Phone Makers on Apple’s Press Conference: Nuh-uh!

Apple called out other smartphone makers during a press conference on Friday to show that the iPhone 4 isn’t the only device to drop signal strength when held, and RIM and Nokia weren’t exactly pleased with what Apple had to say. According to Apple, other big name players in the smartphone market are subject to the same problems, but the iPhone is being singled out.

The Cupertino-based company has been battling bad press over problems some customers have been reporting related to iPhone 4 signal strength loss when holding the combination iPod and smartphone so the lower left corner is covered. The company issued a software patch on Thursday with a more accurate signal strength bar formula, and on Friday announced that it will give all iPhone 4 owners a free case if they want one.

Mr. Jobs demonstrated several popular smartphones showing the same “death grip” problems that have been displayed in YouTube videos and in media reports. Companies that found themselves in Apple’s sites included RIM, Nokia, and Samsung.

RIM CEOs Jim Balsille and Mike Lazaridis fired back by stating “Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation.”

The two went on to say that RIM has been designing wireless data products for over 20 years. “During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage,” they said.

Nokia’s top brass shared a similar sentiment and fired back at Apple with its own statement.

“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models,” the company said. “Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.”

The company added that it has spent thousands of man hours studying how people hold and use their phones so that can avoid just the type of situation Apple is in now.

Not to be left out of the party, Consumer Reports issued its own statement after Apple’s press conference.

“Consumers deserve answers and fairness,” the organization said. “Providing free bumpers and cases is a good first step toward Apple identifying and finding a solution for the signal-loss problem of the iPhone 4.”

The independent product testing group issued a report earlier in the week listing the iPhone 4 at the top of its smartphone list, but failed to recommend the it because its tests showed signal degradation when the lower left corner of the device is covered by user’s hands.

RIM most likely summed up the smartphone industry’s reaction to Apple’s tests in its own statement.

“One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity,” Mr. Balsille and Mr. Lazaridis said. “Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.”

[Thanks to CrackBerry and The Nokia Blog for the heads up]