PR Expert Says Apple Did Recall iPhone, Predicts Redesign

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PR expert Matt Seeger said Apple did issue a recall last Friday by providing iPhone 4 customers with free Bumper cases.

“From my perspective, this was a classic case of a recall,” said Seeger, who is chair of the Department of Communication at Wayne State University in Detroit. “They said, ‘Bring the product in, we’ll retrofit it.’ It’s not what most people think of as a recall, which is a safety issue. But this was a recall.”

Last week, Seeger and other experts in PR crisis management predicted that an iPhone 4 recall was “inevitable.”

Seeger said the term “recall” is fairly broad, and in academic terms, is associated with several kinds of retrofit or repair.

“There are many kinds of recalls and a voluntary recall where the company retrofits a new part to address a defect is a recall,” he said. In the car industry, for example, the kinds of recalls are known as service bulletins.

However, most people associate the word with safety recalls — voluntary or government-mandated product returns — which involve the physical return of a product.

“It’s a fairly broad term,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what Apple calls it. Whether Apple calls it a ‘present’ or a ‘fix’ is moot. The operative point is that Apple is trying to fix the problem.”

On Friday, Steve Jobs held a quickly organized press conference to address iPhone 4 reception problems. Jobs said all smartphones suffer from reception issues when held tightly, but nonetheless offered customers a free Bumper case or the chance to return their phones without paying a restocking fee.

However, Seeger said Apple’s offer of free Bumpers is a short-term fix, and that the company will have to redesign the iPhone 4 antenna.

“The long-term problem is not fixed,” he said. “This is about the brand image of Apple and how it responds to problems like this. They’re going to have to come back with a redesigned antenna to address the long-term problem.”

Likewise, Consumer Reports has said the offer of free cases is a short-term fix.

Seeger didn’t have a time-frame for the redesigned antenna, except to say it probably wasn’t any time soon. Apple will offer free cases until Sept. 30, when some have predicted the company may offer a new iPhone design or other hardware solution.

In fact, during Friday’s press conference, Steve Jobs hinted that a new antenna design was already underway.

“We will continue to work on more advanced antenna designs that don’t have this problem or put this problem in an out-of-the-way place,” Jobs said.