Should Apple Offer Every iPhone 4 Owner a Free Bumper?

| Editorial

The recent events surrounding the so-called iPhone 4 Death Grip, antenna signal degradation, and external antenna design have prompted some to suggest that Apple provide every iPhone customer with a free bumper. That question is, is that a viable strategy right now?

An attorney who is familiar with Apple and the events so far has provided TMO with some background that helps clarify how legal events will proceed. It’s not just a question of Apple offering a free bumper at this point.

iPhone 4

First, Apple needs to have its own technical understanding of the problem. Field evidence, tests conducted by Websites, and anecdotal evidence just isn’t sufficient. Given that some of the testing before release may have been conducted with a case designed to make the iPhone 4 look like a 3GS, the process may have provided Apple with non-definitive data. It’s time for Apple engineers to go back to the lab and provide Apple executives and chief legal counsel with their best estimate of the problem and potential remedies.

The next thing to consider is that the several class action lawsuits in progress cannot be avoided by simply admitting liability and being done with it. That would be premature.

Assuming Apple develops and understanding of the problem and comes up with a fix, a possible settlement can be published in what’s called the class notice (for the class action lawsuit). In that notice, Apple can propose a remedy without admitting a problem. It’s important to note that a proposed remedy cannot be used as evidence by the plaintiffs.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument that Apple does come to an understanding about how to fix the problem on current models. The members of the class action lawsuits could agree to accept the remedy or opt to stay with the lawsuit, betting on whether they’ll get a more robust remedy. Alternatively, Apple could offer a discount coupon on an iPhone 5 if a good fix isn’t possible.

In any case, it’s not wise for Apple to just jump in, admit liability at this point until it knows more. All that would do, anyway, is to shortcut the the trial and jump directly to the penalty phase. Apple needs time to fully understand the issues first.

A couple of additional points made by our legal observer: While efforts to propose a remedy in the class notice can’t be held against Apple by the plaintiffs, recent e-mail remarks by Steve Jobs, if proven authentic could be. So it’s important for Apple to work only through the general counsel’s office. After all, the iPhone is marketed as a wonderful, magical device a cut above the rest. So Apple needs to be careful about what its CEO says on the record.

Next, there were reports recently that Apple support personnel were advised not to make an ad hoc offer of a bumper. That’s not because a bumper is ineffective or it would cost too much money. A bumper probably costs Apple US$5 to make. Rather, if at some point, Apple decides that a bumper is the right kind of remedy to offer, and that’s not for sure, it should be done through the formal legal process, not in one-off support cases.

Finally, by not admitting liability and seeking to have a definitive understanding of the problem, Apple may find that a field solution, if accepted by the vast majority of the class, could take the wind out the sails of the plaintiffs. If that happened, there wouldn’t be much point in continuing the trial because not enough money would be made by the plaintiff attorneys. They’ll be faced with that choice down the road.

In summary, Apple has a lot to gain by having an accurate, engineering understanding of the problem and a remedy acceptable to the court. In time, the class action suits could very well dissipate as customers agree with Apple that a proposed fix satisfies them. Don’t look for Apple to just roll over, admit any liability at this point, and rush to offer a free bumper — especially if there is a smarter, more effective solution, say, a special coating.

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Note this editorial is opinion, not legal advice, and is meant to provide insights into events surrounding the iPhone 4 antenna issue.

Comments

MyRightEye

$5 to make a bumper? That’s being very generous. I would say no more than $0.40.

Lee Dronick

Bumper of champagne

My opening position is not at this time. Let us find the cause and see about a recall, bumper, software update, or whatever is necessary rectify the problem.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

This episode is exemplary of why I’m not doing any business with Apple anymore. And John, your explanation of how legal infuses a customer support issue just reinforces it. This antenna fiasco has been in Apple’s DNA for going on two years. It is born of arrogance at the top. It is born of an attitude that expects secrets to stay secret and keeps ridiculous secrets out of fear.

