Apple CEO Steve Jobs adopted an unusually defensive tone last week at a press conference to address the controversy over Apple’s latest iPhone model, which can lose reception if a palm or finger blocks the device’s lower left corner. With Apple usually the subject of glowing press, Jobs appeared visibly annoyed at the whole “antenna-gate” affair, and even took a potshot at the assembled media. “This has been blown so out of proportion—it’s incredible,” Jobs said as he paced back and forth across a stage.
While he was careful to stress that customer satisfaction was a priority (unhappy users will get a full refund or free rubber case, which appears to correct the problem when slipped on the phone), Jobs maintained that there wasn’t anything wrong with the smartphone’s design, which incorporates an antenna into a metal band that wraps around the device’s edge. He said only about half a per cent of the three million iPhone 4s sold have resulted in antenna-related complaints. Jobs then showed videos of BlackBerry, HTC and Samsung devices experiencing similar problems (although the iPhone’s weak spot appears to be in a particularly bad place based on the way people usually hold a cellphone).
Not surprisingly, Apple’s rivals took issue with the comparison—particularly BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion. “Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple,” said the company’s co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis in a statement.
While the dust-up is unlikely to hurt iPhone sales—indeed, the device remains one of the most talked about on the planet—it nevertheless points to a potential downside of Apple’s success. Carmi Levy, an independent analyst and commentator, says Jobs’s reputation as a perfectionist has helped push Apple to the forefront of the industry, but has also raised consumer expectations about its products to lofty levels. “Little things can quickly become big things,” Levy says. “When Steve Jobs sneezes, the world notices.”