PR Headache: Apple To Deal With iPhone Backlash

Apple plans to hold a new conference Friday to discuss the technical backlash over reception problems with the new iPhone 4. Earlier this week, Consumer Reports confirmed user reports that holding the iPhone 4 over a particular spot drastically reduces the signal strength it receives.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Apple is doing damage control to try to stem a backlash against its shiny new iPhone 4. The antenna doesn't work properly, and that's created a huge PR headache.

Earlier this week, Consumer Reports said it couldn't recommend the device. Things got so bad, David Letterman was joking about it.

(Soundbite of "Late Show with David Letterman")

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Comedian; Television host, "Late Show with David Letterman"): There's something hinky about the new iPhones. There're not hooked up right, there's a problem with the signal sensor; there's a problem with the antenna. They don't like to be held - like my first wife. Oh.

MONTAGNE: Well, today, Apple is holding an unusual press conference. We called NPR's Laura Sydell to find out more.

Good morning.

LAURA SYDELL: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: For a company that scripts every public moment, that's what makes this press conference unusual. It hasn't been, you know, they haven't been preparing for a month.

SYDELL: This is very unusual. Usually when they're about to make an announcement, I know about it, you know, two months in advance. When I got a call about this the other day, on Wednesday, telling me they were having a press conference, I was actually completely shocked and taken off guard. I was like, really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SYDELL: It was such a surprise, you know?

MONTAGNE: Well, what prompted Apple to call this press conference? Was it Consumer Reports saying that it wouldn't recommend the iPhone 4 because of reception problems?

SYDELL: That could've been the biggie. You know, there's been people who've been going around for a while saying I have problems with my iPhone. And I actually have to make a little joke here. I would've been here sooner but my editor couldn't reach me because I had an iPhone 4 reception problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: To tell you to scoot over and talk to me.

SYDELL: Exactly. So it is a, you know - but I think it was the Consumer Reports because, you know, people maybe take that a little more seriously than they do the sort of rumors and sites. Consumer Reports, people think, you know, they matter.

MONTAGNE: Well, has a technical glitch of this magnitude ever happened to Apple before?

SYDELL: Not in recent history. You know, not since, you know, back in the days when Steve Jobs wasn't there. This is again, the whole thing is very unusual. They've had such a ride. I mean, the iPad and they're now doing incredibly well, so no. No. The whole thing is really - and what's amazing, of course, too is how many people are paying attention because it's Apple.

MONTAGNE: This problem is also happening at a time when the company is finding itself at a whole new level in its history. It's no longer in its little niche with a cult following of diehard fans. It's now bigger than Microsoft in terms of its stock market value, actually the biggest technology company in the U.S. What does this moment mean in that context?

SYDELL: You know, that is a good question. It's hard to say. I've been wandering around with an iPhone 4 and I've been playing with it, and I've also been playing with the Droid X, which just came out and it's the, you know, the Google phone. And despite the fact that the iPhone 4 has reception problems, I was playing with these two phones; I was playing with the Droid X and I was playing with this, and the iPhone 4 - and I still found something very compelling about the iPhone 4. It is still a really, really nice phone.

It does have a reception problem. So maybe Apple in this instance is just trying to get under it as fast as they can because they know they do have a hit. People are buying it anyway. Lord knows how many more they would buy if they didn't have this problem.

MONTAGNE: Laura, thanks very much.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Laura Sydell.

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