It shouldn't be surprising that rival cell phone manufacturers weren't thrilled when Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs said the iPhone 4's antenna problems aren't specific to that device but rather are common throughout the industry.
During Apple's damage-control press conference on July 16, Jobs repeatedly tried to justify the iPhone's antenna problem, which causes the device to lose a signal when held a certain way, by saying that all smartphones behave similarly, not just the iPhone.
"This is not unique to the iPhone 4," Jobs said. "Every smartphone has this issue, and it's a challenge for the entire industry." He showed videos of the BlackBerry Bold 9700, HTC Droid Eris and Samsung Omnia 2 seeming to lose signal bars when gripped in the way that's causing the iPhone problem.
"We could have gone on and on, and had another five or six phones to show you," Jobs added. "This is life in the smartphone world. Phones aren't perfect, and it's a challenge for the whole industry."
RIM: Apple Claims "Unacceptable"
Not so fast, says Research in Motion (RIMM), the Waterloo, Ontario, maker of BlackBerry smartphones.
"Apple's attempt to draw RIM into Apple's self-made debacle is unacceptable," RIM Co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie said in a strongly worded statement. "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 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," the RIM executives said. "One thing is for certain, RIM's customers don't need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity."
Lazaridis and Balsillie added: "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."
Nokia and HTC Also Aren't Amused
Nokia issued a less bellicose statement but tartly noted: "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," the company acknowledged. "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."
Taiwan-based HTC, which makes several Android devices, including the Droid Eris model that Jobs referenced, has yet to issue a formal statement, but a spokesperson offered gadget website Pocket-Lint a data point to contrast with Jobs's statement that 0.55% of iPhone 4 users have complained.
Eric Lin, HTC's global PR and online community manager, told the website that "Approximately 0.016% of customers" have complained about the phone -- a complaint rate 30 times lower than the iPhone. "We have had very few complaints about signal or antenna problems on the Eris," Lin added.
Jobs is right: Smartphones aren't perfect. And the iPhone antenna issue is more or less settled: Change the way you hold it, use a case or return it. But rival smartphone makers clearly didn't appreciate being used by Jobs to make Apple look better -- or in this case, less worse.
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