At WWDC, Steve Jobs all but begged the audience to take as close of a look as possible at the little notches separating the stainless steel bands that surround the newly announced iPhone 4. Acknowledging Gizmodo’s capture of an iPhone 4 in the wild, Steve made a point of singling out the gaps between the stainless steel bands to which there had been much speculation across the blogosphere as to their function.
“It turns out, this is part of some brilliant engineering,” Steve tells the world at WWDC, “which actually uses the stainless steel band as part of the antenna system.” Little did Steve know that he was asking the world to take special notice of what was soon to become a much bigger issue that no one at that time could have possibly imagined.
So how could one of the world’s top engineering companies have missed such a prevalent usability issue like the now infamous ‘grip of death’? By also being one of the worlds most secretive companies. It may just be a matter that the secrecy at all costs finally took its toll on Apple. It is very likely that since most smart phones today try to mimic the iPhone that no one would have noticed the new iPhone 4 form factor from Apple during its pre-release field testing. But for extra measure, it is even more likely that they were all issued cases that helped conceal the identity of the phone even further. One can only imagine the feeling that all field engineers at Apple had on that fateful Monday morning in April as they all frantically ran looking for their field test unit. The question is, what happened next?
Was field testing cut short? Was it interrupted at all? Were the cases used throughout field testing what prevented engineers from discovering the antenna issue that now haunts Apple? It is very likely that something happened and that field testing was impacted in some way due to the media frenzy that ensued from April all the way up to the announcement at WWDC. Although engineers were likely not able to reproduce the same death grip on the test units that consumers can all too readily reproduce today, they all likely had their own implementation of a death grip on the phones throughout the remainder of the testing activities that led up to the June release. The most plausible scenario would be that the use of cases to help conceal the identity of the new iPhone prevented data from reaching Apple as to the ill effects of handling the phone in certain positions.
When it comes to conducting field tests, perhaps someone should have told Apple, “just don’t test it that way.”