After a series of PR bungles, consumers and the press continue to beat up Apple on the iPhone 4 antenna issue causing signal problems. There’s only one way Apple is likely to end the negative press on this problem: free bumpers for iPhone 4 customers.

Apple’s iPhone 4 has the highest resolution for a smartphone and offers an easy method for wireless video calling, but it’s failing for some in a basic phone function — voice calling. The situation is causing outrage around the web and on Twitter: depending on who you ask, the innovative stainless-steel frame that doubles as an antenna is either the best or the worst feature. Apple claims the antenna offers the best reception ever, yet Consumer Reports testing confirms what many consumers are finding out firsthand: touching two specific parts of the frame simultaneously causes signal degradation.

Surprisingly, Apple isn’t handling this public relations challenge very well. Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, reportedly emailed a complaining customer saying, “Just avoid holding it that way.” And just prior to a holiday weekend — possibly in an attempt to bury attention — the company issued a press release pushing much of the blame on U.S. carrier partner AT&T (t). Apple claims that all iPhones have been incorrectly overstating signal strength and that a software fix will address the problem soon. Clearly, the software update will fix the visual problem, but it’s highly unlikely that the antenna problem will be affected.

At this point, the negative press shows no signs of abating over the iPhone 4 antenna issue and, for that reason, the fastest and simplest solution should be considered — Apple should simply offer a free bumper to every iPhone 4 customer. While Apple would lose out on the $29 sales of such items — and the high profit margin they likely involve — the company could negate the bad press and make things right with its customers. And the fact that Apple never made iPhone cases or bumpers before isn’t lost on me. I have to wonder when Apple actually realized the potential antenna issue.

Regardless of when the problem was determined, the peace offering of a bumper is far less damaging in the long term and is a better way to handle the situation than allegedly deleting mentions of the Consumer Reports findings in Apple support discussions or recalling the phone as some have suggested. For a company that’s built upon brand loyalty, Apple simply can’t afford to not offer free iPhone 4 bumpers.

Related content on GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Is an iPhone- and Android-Only World the Best We Can Do?

By Kevin C. Tofel

You're subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

Related stories

  1. Connor Turnbull Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Exactly, offering complimentary bumpers is $29 loss per customer. Recalling all iPhone 4s is a $199-$699 (contract price in the US to pay as you go in the UK) loss per customer. I think Apple may actually end up putting bumpers in the box with shipping.

  2. Why do the media keep suggesting recalls and free bumpers like they are a forgone conclusion? It’s not like consumers aren’t still gobbling up the iPhone like crazy. I asked a tech at the Apple store if they’ve gotten a lot of returns or phones brought in and he said no. They are making money hand over fist on iPhones and bumpers regardless of this problem.

    This is purely a PR issue; Apple will only continue to profit by not doing a thing to correct this problem – other solutions would simply cost $. And Apple are PR kings why should they be worried?

    1. PR costs money too. At a certain point pr cost > cost of bumper and recall. More importantly, not admitting fault and not taking steps to fix the problem will hurt apple’s god-like reputation. That money cannot buy and it only takes one tiny mitake to destroy years of trust and loyalty which apple (toyota) has built up.

    2. worldbfree4me Thursday, July 15, 2010

      I suppose you get to eat those words on Friday. Watch carefully as Apple walks back that non-sense statement of “Just return the phone for a full refund.” This is an ethical issue right now. And now that Senior Senator D-NY Chuck E. Chumer is involved, anything Apple says can and will be used against them in a Court of Law. What does Apple know and when did they know about it. Re: virtually no returns to date.. Why would you return a product that’s about to yield a golden egg i.e.. Bumper case or iTune gift card? If I was a fan boy, I’d definitely buy myself into a free bumper or iTunes gift card too.

  3. [...] No one looks good in the Consumer Reports-Apple (AAPL) fiasco.  (Apple 2.0 also SAI, GigaOM) [...]

  4. Apple may end up doing that, but the problem does not end there.

    Do Apple/Jobs think that they are too big to make any mistakes? There is no doubt that Apple’s reputation will take a serious beating due to this incidence. This was the last thing Apple wanted now as this gives additional momentum to Android.

    Google would be thanking Apple for launching the iPhone 4 :)

    From being an Apple fan, I am now completely turned off by Apple’s policies and the way it handles its customers. I am glad that I did not buy the iPad – would rather hold on for an Android one :)

    1. Trouble is, if one is to believe Consumer Reports the iPhone 4 has better reception and voice quality than many Android phones — and nobody is screaming for them to be recalled due to their inferior performance.

      So, by all means, wait for your as of yet vaporware Android tablet, but when you get it, don’t expect it to be better than the iPad — chances are it won’t be.

  5. I’ve heard (disclaimer: these are rumors) that the Apple Bumper cases only cost $0.75 to manufacture.

    I love my iPhone 4 – and haven’t had much in the way of signal loss due to living in a strong AT&T coverage area – but I still have a bumper… I’m scared to death of it falling out of my hands.

  6. Seems to me the best way to fix this is a free bumper for anyone having problems and future phones should have some sort of enamel coating on the outer steel band to fix the problem on new production phones.

    From what I have heard even a piece of scotch tape will fix this issue so an enamel coating should do the trick just as well and wouldn’t really even change the look of the phone at all.

  7. Bumpers probably cost a $1 or $2 to make. The markup is sky high. So not a $29 loss. Although it is a loss in the sense they won’t be selling any if they give one free to every customers. Then again those things probably wear out or get all grimey and giving one free to every customer might just whet their appetite for a future purchase down the road and actually make Apple more money in the long run.

    Consumer Reports though say Apple should fix it permanently and they carry alot of weight.

    Not sure a free bumper case will be enough even though I think the problem is a bit overblown.

    HOw is the company that prides itself on design going to tell consumers they need to put a plastic bumper on its product in order to avoid problems?

  8. Michael Chaney Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Here’s the big problem for Apple with handing out free bumper cases…..it admits guilt. With a pending class-action lawsuit on the way, any move by apple that demonstrates this is a hardware problem that can’t be fixed by software, and one that is unique to the iPhone 4 (such as touching the metal bits) will all but guarantee them a guilty verdict in court.

    Apple will have to keep waiving the shiny keys and claim they are fixing receptions “problems” whether really related to the antenna issue or not. They will also have to keep up the facade that the hand interference problem is the same interference experienced by all internal antennas, even though there’s a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

    1. I tend to agree in HL. They are in deep sht and I can hear huge fans powering up.

  9. I don’t want to be forced to use some case. Fix the problem and recall if needed.

  10. Rev. B ASAP, please.


Comments have been disabled for this post