On Friday, Apple
Giving away free cases to disgruntled owners of the new iPhone 4 is an obvious and crowd-pleasing move. In addition, Jobs said Apple would revisit the issue by Sept. 30, the cutoff date for free iPhone cases. I can only assume that a redesigned, varnished, or otherwise improved antenna will be part of that solution going forward, since only a small amount of the expected iPhone 4 sales have actually happened yet. Good job, Steve -- at least you're doing something about the problem.
But there's a downside, too. His Steveness also said that there is no issue -- that he could be fixing what ain't broken. Every smartphone has a weak spot where an obstructive hand will drop signal strength, Jobs argued -- it's just that the iPhone 4's is visually obvious. After namedropping Nokia
The videos covered phones running Android, BlackBerry, and Microsoft
This raised hackles across the industry. RIM and Nokia both issued statements complaining that Apple shouldn't drag them into its own mess. Nokia cops to antenna design being a complex issue, but notes that "we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict."
RIM throws a tantrum: "RIM's customers don't need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity." But both competitors tread very carefully to avoid saying that Apple lied.
Many phones have their antennas in a vulnerable spot at the bottom of the handset, including the best-selling Motorola Droid. But Apple made the problem worse by exposing the physical antenna to open air and conductive, sweaty hands. FCC approvals of antenna designs take awhile, so a wholesale iPhone 4 redesign probably won't surface anytime soon. Maybe that's why Jobs specifically mentioned Sept. 30 as the date to revisit the issue. I'm no lawyer, but it seems reasonable to just cover the darn metal strip in some kind of nonconductive coating. Would that require reapproval by the FCC?
Given the immense promise in the smartphone industry, and the billion-dollar implications of claiming a leadership position early on, I'm not surprised to see companies favoring competition over cooperation. Still, I'm disappointed to see everyone involved acting like spoiled toddlers over this supposedly simple issue.
Will the smartphone makers ever grow up, or should we expect the occasional slapfight until the end of time? Discuss in the comments below.
Microsoft and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value choices. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here, so you can't say that he's holding them wrong. Anders still recalls holding his radio antenna gingerly to boost a weak signal when Springsteen played Stockholm Stadium, but that was 25 years ago. Times have changed. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.