Apple has quietly discontinued its free-case program for the iPhone 4 effective October 1, but says it will still provide a case to the "small percentage" of buyers who will need one due to the phone's "antenna attenuation issue."
In a statement posted to its website on Friday, the company said "we now know" that the antenna issue is "even smaller than we originally thought." Because of the low incidence, Apple says, it's discontinuing the current program, which allows all those who buy an iPhone 4 until September 30 to order a free case for the device.
The offer that takes effect next month is less consumer-friendly in several respects. First, if you are "experiencing antenna issues" with your iPhone 4, Apple says, you'll need to call the company to request a case. And where the current program allows owners a choice of seven cases, including some from third-party manufacturers, the new program only offers Apple's own Bumper, a frame-like cover that runs around the edge of the phone.
The iPhone 4's reception problem, we found in earlier tests, can occur when your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone's lower left side if the phone is being used in an area with a weak signal.
Apple provided no data to detail its claim of lower-than-expected incidence of dropped calls with the iPhone 4. In his July 16 news conference announcing the free cases, Apple chairman CEO Steve Jobs said the iPhone 4 dropped only about one call per hundred more than its predecessor, the iPhone 3G S, which remains available. Jobs also then reiterated the company's earlier claim that all smart phones have similar problems, and that "no one has solved this problem."
Our tests found the Bumper successfully mitigates the iPhone 4's reception issue, which was a weak point in the phone's otherwise-stellar performance in our tests. And we agree with Apple that not all iPhone 4 owners will experience reception difficulties with the device.
But putting the onus on any owners of a product to obtain a remedy to a design flaw is not acceptable to us. We therefore continue not to recommend the iPhone 4, and to call on Apple to provide a permanent fix for the phone's reception issues.