First, Apple needs to separate legal from support. Two separate issues. If you get into a position where you can’t help your customers deal with an issue because the lawyers say it makes your case complicated, then you fire the lawyers and hire ones who will be complicit in solving customer issues.

Second, on the support front… Apple’s script for this should have read:

1. Tell the customer that we are investigating the problem and don’t have good data yet to evaluate the scope of the problem and the effectiveness of proposed solutions.

2. Ask the customer if she thinks that the bumper will make any difference. If she thinks it might, offer her a voucher to pick one up in store or online.

3. If customer does not think bumper will work, ask if customer has an older generation iPhone and offer to have genius transition her number back to her previous model.

4. If customer wants to return iPhone over this defect, offer a 3GS as a replacement with free upgrade to iPhone 4 anytime in next 3 months, since we should have this matter fully understood and resolved in that time frame.

Third, you do this in good faith and win the PR war before the battle goes to court. Right now, the class action lawyers have already won the PR and inflicted heavy damage on public perception of iPhone 4. However the lawsuits turn out, the financial impact is negligible compared to the sullied reputation Apple is getting for how it handled this from a support perspective.

MyRightEye

“Right now, the class action lawyers have already won the PR and inflicted heavy damage on public perception of iPhone 4.”


Um, ROTFLMAO….  Umm… No! They have not. Dude, outside of us Apple geeks, no one has ever heard of any antenna issue.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Um, ROTFLMAO?.? Umm? No! They have not. Dude, outside of us Apple geeks, no one has ever heard of any antenna issue.

It’s just the lead recurring story on Gizmodo, Engadget, and is alluded to prominently in upcoming Droid X ads. Not to mention the Nokia blog post about holding your Nokia anyway you want. OK, nobody else has heard of it.

Here’s a mention in the NY Times from a week ago, before this really blew up.

Lee Dronick

outside of us Apple geeks, no one has ever heard of any antenna issue.

Well it has been on the TV news, but outside of sports and entertainment news how many people watch tech and business news.

MyRightEye

Go down to the Apple Store and start asking people looking at the iPhone 4s if they know anything about the antenna issue. If you can find ONE, I’ll give you $100.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Go down to the Apple Store and start asking people looking at the iPhone 4s if they know anything about the antenna issue. If you can find ONE, I?ll give you $100.

I’m not getting your point, other than it was wrong to begin with. You said that only Apple geeks know about this. I linked to mainstream news coverage and mentioned wider tech coverage.

You’re not defending Apple’s right to sell a defective product to the public and stonewall purchasers who want the defects resolved, right?

Tiger

Here is a compilation story of testing, anecdotes, and possible solutions.

Physics of the iPhone 4 ‘antenna issue’

Considering it’s really the sweat in the hand that completes the connection to cause the issue, a drop of rubber cement over the black strip will probably provide a simple enough solution.

Yeah, they can fix this. I wonder if other phone makers will have to fix theirs?????

Tiger

Oh, btw, how hard is it to buy a case that fixes this? It’s not like Apple’s $30 solution is the only choice. ANY case that removes the hand from the surface over the black strip will negate the issue.

So, whip out $4 and buy one.

iPhone 4 cases

craigf

Yes, it’s dumb that Apple’s antenna experts didn’t see this problem arising, but geez folks, what a tempest in a teapot!

1. Do any of the rubes who answered the bottom-feeding lawyers solicitations for interest in a class action have any slightest understanding of how much the lawyers will get out of it and how little the rubes will receive in the event of a win? Probably not enough to buy a bumper if recent history is any guide.

2. I know all about this issue and it will have no bearing whatsoever on my purchase of an unlocked iPhone 4 from the Apple store as soon as they are available in Canada, because I can’t imagine not protecting it with a bumper or a full case. I suppose if I could afford an iPhone but not a case, I’d put a .01 cent strip of tape or drop of clear nail polish over the antenna gap to prevent my sweaty little hands affecting it.

Savage

Go down to the Apple Store and start asking people looking at the iPhone 4s if they know anything about the antenna issue. If you can find ONE, I?ll give you $100

Guess what, I got here from a Google lead story. And I am not an Apple or iPhone owner. I might want one, but I wouldn’t buy one anytime soon.
People know and if they don’t, they will soon enough.

