Apple’s antennagate issue has been in the news for weeks now. It’s the dominant story about the iPhone 4. This is why PR experts have compared Apple to Toyota. Not because the two problems are equivalent — they aren’t — but because the media equates Prius with dodgy brake pedals, and the iPhone 4 with dodgy reception issues. Note: No one said it’s a Prius-style problem; they said it’s a Prius-style PR problem.
On Monday, the story kicked up into a different realm when Consumer Reports‘ testing put all the speculation about the source of the problem to rest: it’s a hardware issue, plain and simple. There’s no arguing this any more: it’s been established by an independent and impartial testing organization with superb engineering chops. In addition, CR cannot recommend consumers buy it. This is a big deal. Plus, CR suggested that Apple hasn’t been forthcoming about the issue: the company has tried to spin the problem by blaming it on a reception display algorithm.
Check the mainstream news today: there are hundreds of stories about the CR report and reception problems. In the minds of mainstream consumers — the kind of people who don’t read tech blogs — the iPhone 4 has a major hardware flaw and a leading consumer-advocacy publication is telling them to stay away. If this isn’t a PR crisis for Apple, I don’t know what is.
Personally, I think the death grip is a non-issue. Given all the complexities of cell-phone networks, the possibility of holding the phone the wrong way is ridiculously insignificant. A rainstorm has more effect on reception, or the number of people simultaneously using the local tower, or the walls of your office building. I believe Apple when it says the iPhone 4’s antenna is the best it’s ever shipped. But real or not, the issue is now firmly equated with the iPhone 4 — the same way the Power Mac Cube was associated with hairline cracks. In the media, no one talked about the Cube without mentioning the cracks — and it doomed the machine.
I also thought the Prius brake problem was a non-issue: a problem that could largely be blamed on Prius drivers — they’re the worst in the world, IMHO — but look what it’s done to Toyota. Apple is no Toyota. It won’t bury its head in the sand, and iPhone reception problems are not a matter of life and death like the brake pedals in cars. But unless Apple acts fast and does something — deny the problem or issue a recall — this is a headache that isn’t going away.