Amidst an increasing and incredible series of complaints about its latest smartphone, the iPhone 4, Apple said this week it would hold a press conference on Friday. The company is expected to address issues with the iPhone 4's defective antenna design. But there are many other issues with the iPhone, causing a senior Microsoft executive this week to describe the buggy device as "Apple's Windows Vista."
Apple has come under fire from numerous parties for not responding well to the surprising range of defects in its flagship product. Chief among these is the defective antenna design that loses reception when the phone is held in a certain way. Apple has denied that the antenna is defective and claimed that all smartphones have similar issues. But these claims were thoroughly shot down this week by independent technical testers–and, it should be noted, Apple fans–at the respected Consumer Reports organization. A class action lawsuit has already been organized by customers enraged by this problem.
But the iPhone 4's problems extend far beyond its non-working antenna. Many users have reported discoloration on the display, usually in the form of yellow splotches. Others have complained about a yellowing effect imprinted in photos taken with the iPhone 4 camera. The devices can't efficiently connect to Exchange 2010 servers, an issue both Microsoft and Apple have found to be the fault of Apple's on-phone software. And the device's proximity sensor, which is supposed to calculate when the iPhone 4 is near a face, sometimes doesn't work properly, blacking the screen at inappropriate times.
There's more. Apple admitted earlier this month that all iPhone models dating back to the original 2007 model have incorrectly over-stated the strength of their connection to wireless networks, and it will finally issue a fix for this curious bug sometime soon. Also, Apple's planned launch of a white version of the iPhone 4 was scrapped because it was "more challenging to manufacture than expected." According to an Apple statement from late June, the white iPhone 4 models could ship in the second half of July.
Speaking at his company's Worldwide Partner Conference this week, Microsoft COO discussed the upcoming launch of the competing Windows Phone 7 platform and took a few digs at the suddenly laughable iPhone 4. "You're going to be able to use Windows Phone 7 and not have to worry about how you're holding it to make a phone call," he said to cheers and laughter. "It looks like iPhone 4 might be their Vista. And I'm OK with that. That's another mantle they're welcome to take."
Apple should be so lucky to have a Vista on its hands. Widely regarded as Microsoft's worst product disaster and reviled by tech pundits and bloggers, Windows Vista actually sold several hundred million copies in a few short years and remains one of the most-often used operating systems in the world. In fact, according to NetMarketShare, Vista is in use by about three times as many people as are all versions of Mac OS X combined.
Meanwhile, while Apple bragged that it sold 1.7 million iPhone 4s in its first long weekend of availability--"the most successful product launch in Apple's history"–almost 80 percent of those sales were to existing iPhone users, and of course iPhone market share is even or down this year, depending on the market, thanks to increasing competition from Google's fast-moving Android platform.
Apple's solution for the iPhone 4 could take a number of forms. Most unlikely but appropriate given the issues, it could simply recall the product and replace customers' phones with newly designed, working models. It could offer to extend the free return period to those who did purchase iPhone 4s but are now having second thoughts. It could offer customers free "bumper" cases, which cost $29 at retail and alievate the antenna issues (but none of the other problems).
Or it could simply continue down its current path of denial and berating those who raise issues with the device. This possibility is chillingly plausible given Apple's past actions. When the iPhone 4 reception issues were noticed immediately by customers on the first day of sales, Apple CEO Steve Jobs infamously responded to one email complainer with the terse line, "Just avoid holding it in that way." And that wasn't a throwaway line: The company's official response to the issue offered essentially the same advice. "Avoid gripping your iPhone 4 in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases," the company advised.
That's a simpler solution that Apple actually fixing the problem, I guess. It will be interesting to see how the company responds to the complaints on Friday.