With all the brouhaha surrounding the iPhone 4 antenna issue, you can’t be blamed for thinking why the brilliant engineers and designers at Apple didn’t realize the new antenna design might cause issues. And if they did— did they inform management about it? You can stop wondering now— Bloomberg reports Apple’s senior engineer and antenna expert Ruben Cabarello raised the concern with management. Interestingly, it wasn’t something noticed at the last moment, a few days before launch, but as early as last year!
According to Bloomberg, a carrier partner also raised the concern with Apple.
The latest model of the iPhone carries a metal antenna that surrounds the outside of the device — a design chosen by Apple executives because it yielded a lighter, thinner handset. It has also resulted in reception problems that led Consumer Reports to refrain from endorsing the iPhone 4, weighed on the company’s shares and stepped up pressure on Apple to issue a fix.
Bloomberg notes Apple is neither commenting on the story, nor making Cabarello available for comment. More in Apple Engineer Told Jobs IPhone Antenna Might Cut Calls.
Daniel Lyons questions in Newsweek:
Shouldn’t Apple have seen this coming? I’m not an engineer, but even I know that if you put your hand on an antenna, you mess up its performance. Yet Apple plowed ahead with the design. That brings me back to that Hertzfeld story from the Macintosh days. Jobs is not an engineer, but he likes to think of himself as a world-class design guru. He believes he is not creating products but art. This is partly why Apple puts so much emphasis on the way things look. But this time around, I think Jobs got seduced by what seemed to be a really cool and clever design, and his engineers couldn’t talk him out of it.
Senator Chuck Schumer wrote to Steve Jobs today demanding Apple “set the record straight on glitch affecting new iPhone, and provide a fix for the ‘death grip’ problem fee of charge”:
I ask that Apple provide iPhone 5 customers with a clearly written explanationof the cause of the reception problem and make a public commitment to remedy it free-of-charge.
Apple is holding a press conference on Friday (7/16), possibly to discuss how it’ll address the issue.
- July 6: The Curious Case of iPhone 4 Antenna and Reception Issues
- July 7: History bites back: Apple iPhone 4′s “Grip of Death”
- July 12: Consumer Reports confirms iPhone 4 design flaw: Will Apple admit?
- July 14: Real-World iPhone 4 “Grip of Death”
Also of interest, the iPhone 4’s issues with Exchange ActiveSync (EAS):
Innovation, Design, and Attitude
There’s no denying that Apple products are some of the more inspiring pieces of industrial design we’ve seen in recent times. Whether it’s the aluminium case of Apple’s computer products— the MacBooks, the iMac, the iMac, or the sexy Mac Mini (even sexier in its new form), or the simplified user interfaces that allow you to do a few things well, Apple products are nothing if not well-designed. The iPhone 4 is clearly a beautiful device with many great features, remarkable for its design. Needless to say, innovation and making bold product design decisions comes with its own risks.
However, flawed as it is, this entire Antenna-Gate episode isn’t really about the antenna. It’s about Apple’s attitude, and how it treats its customers. Here are the recent events, in light of this revelation:
- Steve Jobs, knowing about the antenna concerns raised by its own antenna expert, chose to respond to an Apple customer with “you’re holding it wrong”!
- Apple, knowing about the concerns raised by its own engineers at the design stage, and by its carrier before the iPhone 4 was released, chose to release the device nevertheless.
- As pressure from customers and the media increased, Apple responded with its now famous “We’re stunned” response, blaming the issue on the “wrong formula” used to display the signal bars on the iPhone 4.
- In the above response, Apple also dragged competitors’ devices in the argument, and also stated that previous iPhone models suffered from the same issue!
- User complaints and plenty of demos on YouTube and other sites, and perhaps thousands of blog posts and tens of thousands of tweets later, Apple still hasn’t acknowledged the issue as a design flaw, nor provided a remedy.
- It took very clear, credible, and scientific demo from Consumer Reports and the resulting decline in Apple stock, however little, for Apple to announce a press conference.
As cries of product recall grow louder, a certain section of the media and the blogosphere calls the idea baseless. Financial analysts are already calculating the cost of a recall.
All this is easily fixed by acknowledging the design flaw, and providing a free iPhone 4 bumper to customers. Apple chose not to do either, although this may change tomorrow. (InfoWorld’s Robert Cringely concludes: If Apple had done that from the get go, we’d all be talking about something more interesting right now, like Lindsay Lohan or those Russian spies.) As much as we may love Apple’s products, these revelations should make us think twice before buying an Apple product.