Trouble Ahead for Apple's iPhone 4?

Law firm investigates iPhone 4 complaints, petition pushes Apple for free cases.

June 30, 2010, 6:11 AM

June 30, 2010— -- Apple fans may be snapping up the latest iPhone in record numbers, but that doesn't mean they're all satisfied customers once they bring their new toys home.

In the first three days of its international launch last week, the iPhone 4 found its way into more than 1.7 million hands around the world. The device, touted by CEO Steve Jobs as the "biggest leap" yet from the original iPhone, has had the most successful launch in Apple's history, the company said.

But the otherwise impressive launch has been marred by complaints from customers that holding the phone in a certain way blocks the external antenna, leading to dropped calls and reception issues.

While the old phone had an internal antenna, the new model has an external one. According to tech bloggers and iPhone users, call reception apparently drops when the user's palm covers the bottom left corner of the phone.

Earlier this week, ostensibly responding to the rising chorus of complaints, a California law firm issued a call for customers experiencing the much buzzed about antenna issue.

"If you recently purchased the new iPhone and have experienced poor reception quality, dropped calls and weak signals, we would like to hear from you," the Sacramento firm Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff LLP posted on its website.

On Tuesday, after receiving what it called an "overwhelming response," the firm posted an update saying that "We think that the iPhone 4 is a remarkable device. But it is inherently flawed."

After summing up the antenna-related complaints from customers and possible solutions suggested by Apple, the firm alluded to legal action saying, "We are looking to see what other remedies may be available."

J.R. Parker, an attorney for the firm, told that as of Tuesday afternoon the firm had received more than 400 responses to its investigation notices.

"[The comments] are pretty consistent – when you touch the metal band on the side they get substantially reduced coverage and calls dropped so that phone and data service barely work or doesn't work at all," he said.

Apple: All Phones Have Antenna Issues, Hold iPhone 4 Differently

When asked if the firm intended to file a class action suit, he said, "We'll see. We're still looking into it and we're in the process of taking a look."

Apple did not immediately comment on the law firm's action when contacted by But after the first wave of complaints, the company quickly responded, releasing a statement that said, "Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, depending on the placement of the antennas."

Apple also suggested holding the phone differently, or using a case (or "bumper") with it, which it said would help alleviate the problem.

Later, after an iPhone 4 customer and MacRumors blog reader e-mailed him, Jobs replied with the single line: "There is no reception issue. Stay tuned."

Some tech bloggers interpreted that to mean that the company was considering sending out a software update to fix the issue.

Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief at PC Magazine, said that though the antenna issue is a real one, the sheer number of people who have bought the phone in the past week is contributing to the sense of urgency around the problem.

"The amount of heat around this product is amplifying things. When you sell 1.7 million units in a matter of days, I think everything seems bigger, worse," he said. "Suddenly, the squeaky wheels are the entire audience."

No products sell as fast as Apple products, he said, and that unique situation creates its own set of problems.

But he said that Apple is no doubt monitoring the issue closely and will likely issue a firmware update soon, though what exactly they can do internally with the phone is unknown.

In the meantime, iPhone 4 owners are attempting their own creative workarounds.

According to reports, some are covering the external antenna with pieces of duct tape and nail polish. Others have tied rubber band around the phone.

The tech blog Gizmodo, still at odds with Apple over its exclusive April story on the leaked next-generation iPhone, launched a petition urging Apple to give free cases to all iPhone 4 owners. So far, about 6,700 people have "Liked" the petition on Facebook, with at least another thousand signing it via the blog's comments section.

Tech Analyst: Every iPhone Launch Comes With 'Teething Problems'

But tech analysts familiar with the noise that has surrounded previous iPhone launches say that, though the antenna issue needs to be resolved, this too shall pass.

"With every launch of a new iPhone, we have teething problems," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, adding that problems can be more pronounced when Apple changes the design dramatically, as it did with the iPhone 4.

Apple typically leads with design and then follows with engineering, he said, which can lead to glitches.

But Enderle said that ultimately Apple will find a way to address the problem, though the fix may not come until the company's updated version of the latest model.

"I think Apple will work through this - they typically do - [though] this is a little tougher product launch than we've seen in the past," he said. "But a year from now, we'll probably forget it."

Good Morning America Technology Contributor Becky Worley contributed to this report.

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