Apple Plans iPhone Announcement

Apple plans to hold a press conference Friday to discuss the latest iPhone amid complaints that if users hold the phone over a certain spot, signal strength is drastically reduced. Consumer Reports magazine has refused to endorse the phone until the problem gets fixed.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Apple has long been known for its elegantly designed products and its rabidly loyal fans, but now the company is facing mounting pressure to do something about complaints that a design flaw in its iPhone 4 is causing reception problems.

Tomorrow, the company will hold a press conference.

NPR's Laura Sydell talked to some P.R. specialists about how Apple might be able to get itself out of this mess.

LAURA SYDELL: Number one sign you have a public relations problem - jokes on "David Letterman."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Late Show with David Letterman")

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Host, "Late Show with David Letterman"): Top 10 signs you've purchased a bad iPhone. Here we go. Number 10: To make a call, you have to insert a quarter. Number nine...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SYDELL: Not good. And then on Monday, Consumer Reports said that it wouldn't recommend buying the iPhone 4 because of antenna problems. It looks especially bad for Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He actually bragged about the antenna, which wraps around the phone's rim, when he announced the phone last month.

Mr. STEVE JOBS (CEO, Apple): This is part of some brilliant engineering...

SYDELL: Oh, boy.

Mr. JOBS: ...which actually uses the stainless steel band as part of the antenna system.

SYDELL: Yeah. When iPhone users put their hands on part of that antenna, it cut off calls. People started calling it the death grip.

In a response to a tech blog query, Jobs wrote: Well, just avoid holding it that way.

That isn't really what iPhone fans wanted to hear. Number one rule of crisis management...

Mr. ALLAN MAYER (Public Relations Manager): The best way to get out of a crisis is not to get into it in the first place.

SYDELL: That's Allan Mayer. He's known as one of Hollywood's top public relations managers.

Mr. MAYER: One of the ways you avoid getting into a crisis is by recognizing when you have a problem early on and dealing with it as opposed to, you know, pulling the blanket over your head and hoping that it just goes away.

SYDELL: This kind of mess is new for Apple. The company's been on a roll. Its valuation recently surpassed Microsoft. Apple can't churn out iPads fast enough. That's their recently released slate computer. And initially, the iPhone 4 sold faster than any other iPhone in history.

The success is in part due to what Mayer thinks is usually one of the best public relations departments he's ever seen.

Mr. MAYER: They're very disciplined. They speak with one voice, and the voice tends to be that of Steve Jobs.

SYDELL: It might be him we hear from tomorrow during the highly unusual last-minute press conference, and he better be humble, says Jeff Holmes, CEO of the PR firm 3marketeers.

Holmes says, hopefully, Apple learned something from Toyota, which spent a long time denying it had problems with its brakes. Holmes thinks Apple can redeem itself if it owns up to the problem.

Mr. JEFF HOLMES (CEO, 3marketeers): And literally say: Look, we're going to stop production of this momentarily. We're going to find a solution right now. In the meantime, here is a quick fix.

SYDELL: Like offering up the $30 iPhone rim covers for free. Apparently, they block the death grip.

Of course, Apple has a very loyal fan base.

On an NPR blog, one Apple loyalist had this comment about the phone's problems.

It's a pretty face with a rocking bod, a pretty quick mind, so what if it doesn't have the best hearing? No one is perfect, right?

Right.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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Apple To Address iPhone Troubles On Friday

Emilie Weideman and her father, Marc Weideman try their new iPhones Thursday in Palo Alto, Calif. i i

Emilie Weideman and her father, Marc Weideman try their new iPhones in June in Palo Alto, Calif. Many of the new phones' owners are complaining of a glitch that drops calls. Paul Sakuma/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Sakuma/AP
Emilie Weideman and her father, Marc Weideman try their new iPhones Thursday in Palo Alto, Calif.

Emilie Weideman and her father, Marc Weideman try their new iPhones in June in Palo Alto, Calif. Many of the new phones' owners are complaining of a glitch that drops calls.

Paul Sakuma/AP

Apple Inc. will hold a press conference on Friday to discuss the latest iPhone model amid complaints about its antenna and Consumer Reports magazine's refusal to endorse it until the problems get fixed.

Apple would not provide details on the nature of the event at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., other than to say it will involve the iPhone 4.

On Monday, Consumer Reports said careful testing has confirmed user reports that holding the phone over a particular spot drastically reduces the signal strength it receives. Covering the spot with duct tape or a case alleviates the problem.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs had bragged about the antenna, which wraps around the phone's rim, when he unveiled the phone last month.

Heard On 'All Things Considered'

"This is part of some brilliant engineering which actually uses the stainless steel band as part of the antenna system," he said at the time.

Apple hasn't commented on Consumer Reports' finding yet. Company watchers are speculating that the company may give iPhone buyers its "Bumper" case, which normally costs $29.

The phone went on sale three weeks ago and outsold previous iPhone launches in its first three days, with 1.7 million units sold. Complaints about the signal strength soon followed.

In an early response, Apple acknowledged that holding the phone in a certain way impeded the wireless signal somewhat, but said this happens with many other phones. It said the real reason for the apparent big drop in signal strength was that the company has been using an incorrect formula to convert signal strength into the bars displayed on the screen.

Consumer Reports said it tested other phones and found none to have significant loss of signal strength when held.

This kind of mess is new for Apple, which has been on a roll. The company's valuation recently surpassed Microsoft's. And, initially, the iPhone 4 sold faster than any other iPhone in history. The success is in part due to what Allan Mayer, one of Hollywood's top public relations manager, says is usually one of the best public relations departments he's seen.

"They're very disciplined. They speak with one voice and the voice tends to be that of Steve Jobs," he says.

Jobs might hold Friday's highly unusual last-minute press conference.

Jeff Holmes, CEO of the PR firm 3 Marketeers, says he hopes Apple learned something from automaker Toyota, which spent a long time denying it had problems with its brakes. Holmes says he thinks Apple can redeem itself if it owns up to the problem.

They must "literally say, 'Look, we're going to stop production of this momentarily. We're going to find a solution right now. In the meantime, here is a quick fix."

One of those fixes could be offering the $30 iPhone rim covers, which apparently stop the problem, for free.

While complaints about the iPhone 4 have been driving headlines, not everyone has had such problems. Some people say they can't replicate the so-called "death grip" — and have even seen reception improve in San Francisco and other big cities where previous iPhones stuttered.

NPR's Laura Sydell contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press

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