Apple gives free iPhone cases to help with reception issues

Associated Press

CUPERTINO, Calif. — A perfect iPhone? There’s no app for that.

Apple Inc. will give free protective cases to buyers of its latest iPhone to prevent reception problems that occur when people cover a certain spot on the phone with a bare hand.

CEO Steve Jobs apologized Friday to people who are less than satisfied with the iPhone 4, even as he denied it has an antenna problem that needs fixing.

“We’re not perfect,” Jobs said at a news conference. “Phones aren’t perfect.”

The more than 3 million people who have already bought an iPhone 4 can go to Apple’s website starting late next week and sign up for a free case, he said. Apple can’t make enough of its $29 “Bumper” cases for everyone, so the company will let people chose from several case styles.

New buyers through Sept. 30 will also be eligible. Apple will send refunds to people who already bought a Bumper.

Jobs, expressing irritation with the critical coverage of the phone’s reception problems, echoed an earlier statement from Apple that no cell phone gets perfect reception. He played a video showing competing phones, including a BlackBerry from Research in Motion Ltd., losing signal strength when held in certain ways. He talked for 45 minutes and took 45 minutes of questions with Apple’s chief operating officer, Tim Cook, and Bob Mansfield, a senior Apple executive in charge of hardware engineering.

Phones usually have an antenna inside the body. In designing the iPhone 4, Apple took a gamble on a new design, using parts of the phone’s outer casing as the antenna. That saved space inside the tightly packed body of the phone, but meant that covering a spot on the lower left edge blocked the wireless signal.

Consumer Reports magazine said covering the spot with a case or even a piece of duct tape alleviates the problem. It refused to give the iPhone 4 its “recommended” stamp of approval for that reason, and on Monday it urged Apple to compensate buyers and fix the problem. The company had been criticized about spotty iPhone service even before the newest model came out.

On Friday, in the company’s first remarks following the magazine’s report, Jobs said Apple was “stunned and upset and embarrassed.”

Jobs said the iPhone 4’s antenna issue isn’t widespread, with just over five out of every 1,000 complaining to Apple’s warranty service and less than 2 percent returning the device.

“We’re not feeling right now that we have a giant problem we need to fix,” Jobs said. “This has been blown so out of proportion that it’s incredible.”

Analysts have criticized Apple’s responses to reports of reception problems as dismissive, and cautioned that the company shouldn’t come across as arrogant. A curt note attributed to Jobs told one early iPhone buyer to either hold the phone a different way or buy a case.