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Dear Apple, you’ve lost the iPhone 4 case gamble so pay up



Now that Consumer Reports has cemented the point on the iPhone 4’s antenna problem, I feel it’s safe to share my theory that Apple knew about the problems all along and were betting that we’d all solve them on our own with cases. Sorry Apple, it was a strategically sound bet, but you lost this one.

The basic gamble here is straightforward enough. Most iPhone users put their phones in cases anyway, so Apple designed the iPhone 4 around that assumption. Sure enough, most of the flaws specific to the 4 are remedied by a case. They include:

  1. Glass panel connects with drop surface on falls. The guys at iFix Your i claimed this design flaw when they noted the steel frame offers no protection to the glass panel when dropped face flat. Apple’s iPhone 4 Bumper has a raised rubber edge to prevent this.
  2. Square steel edges are uncomfortable in hand. I noted this when I first got my iPhone 4, mentioned it a few weeks ago, and even a genius at the Apple store brought it up without prompting. The 4 is just uncomfortable to hold. Oh, but the Bumper has nice, soft, rounded rubber edges.
  3. The back is too darn slick. That oleophobic coating makes it wonderfully easy to wipe away fingerprints, but it also makes the 4 a frictionless wonder. Hard to pluck from my pocket, impossible to rest on a slightly rounded surface. That grippy rubber Bumper sure fixes that problem though.
  4. And finally, there’s that magic spot on the lower left that kills wireless signals on contact, like a can of Raid smashing a cockroach. Can’t touch that spot if there’s a Bumper in the way, can you?

See where I’m going with this? Every design flaw specific to the iPhone 4 can be magically remedied by Apple’s Bumper, the first and only case they’ve ever released for the iPhone, which they happened to have ready to sell on day one. With the Bumper on, it’s still possible to degrade its 3G signal with the “Death Grip” but that’s a general wireless problem. For problems specific to the iPhone 4, there is a simple Apple-designed fix.

Futhermore, the straight edges on the 4 make it a lot easier to design and fit a case for it. Instead of working around that curved back, there are only four rounded corners to accommodate. Thanks to the slimmed down design, bulking it up with a case doesn’t necessarily turn the 4 into a chubby brick. If you saw the iPhone 4 for the first time with Bumper attached and hadn’t already seen it naked, you’d never know the Bumper was an attachment.

So if Apple knew about the problems and designed the Bumper to address them, why didn’t they include Bumpers with the 4? Short answer: money. If people buy cases anyway, why give them away? More importantly, including a case would have screwed their accessory partners. While the iPad is swimming in accessories, the iPhone is practically drowning in them, especially cases. While that’s incredibly helpful to the brand, it also forces Apple to limit what accessories to offer themselves. Had they included one with the 4, a lot of partners would have been upset. At the same time, they had to have a solution for the design problems, so the balance was to make the Bumper optional. And that’s where their bet fell apart.

Had they instead included the Bumper with the 4 as an interchangeable accessory, promoting the idea that it be swapped with other Bumpers and cases to customize the “naked” iPhone 4, they could have addressed the design problems from the beginning and sated their accessory partners. Anyone who discovered one of the flaws could simply be told “the included Bumper addresses the issue”, rather than be told to drop an extra $30 on a fix for an intrinsic problem. People can’t get too mad about a problem if they already have the fix, but they get plenty angry when they’re told a fix costs more money.

Bottom line: I believe Apple screwed up on this one but not in the way most people think. I can believe if they missed one flaw with the design, but four that share a single fix which Apple already offers? There is no way that’s a coincidence.

Apple, it’s time to swallow your pride, admit the problem (if not your attempt to sneak it by us), and make reparations. Include Bumpers with every iPhone 4, hand them out to everyone who already got an iPhone 4 and didn’t buy a Bumper, and properly compensate those of us who already bought both (40 SIM cards is not proper compensation). Oh, and maybe if you’d taken the time to “think different” and not like accountants and lawyers, you could have dodged all this bad press and ill will in the first place.



  1. Ted Williams

    07/12/2010 at 3:17 pm

    During beta testing this flaw was exposed.
    I’m tired of passing this information on, its time the Justice Department get involved in this and bring a lawsuit about this coverup. Apple knew about this long before release and told us beta testers to shut up about it or risk loosing our beta status.

    • geek

      07/12/2010 at 11:48 pm

      it is disgusting !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Fleon

    07/12/2010 at 3:44 pm

    I’m not sure EVERY flaw is fixed by your case…

    What about the proximity sensor issue?
    Or the camera freezing issue?
    The Exchange problems?
    And what’s up with the yellow-tinted LCDs?

    Face it, the thing is a lemon.

    • Sumocat

      07/12/2010 at 4:00 pm

      I referred quite specifically to the design flaws. What you’re citing are software problems and a adhesive-not-yet-cured problem.

      • Fleon

        07/13/2010 at 7:57 am

        Exchange is probably a software issue- the other three are tied to hardware, so neither of us can tell if it’s related to hardware failure or not.

