In 2010, Apple was in a hot spot. The iPhone 4 had just been released and made record numbers in sales around the world. Customers were satisfied with the product overall, but a major problem had arisen.
Poor coverage in the early versions of the iPhone
Apple’s previous iPhones had a pretty bad reputation for having poor coverage. The earliest versions had only a small antenna, which meant that the number of bars on the display was often few. Before launching the iPhone 4, Apple decided to fix that problem. Instead of a small antenna that was built into the side, the antenna now went around the entire phone, something that would give the iPhone 4 a significantly better signal strength. A thought that was good in theory but bad in practice.
The death grip
Unfortunately, Apple had missed an important detail. When holding the phone to the ear, the fingers ended up around the phone in such a way that the antenna got short-circuited. This meant that instead of giving the phone a powerful coverage, the customers, jet again, saw only a bars of the coverage icon. This came to be called “The death grip”.
It was Gizmodo who first discovered that it was the way they held the phone that caused the coverage to fall. Then, when many other players on the market could recreate the problem, the news spread like wildfire to iPhone users around the world.
This flaw, in the design of the iPhone 4, made customers furious. What you have to understand is that, at the time the iPhone 4 was released, this model was one of the most awaited phones in history. So a serious hardware problem caused many customers to be really disappointed. Some even went so far as to try to demand a readmission of all the iPhone 4, which obviously wasn’t so appealing to Apple, given how big the sales figures had been.
At first Apple, at least outwardly, was confused about the problem. In early testing, neither Apple nor AT&T could explain why an iPhone 4 had lower coverage than an iPhone 3.
When customers, and prominent tech journalists, stood firm, Apple’s response was “just avoid holding the phone that way”.
It was not only the customers who were loud when it came to the antenna scandal. Apple’s competitors also took the opportunity to take the spotlight. Motorola made a full page ad about that you could hold their phone just as you wanted.
”The kind that allows you to hold the phone any way you like to make crystal clear calls…”
An open letter to the customers and a famous press conference
The uproar among customers led Apple to send out an open letter. Apple claimed that the problem was not in the reception itself but instead how the phone showed how strong or weak the reception was. According to Apple, the problem was in the algorithm that calculated how many bars would be displayed on the screen. An update of the software was released shortly thereafter to remedy the problem.
Discontent continued to flourish and when CR Consumer Reports advised consumers not to buy the iPhone 4, Apple held a press conference. This press conference was a rhetorical masterpiece from Steve Jobs.
Here, Jobs showed that other phones also lost coverage when held in a certain way, he showed that only 0.55% of customers had experienced the problem and that the number of returns was much lower than on previous models. He acknowledged that the number of dropped calls was a little higher on the iPhone 4 than his predecessors, but claimed that fewer had bought cases for the iPhone 4 (because the design of the phone was so stylish that people simply did not want a mobile case) which negatively affected the coverage.
Free phone case for all users
It was the theory that fewer had bought cases that affected Apple’s solution to the problem. They offered all iPhone 4 customers a free mobile case, which would prevent the user from touching the antenna directly, thus reducing the risk of short-circuiting.
This was the first big controversy Apple did, and shows that even the really big players can make mistakes, but that a lot can be solved if you keep your head clear and base your actions on what the customer wants.