What do you do when your product doesn't work as well as expected? Blame the buyer. That's what Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) is doing. The Mac maker is telling users suffering reception problems with the just-released iPhone 4 to hold their handsets differently.

Rather than an overloaded AT&T (NYSE: T) network, this time the issue is antenna placement. Reception degrades noticeably when users' hands cover the black band located on the lower left of the newest iPhone, media reports say.

So far, Apple isn't treating this as a serious issue. "Just avoid holding [the iPhone] in that way," CEO Steve Jobs told a buyer who reported the problem to him via email.

Engadget published the note, which was sent by a tipster.

Apple's official response to the blogger was no less contrite:

Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases. [Emphasis added.]

That last line is the key. I've had my first-generation iPhone for more than two years now and I've never been without a case for it; I'm too afraid of fumbling and destroying it. I know plenty of iPhone owners who harbor similar fears.

Judging solely by my own observations, uncased iPhones are the exception rather than the rule, which means -- technically, at least -- Apple is probably right to downplay the severity of this issue.

But being right isn't what matters in instances like these. Compassion and care are far more important. In being dismissive, Apple is making it easier for users to abandon an otherwise outstanding handset in favor of up-and-coming Android models from Motorola (NYSE: MOT) and HTC, among others.

Put another way: Calling your customers dumb isn't likely to get you anywhere, Apple.