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Steve Jobs bio: Handling ‘Antennagate’

Steve Jobs thought that the “Antennagate” issue — the reception problems that hounded the iPhone 4 — was blown out of proportion by Apple’s competitors, Walter Isaacsons’s biography, “Steve Jobs” reveals. The book, on real and virtual shelves today, said that Jobs “insisted that the problem stemmed from Google and Motorola making mischief.”

But Isaacson’s book reveals that Apple was aware of the problems before the phone went to stores, and that the antenna problems were a direct result of the Jobs and product designer Jony Ive’s dedication to form over function.

It’s a common theme in Isaacson’s discussion of life at the company — Ive and Jobs had taken pains to push engineers past what they were comfortable doing in the pursuit of better design. It worked in many cases, as The Post’s Michael Rosenwald points out in his review of the book, but Apple hit a roadblock in this case.

“When it came to designing the iPhone, Ive’s design desires bumped into a fundamental law of physics that could not be changed even by a reality distortion field,” Isaacson wrote. The two men wanted a metal band around the phone to act as an antenna, and didn’t want to coat it with anything. He and Jobs insisted on that even after engineers warned that covering a small gap in the antenna with one’s palm could lead to dropped calls.

But once the media and consumers picked up on the flaw and it became a full-blown customer service issue, the company had to call a special event to address “Antennagate.” There, Jobs recast the problem from being an iPhone-specific issue to one that’s present in many smartphones, a spin that “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams called “genius.”

“If Jobs had not changed the context from the iPhone 4 to all smartphones in general, I could make you a hilarious comic strip about a product so poorly made that it won’t work if it comes in contact with a human hand. But as soon as the context is changed to ‘all smartphones have problems,’ the humor opportunity is gone,” Adams said.

Related stories:

Walter Isaacson’s ‘Steve Jobs’ biography shows Apple co-founder's genius, flaws

Steve Jobs opens up about adoption, loves, faith in new biography

Jobs's final plan: an ‘integrated’ Apple TV

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.



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