Steve Jobs, Apple feed backlash with response to iPhone 4 reception complaints

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During Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, Steve Jobs attempts a demo with two new iPhones, but as one screen fails to load a web page, a spectator screams "verizon!"

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By Rob Pegoraro
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Apple has a reception problem.

No, not the one some users of its new iPhone 4 have complained about, in which holding the phone with your hand over a gap between its two antennas on its lower left side weakens the phone's grasp of AT&T's signal.

That's an engineering problem that should be fixable, just as Apple has surmounted earlier technical difficulties, including the botched launch of its MobileMe online service.

But Apple's apparent inability to take customer complaints seriously and respectfully will take more than a Version 1.1 software update or a corrected circuit-board design to fix.

This is an old story with Apple. Although its tech-support representatives, whether on the phone or in the Genius Bars at its stores, can provide terrific one-on-one help, the Cupertino, Calif., company resists getting into public conversations about its business.

Almost alone among tech companies -- or publicly owned companies in general -- it maintains no blog, doesn't interact with customers on Twitter and even issues far fewer press releases than many firms of its size.

Lately, Apple's most visible communications have been the curt replies of chief executive Steve Jobs to e-mails from random customers (and the occasional journalist).

But the strange story of iPhone 4 reception -- it's more of a melodrama by now -- has put Apple's communication breakdown under a harsh spotlight.

First, the company said nothing when some buyers of the new $199-and-up iPhone 4 -- in many aspects a beautiful piece of work -- complained that their new gadget dropped calls when they held it the wrong way.

Then Apple issued a statement suggesting that all phones had this kind of problem and that iPhone 4 users should, as Jobs put it in a widely quoted e-mail, "Just avoid holding it that way."

This dismissive response did not amuse some iPhone 4 owners.

A week later, the company posted a "Letter from Apple Regarding iPhone 4" that chalked the problem up to "totally wrong" software that made mediocre AT&T reception look like a strong signal -- neatly deflecting blame to AT&T, the only carrier to provide service for the iPhone in the United States.


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