iPhone 4 antenna issues: Apple offers free case or full refund

If you were hoping for a recall to address reception issues with your iPhone 4, prepare to be disappointed. In a last-minute press conference held Friday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that the widely-reported antenna design issues had “been blown so out of proportion that it’s incredible,” and instead offered free cases or full refunds to unhappy customers.

Customers have been complaining loudly about the issue since the iPhone 4 launch in June.  Even Consumer Reports testers experienced problems, prompting the magazine to refuse to recommend the smartphone despite an otherwise glowing review.

iPhone 4 antenna issues: Apple offers free case or full refund

Jobs criticized the numerous media reports regarding the iPhone reception, referring to the situation as “antennagate”, and pointed out that it is not a widespread issue. He explained that AppleCare support representatives have only received complaints from 0.55% of customers, and that the phone had been returned by a mere 1.7%.

He went on to point out that the iPhone 4 is not the only smartphone on the market that drops calls when held in a certain manner. Jobs demonstrated his point by showing videos of BlackBerry, Android, and Windows Mobile phones that all had similar issues. “This is life in the smartphone world. Phones aren’t perfect. It’s a challenge for the whole industry. Every phone has weak spots,” he said.

The free cases, or “bumpers” as Jobs referred to them, wrap around the rim of the iPhone and are supposed to minimize the chances that the users hand will block the wireless signal. Apple is setting up a website next week for customers to request the free cases, which retail for $29. Anyone who has already purchased one can request a refund. Alternately, customers who are unhappy with their iPhone 4 can return it within 30 days of purchase for a full refund.

At the end of the press conference, Jobs also announced that the white iPhone 4 will be available by the end of July, and that a software patch will be released to fix issues with the phone’s proximity sensor.

Some reports are describing Jobs’ attitude during the conference as “arrogant”, and from what I saw this morning I would tend to agree with them. While it’s nice to see the company no longer denying the issue, I found some of Jobs’ remarks to be out-of-line. I’m sure customers who have been experiencing dropped calls due to the design issue would’ve appreciated a bit more modesty as well.