AntennaGate: the Opponents Speak Up

Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs had a very persuasive and compelling argument in last Friday’s press conference meant to defend his company’s flagship product from countless criticism based on an antenna that mistakenly lowers the device’s reception when held in a particular way. However, part of his argument involved showing similar smartphones from rival companies that also drop in signal when held in a very specific way; as a result, several companies felt victimized by Jobs’ method and have decided to voice their opinion about it in one way or another.

It’s not as though these companies have much of a choice. After all, their products were just called out and even demonstrated by a direct competitor, showing that these phones are just as faulty as the all-powerful iPhone 4. Obviously in an effort to save himself and his company, Jobs was willing to point the finger in other directions to show that there’s nothing actually wrong with his product, no matter how bad it made these other companies look. Now everyone will be trying to duplicate the same effects on reception as Jobs demonstrated, so what if the general public starts believing that their products are faulty too?

(image courtesy Slashgear)

Naturally, then, each phone maker came out with either a press release or statement over the weekend in reaction to the Apple press conference. Here’s what each affected company had to say.

RIM

Research in Motion was one of the most offended companies. Co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Basillie’s statement says:

“Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. 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.”

HTC

Though not an official statement, PR Chief Eric Lin mentioned that the complaint rate of its products featured in the press conference are less than the iPhone 4’s .55%.

Samsung

“The antenna is located at the bottom of the Omnia 2 phone, while iPhone’s antenna is on the lower left side of the device. Our design keeps the distance between a hand and an antenna. We have fully conducted field tests before the rollout of smartphones. Reception problems have not happened so far, and there is no room for such problems to happen in the future.”

Nokia

While Nokia wasn’t actually called out by name, they still made it a point to keep their name in the clear anyways.

“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature.

Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.

In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.”

It’s no coincidence that every company in the world would take offense to this kind of negative publicity, whether this particular piece affects them or not. The harsh reality is that Jobs’ demonstrations actually worked, making the publicity even worse for these specific products, just so Apple’s stock could recover in time for the weekend.

Sure, no phone is perfect and flawless, especially when it comes to antenna design. But isn’t it a bit obvious what kind of reaction will come as a result of this kind of blame-deflecting? It appears that the PR wars are only beginning; I certainly can’t blame any of these companies for being upset, but now I wonder to what extent this fight will be taken.

Was Jobs in the wrong for calling other phonemakers out, or does it just give those companies an incentive to make more competitive products with the antenna issue actually fixed? Seems to me that most of those companies I mentioned earlier are so stubborn they don’t actually think anything is wrong with the antennas in their own products.

So you heard the opponents give their piece, now it’s your turn. Sound off in the comments below to tell us what you think about the back and forth banter between Apple and these other phone manufacturers.

Author: Brad Molen

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