Dear Apple: This Is About More Than Just The Antenna

Unless you’re living on the Moon, I think pretty much every internet user has heard about the debacle Apple is facing regarding the iPhone 4’s antenna.  Here’s the short version: Apple introduced the iPhone 4 (andhighlighted its antenna), and pretty much the next day there was a YouTube video showing a user putting his hand on top of the little line on the left-hand side of the phone.  In other words, hold your hand in the wrong place and the phone loses signal.

Apple’s defense up until this point was:

  1. Ignore the problem, ignore your users, and hope it goes away
  2. Tell users to hold the phone differently
  3. Attempt to wow consumers with some nifty looking foam pieces that I swear are from the scene in Armageddon where Bruce Willis is testing his space 4×4 before shooting off to the asteroid (Hint: maybe you shouldn’t publish the photos where the machine is holding the phone)
  4. Inform users about how every other phone manufacturer has the same problem

Seriously? Steve, you sold us on the iPhone in the first place because it was the smarter smartphone!  Do you really think your users, some of the smartest people on Earth, are going to go along with this half-assed reasoning?  In all honesty the only thing this has led us to believe is thatyou are disconnected from reality.

How did this happen?  From 2004-2008, Apple was innovating like no other, providing products that consumers needed and came to love.  Although there were the occasional failures, and some products that just didn’t seem to make sense or weren’t entirely developed, for the most part users came to feel that Apple understood their needs and PC manufacturers didn’t.  I mean hell, they survived the epic of all disasters when the iPhone started dropping calls everywhere.

Then came the unibody: the obsession with making products out of one piece of metal.

It is my firm belief that unibody theory has driven Apple away from its users.  After all, who really cares that their PC was made out of one piece of metal?  I could understand if every device worked perfectly and the only factor in peoples’ minds when they were buying a computer was industrial design, but come on!  You were successful because you made complex things like making movies easy.  You were successful because you run an operating system that isn’t the primary target of malware providers.  You were successful because people like having access to more than one artist at a time when they’re listing to music.  You were successful because we didn’t need both an MP3 player and a phone in our pockets.

YOU WERE NOT SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE YOU MADE A PRODUCT OUT OF ONE PIECE OF ALUMINUM.  You were successful because your laptops looked cool and were light and easy to use.  Over the past two years Apple has been obsessed with unibody theory, putting the unibody in every one of its laptops.  People don’t care that you paid millions to construct the housing around my keyboard with laser guided drills.  People care that their laptop looks cool, is light, and can stand up to a beating.  My favorite laptop of all time was my IBM ThinkPad, because it had steel hinges.  To this day that laptop still opens and closes securely.

I think that a lot of people think that the other shoe will drop when a memo gets leaked from the testers in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude that advised Steve that if you held the phone a certain way, it loses signal.  After you have worked in a large enterprise, one understands that it didn’t matter what any of the testers said.  Why?  Because the CEO is obsessed with design, and the iPhone 4 was designed from the start to use an antenna on the sides of the phone.  It is obvious to me that Apple no longer holds user experience as the first priority — instead, we’ve got agroupthink mentality where the company thinks what really matters is precision engineering.

Steve, it’s time to abandon your obsession with unibody theory.  People don’t care that the product is perfectly engineered.  They care that when they pick it up, they can place a call easily and quickly.  You designed a phone where people who are left handed interfere with the signal.  It’s time to admit you need to encase the antenna in plastic, and you’re going togive away bumper cases until you do.  If you’re obsessed with microns, shouldn’t you be obsessed about the 1% of calls being dropped on the 4 vs. 3GS?  Motorola, RIM and Nokia seem to be able to put antenna performance above exterior design.

And please stop complaining about the issue being blown out of proportion — you’re right, it has been, but when you claim you’re the best you have to face the fact that smaller problems are going to be your biggest issues.

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