are competing against. If the media machine echo chamber is controlable, or at least ‘influenceable’ you have to believe that a company as big as Samsung, with over two hundred billion in revenues, and huge amounts staked in the cellphone market, is not going to just sit on the porch and not try to influence the media echo chamber. And I don’t mean to single out Samsung, they are just one company with enormous power. LG, Nokia, Motorola, HTC, Ericson, to name a few, would all love to see cracks in Apples armor, and I’m assuming they all have there confederates out there in the media world.

    I don’t think this is huge, but I don’t think it’s really going to go away either. Some people are going to remember that the iphone is built in a sweatshop by people who work 100 hours to earn $300 dollars a month (as do many of the other smartphones), and now, that it has a slight design flaw. This isn’t that much different than when BMW came out with its new designs, round about 2002. It didn’t destroy BMW, but unfortunately, BMW really didn’t have a follow up to make people think it was an aberration. I think Apple merely needs to straighten out the chinks in its armor, then roll out another round of fantastic products, and that’s it.

  3. Tim Kane
    July 17th, 2010 at 21:37 | #3

    @Tim Kane
    I meant 300 hours in a month

  4. July 18th, 2010 at 02:53 | #4

    I think a big part of the issue is the arrogance of Jobs’ response: “Don’t hold it that way.”

    It’s a PHONE. People are going to hold it… like a phone.

    The other thing that I think is noteworthy is how Apple’s defense goes: “It’s just like all the other phones.” Well, no, that’s not how you sell it to people; you sell it to people by telling them that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    The whole episode demonstrates that Apple is just like other tech companies, in that they get arrogant or don’t worry as much about their consumers as the fanboys would like to think.

    It’s coming out now that Apple’s engineers identified this issue, and passed it up the chain of command, well before the phone hit the market. So this protest of “it’s just software not displaying signal strength correctly!” is a load of BS.

    Likewise, Jobs blowing it off at first, also BS- he knew about it and just didn’t care.

    In the grand scheme of things, does it make the iPhone 4 a bad device? Nope. (I’m definitely keeping mine!) But it does demonstrate that Apple… really isn’t as special as we all liked to think.

  5. Troy
    July 18th, 2010 at 06:46 | #5

    It’s coming out now that Apple’s engineers identified this issue, and passed it up the chain of command, well before the phone hit the market. So this protest of “it’s just software not displaying signal strength correctly!” is a load of BS.

    Actually that assertion is the load of BS here. The software issue is in fact making the known hardware issue more serious than it appears.

    I do agree that a degree of emotional investment in the coolness and overall benefits of the new antenna design would not be surprising and be something right out of Jobs’ history with the original Mac (and Apple III for that matter).

    But it does demonstrate that Apple… really isn’t as special as we all liked to think.

    Having worked for the company for several years in a prior life (after 15 years of being an Apple user), I may be biased but I do think it is that special.

    Apple engineers work on stuff they want to use. They are their first customer.

    This is, in fact, special, and kinda rare in this world.

    Apple/NeXT made solid engineering advances with the Apple II, Mac, LaserWriter, NeXT, PowerBooks, and iPhone, advances that materially changed the way the world works, causing the industry to move to copying its direction or be left in the dust.

    And it did this by taking risks along the way. Only Microsoft’s XBox team has a similar mandate for fully internal innovation really.

  6. Tim Kane
    July 18th, 2010 at 12:21 | #6

    I’m still kind of obsessed with the ‘rents’ issue.

    (Rent’s being the return on investment that exceeds 4%, the historical rate of return for investment).

    I know the factories workers make a pittance. I’ve read where Apple gets something like $800 a phone or some such thing. The workers make the phone, they take a very thin slice. There employer, Foxcomm, takes a slice, and then Apple gets all the rest. So, I’m very curious as to what it cost Foxcom to make it, and what return they get.

    This is related, so please stay with me.

    In reading about this issue, I read at some site, that, because the iphone is made glass on the front and the back, that a ‘fractal’ antenna could be placed in or under the back panel of glass on the phone and remove any reception problem. However, there are two versions out there, each under patent, so using this type of solution might cost $2 a phone.

    This gets back to my interest concerning ‘rents’. $2 a phone is a lot of money. But what about the value?

    Then there’s my over all concern about the concentration of wealth that is causing our economy and society to collapse. Workers, don’t have bargaining power so corporatist are capturing all the rents. Back when we had unions, the rents got spread around a little more, which stabilized society.

    I think corporations are making a big mistake in being so greedy with allocation of rents. In this case I think Apple is guilty of the same. Again, I’ve little insight to this industry, but the Foxconn-gate and now antenna-gate look like symptoms of the same disease ‘rent-gate’.

  7. Troy
    July 18th, 2010 at 16:10 | #7

    @ Tim Kane


    “Economic rent is defined as an excess distribution to any factor in a production process above the amount required to draw the factor into the process or to sustain the current use of the factor.”

    Or in layman’s terms, economic rent is the money Apple is making due to its competition being unable or unwilling to successfully under cut its prices.

    Nobody is pointing a gun to an Apple buyers’ head, nor has Apple created a contingent monopoly situation like Microsoft enjoyed in the 90s (and still does now to a great extent on the desktop).

    iPad buyers think an iPad has $500+ worth of value to them. Seeing that an iPad has a useful life of say three years, that’s around 50c a day.

    Apple’s actual input costs have nothing to do with this value. That is the magic of hardware and even more so with software. I can spend 2 months of labor that cost me $25,000 and sell one million apps at $15 each. Even though I’ve made $10 million dollars on my $25,000 investment, nobody has gotten ripped off since my app provides each user that $15 in utility value and then some.

    But there was still $10M in rent there. More since Apple took $5M off the top for their
    services in order fulfillment.

    (Also, the fearsome competition in the Apple App Store means somebody will soon copy my app and undercut my price, causing me to lose my rents to a great extent.)

    The problem isn’t the rents per se but it’s the lack of equal opportunity in tapping into them, and the disappearing alternative of factory work to provide productive employment as everything either gets automated or sent off to a cheap labor country.

    This is causing societal stress as more and more people fall out of the productive economy that was established in the postwar era of prosperity.

    This is not a new phenomenon, Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown” talked about it in the 80s. It’s just been a steady drumbeat of decay and displacement.

    Take out the trillions of government spending on war, defense, medicare, education, criminal justice, etc etc, and we’d be in just about the same shape as the worst of the 1930s depression. Even the $1.4T deficit is keeping around 20 MILLION people employed or out of the poorhouse.

  8. Geoff K
    July 21st, 2010 at 15:24 | #8

    The iPhone has always had a bad reputation just as a cell phone. Historically, AT&T has gotten most of the blame for that. The difference is that this time, people are also blaming Apple, and suggesting that they didn’t build it to properly get good reception and avoid dropping calls.

    As for the article, you’re missing his point. The question isn’t whether the iPhone 4 is seriously flawed (although I think it is). The question is whether people perceive that it has serious flaws. And given the numerous quality control issues, antenna issues, proximity sensor issues and other issues that have come up, many people do see it that way. If it wasn’t an Apple phone, people would still be criticizing these issues (although, admittedly, the volume of talk would be way way down). The writer says, correctly, that Apple can’t wait a year to replace the “flawed” model with a new “fixed” one.

    Imagine that HTC’s latest phone had all the problems that iPhone4 has. Would you buy one? Would you advise others to? Would you criticize them? Would you advise HTC to keep it as their only phone product for the next 12 months while the competition race ahead? The fact that it’s an “iPhone” is making you sound silly (“I don’t care”).

Comments are closed.