It would have been too much for Steve Jobs just to say "I'm sorry."
Deep down, we all knew that would never happen. In the world of Steve Jobs, after all, everything is "beautiful," "magical," and "revolutionary." "Flawed" doesn't exactly fit into that flowery-adjective-filled utopia.
So when Jobs took the stage at Apple's Cupertino headquarters on Friday, it was no surprise he came across as smug and defiant. Jobs, maintaining the position he'd taken from the start, insisted that his iPhone 4 was not performing below par. Despite the fact that the device, thanks to its unique wrap-around external antenna, has a tendency to drop calls when held with your left hand -- as confirmed by Consumer Reports -- Jobs said there was no real problem.
His rationalization: Plenty of other phones drop calls if you touch their antennas, too. "It turns out it's certainly not unique to the iPhone 4," Jobs declared.
Unfortunately, that logic is just as flawed as the iPhone itself.
Apple's iPhone 4 Argument: An Unparallel Comparison
Jobs devoted a good 10 minutes to talking about antenna-related issues on non-Apple phones. One of the phones on which he focused was Verizon's HTC Droid Eris Android device.
Our Apple man showed a video demonstrating decreased reception when the Droid Eris's antenna was blocked by a user's hand. As the video illustrates, Jobs is correct: Placing your entire hand over the area where Droid Eris's antenna resides will cause reception to drop. The problem is that the Droid Eris's antenna isn't actually in a place where any user puts his hand during normal use.
The Droid Eris has an internal antenna located toward the top-center of the phone's back side. This is no secret: HTC's Droid Eris manual includes a diagram showing this location and advising users to avoid skin contact with this area during phone calls.
Grab your cell phone right now and hold it up to your ear. Is your hand touching that location? Probably not; you'd have to go out of your way in order to hold the phone in such a manner.
The same applies to the other smartphones Jobs mentioned: On the BlackBerry Bold 9700, for example, the internal antenna is located toward the bottom-center of the phone's back side. As CIO's Al Sacco demonstrates, you'd have to intentionally hold the phone in an odd and awkward manner in order to cover this spot and achieve any signal-dropping effect.
The iPhone 4, in contrast, has its antenna on the outside, in a place where lots of people put their fingers. That's the difference -- and that's the key piece of information Steve Jobs neglected to mention when trying to defend his phone by bashing others. It's easy to see why Jobs omitted this information; its very presence makes his argument invalid.
Equally invalid is the rash of blog posts now claiming -- in perfect Jobsian logic -- that Android-powered devices like the Samsung Galaxy S also share the iPhone 4's one-touch call-dropping effect. These devices, like the Eris and the BlackBerry Bold, have antennas in unobtrusive places that are not impacted by any type of normal grip. And since their antennas are internal, even intentional interference won't usually cause enough attenuation for a call to completely drop. It just isn't an issue. One by one, the handset manufacturers are coming forward themselves to scoff at the attention-diverting claims.
The reality here is simple: Jobs and his team chose design over function when creating the iPhone 4. No amount of misleading comparisons or flowery adjectives can mask that. (One of my favorite remarks from Friday's Apple presentation: "We went to a lot of trouble to put this really beautiful line in the stainless steel" -- referring to the line that, when touched, causes your call to drop.)
That's ridiculous. It's absurd. But that's nothing new. Apple has a history of making ridiculous claims and having them accepted by an adoring fan base and worshipful press. With the launch of iPhone 4, for example, Apple pretended it had invented video chat -- something that has been around elsewhere for years.
I guess when you're dealing in "magic," the rules of reality don't apply.JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tantalizing technology. He's on both Twitter and Facebook; come say hello.