Steve Jobs on Friday gave a grudging apology for the reception problems plaguing Apple’s iPhone 4 and said the company would give free cases to all buyers of the device at least until the end of September.
The move is an attempt to quell complaints from users about faltering connections when they touch the lower left corner of the phone, which interferes with the performance of the antenna.
“Most of the customers that own iPhone 4s think it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever owned,” Mr Jobs, the Apple chief executive, said at a press conference at the company’s Cupertino headquarters.
For those with problems, he said: “I apologise to them. We will do whatever it takes to make them happy.”
He said Apple would refund those who had paid for a case already and would give money back to anyone returning their phones. AT&T, the exclusive US operator for the iPhone, said it would waive the restocking fee for returned iPhones but did not extend the 30-day limit for returns.
Mr Jobs said the issue had been blown “far out of proportion”. He reeled off a raft of statistics to illustrate that the majority of the more than 3m customers to have bought iPhones in the past 22 days were satisfied.
He said AT&T had found fewer than 1 additional dropped call per 100 calls on the iPhone 4 compared with its predecessor. However, neither Apple nor AT&T would release the number of dropped calls before the iPhone 4’s introduction, suggesting that the new failure rate could still be twice the previous rate.
Mr Jobs said that just 1.7 per cent of buyers returned their phones to AT&T, against 6 per cent in the early days of iPhone 3GS sales. But he declined to answer questions about return rates at Apple’s own stores.
Mr Jobs spent much of his presentation arguing that many smartphones had similar problems and ran videos showing BlackBerry and other devices losing signal strength when held.
“Most smartphones behave exactly the same way,” Mr Jobs said. “Phones aren’t perfect and it’s a challenge for the whole industry.”
He said Apple was investigating reports of dropped calls as a result of problems with the “proximity sensor” that tells the phone when it is being held up for conversation.
Analysts said Mr Jobs’ apology might be enough to counter a perception of arrogance that was exacerbated when Apple deleted links in its online customer forums to a critical article in Consumer Reports. He said Apple had been “stunned, upset and embarrassed” by the criticism and had taken a while to respond because engineers were scrambling to find data and analyse the issue.