Please pay up!

AndroidOne

Android Rulez!! iPhone mustdie!

other side

Here’s one of the world’s greatest high-tech companies, and the best they can do is a… bumper?

I’d much rather prefer a well-designed smartphone that actually worked.

Lancashire-Witch

Here?s one of the world?s greatest high-tech companies, and the best they can do is a? bumper?

Nope. Here’s one of the world’s greatest legal systems, and the best it can do is - make loads of money.
I prefer not to engage a lawyer unless there’s no other alternative.

clunker

1. Do any of the rubes who answered the bottom-feeding lawyers solicitations for interest in a class action have any slightest understanding of how much the lawyers will get out of it and how little the rubes will receive in the event of a win? Probably not enough to buy a bumper if recent history is any guide.

We should be thrilled if a class-action paid iPhone 4 owners anywhere near enough to buy a bumper.

In most class actions the lawyers get nice additions to their Caribbean estates, while the rest of us might get enough to cover the postage for filing a claim…

mehrman

The problem could only belong to a certain production run or runs and not a problem to all iPhone 4’s.  As long as the problem can be proved model wide then a model wide solution or remedy needs to be found.  If only certain production runs have this problem, assuming there is one, then those phones will probably be fixed or replaced.  We will just have to see what transpires.

Gabriel

Yes everyone who pre order the new iPhone should get A free bumper why the he’ll not

Lee Dronick
MyRightEye
Nemo

It appears that John’s analysis of this issue was both prescient and wise.  Apple has issued a statement on the iPhone 4’s alleged degradation of reception, when held in certain ways.  That allegation is false.  See http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2010/07/02appleletter.html?sr=hotnews.rss.  In its statement on and explanation of this phony issue, Apple explains that the perceived degradation in the iPhone 4’s reception is merely the result of the iPhone 4 improperly calculating the signal strength.  That is a software problem for which Apple will issue a software fix.  There is no hardware problem with the iPhone 4’s reception.

For all those who take such joy in castigating Apple for offense real and, in this case, imagined, I sympathize with your grief at this turn of events.  But I am sure that you will soon be scolding Apple for something else, since you need but the slightest rumor, innuendo, perceived slight, or sheer imagining to support your calumny.

mehrman

Now the attorneys will file a lawsuit for deceptive advertising as Apple was not accurately displaying signal strength or some similar stupid thing.  All I know is that my iPhone 4 works as well, if not better, than my iPhone 3GS.

R2D2

R2D2 here,

Apple Inc. said Friday that it was “stunned” to find that its iPhones have for years been using a “totally wrong” formula to determine how many bars of signal strength they are getting.  Since Job?s first fix ?you?re holding it wrong? did not sell well he now has the solution: Use software to pretend that the hardware is working.  Yeah, that?s the ticket.  Oh, and that new software will also make you weigh ten pounds less and will add 10K to your bank account.  Ahhhhhhahahahaha!  Oops, help me Obi-Wan!  I laughed so hard I fell over and can?t get up.

It?s July and hot on Earth.  Better drink up that Kool-Aid.

No such problems with my Droids.  The hardware is the best in the galaxy.  You earthlings can expect another delivery very soon.  The Millennium Falcon has just jumped to hyperspace to get my Droids there without delay.

The Force is with us!  R2D2

geoduck

The Recent Remarks by Steve Jobs are a fake. http://www.macrumors.com/2010/07/01/apple-pr-latest-steve-jobs-email-exchange-is-fake/

As to the rest of the article. It sounds to me like the Class Action Attorneys are making the situation worse. (As they nearly always do). If it weren’t for the threat of legal action and the problem with admitting liability Apple might be able to offer temporary solutions until they figure out if the bug is real and what to do about it. As it is they have to couch every response in terms of how it would look in court. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the courtroom is the WORST place to sort out the truth regarding a scientific or technical issue. Remember Clarence Darrow lost in the Scopes Case.

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