        Regardless, they are all design flaws, in the strict legal definition of the word.

  3. Sammy

    07/12/2010 at 3:53 pm

    You’re all a bunch of whiners — just waiting for some insignificant little controversy or criticism. Stop it! If you don’t like your iPhone, take it back. Mine works just fine and I get absolutely NO signal drop whenever I cover it with my hands-or even my cat. I’m tired of you and I’m really tired of people who complain about having to pay $3 or $4 for an app, or even $10 or $12 for some of the great games. You probably give Starbucks more than that every day without a whimper. Grow up. If you don’t like Apple, take your business somewhere else.

    • Sumocat

      07/12/2010 at 4:05 pm

      I don’t see why I can’t like Apple and call on them to take ownership of a problem they tried to skirt. Seems more reasonable than claiming the iPhone 4 can defy the laws of physics.

  4. Adam

    07/12/2010 at 5:09 pm

    I know this is a controversial topic- one that’s brought fanatics from various camps onto message boards and blogs across the web… but I’ll comment anyway.

    The iPhone 4 is the first iPhone I’ve had, and I can (of course) drop the bars by wrapping my left hand around the bottom left corner of the phone (albeit not quite as quickly as they seem to drop in the many videos on YouTube documenting the problem). Heck, I can drop those bars, even when it’s in the minimalistic clear Belkin Grip Vue case that I picked up for it (which covers the sensitive area of the device). Also, when I first got the phone, I had a small area of yellowish discoloring in the bottom right corner of the screen. It has subsequently faded away.

    I’ve been on AT&T for quite some time… and this is the best phone I’ve had. Call quality has been superb (knock on wood), and as far as I know I’ve received all of my calls. When someone calls my phone it’s almost absolutely certain that the phone will be in my pocket or lying face up on some sort of flat surface. When I hold the phone to talk (I am right handed) I don’t end up covering up the bottom left area of the device.

    Battery life. Battery life. Battery life. The phone has decent battery life. This is more than can be said about most netbooks, laptops, and (most obviously) Tablet PCs. I’ve used a PC all of my life… Windows 7 is great… but until only recently can I get 8-12 hours out of a mobile computer… and that’s with a CULV. What I’m saying is this: Is a problem with the iPhone that only ends up effecting part of it’s user base so much worse than the subpar battery life of any and all PCs (Mac isn’t worth mentioning due to lack of market/category penetration…. when you only make one kind of laptop, it better have great battery life)?

    Maybe my high expectations leave me forever disappointed, and so I don’t see a real problem in this dropped bars ‘thing’. Seriously though…. can I get an amen on wanting awesome battery life?


    *I pecked away on my iPad to write this, so I apologize for any and all grammatical errors and ridiculous sounding sentences.

  5. Ned

    07/12/2010 at 9:31 pm

    I’m writing this post on my iPhone while my hands are comfortably resting on the Square steel edges. No signal drop. No discomfort. I’m not sure what everyone is complaining about. I can’t make the phone drop a bar if I TRY to.

  6. Medic

    07/13/2010 at 12:26 am

    Aside from the iPhone 4 signal issue, I think it is a little bit harsh to degrade the iPhone on style design issues. It looks like a very nice phone and has plenty of functionality. The fact that it breaks on a fall sounds very logical to me, especially when there is glass on the front and back. Glass has the tendency to break on a great force. It is naive to think that any case frame can optimally protect glass without an aditional case. I also wouldn’t want to intentionally drop an iPhone as it a phone to use, not to drop. Certainly looking at its purchase price I would think twice not to protect it. It have an HTC HD2 with a bigger glass capacative screen.
    If fear of dropping, comfort, too slik is the issue, a good option would be a nokia.

    • Sumocat

      07/13/2010 at 5:59 am

      These aren’t issues; they’re choices. They chose to make a glass phone that’s hard to hold and easy to drop because they intended for them to be put in grippy, comfortable cases. That would have been a fine choice had they bothered to include a grippy, comfortable case, but they opted to make it cost extra instead. That was the wrong choice, and they should have been prepared to lose this gamble. They can’t win every time.

  7. Dennisvjames

    07/13/2010 at 6:49 am

    Amen Sumocat. If any other manufacturer had done this they would have been toast (re: Kin, Toyota, etc.). The Steve Distortion Cloud can’t cover this up. It’s either give up the bumpers or do a recall.

  8. iphone 4 case

    07/13/2010 at 12:05 pm

    Every iPhone user is very keen to get amazing accessories with his iPhone. Manufacturing companies also know the eagerness and they continuously launching new and exciting accessories.The selection of an case for an iPhone is a matter of requirement and priorities. Luckily, there is no paucity of options available.

  9. iPhone 4 Case

    07/14/2010 at 6:14 am

    I agree Apple should do something more than just issue statements.

    Here’s hoping that the software update will be able to solve the problem so case can be closed.

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