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Apple's press conference last Friday was a notable event for the company. Not simply because Steve Jobs took the stage, but because the purpose of the press conference was to address problems being reported with an existing product, the iPhone 4.

It was unfamiliar territory for Apple and Steve Jobs. Jobs, of course, is used to introducing new products, not dealing with an existing one that is the subject of customer complaints, class action lawsuits and a media firestorm.

Apple is an unconventional company, and Friday's press conference was anything but conventional. For one, Apple didn't provide much detail beforehand; it simply invited some of the most recognizable names in the tech media and blogosphere to attend. And at the end of the day, Jobs didn't issue any apologies.

Instead, while Jobs admitted that "we aren't perfect" and offered free cases to iPhone 4 customers, he largely tried to rely on his charisma to convince the audience that the iPhone 4's antenna problems really don't exist at all. One of the ways he tried to accomplish this: by claiming that all smartphones have similar issues. He stated:

There is no Antennagate... there is a challenge for the entire smartphone industry to improve its antenna technology so there are no weak spots.

Jobs' attempt to turn the iPhone 4's problem into an industry problem is a risky maneuver, but Jobs is perhaps the only CEO who has the ability to pull it off. Whether he did it successfully, however, only time will tell. Apple's competitors, however, won't make it easy as they wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to counter Apple.

RIM's co-CEOs, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, issued the following statement:

Apple's attempt to draw RIM into Apple's self-made debacle is unacceptable. 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 is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, 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. One thing is for certain, RIM's customers don't need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. 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 provided a statement of its own:

Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, 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. 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. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.

HTC, which manufactures a phone (the Droid Eris) Jobs mentioned in his presentation, told Pocket-lint that a very small fraction of customers have complained about the phone and stated "we have had very few complaints about signal or antenna problems on the Eris."

Finally, Motorola has also chimed in, according to the Wall Street Journal:

Sanjay Jha, co-CEO of Motorola, said yesterday that antennas being placed on the outside of devices have known issues, which is why they’ve been avoided in the past.

Consumer Reports, which has actively tracked the situation, is backing the other smartphone makers up. Mike Gikas of Consumer Reports stated, "The human hand -- the body -- attenuates signal on all phones. But we haven't seen it happen to the degree that it's happened with the iPhone 4."

History, of course, is written by the victor. Despite the position Apple is in, Steve Jobs' words still carry a lot of weight, and his attempt to portray the iPhone 4's antenna problem as an industry-wide issue may indeed succeed, even if such a portrayal isn't entirely accurate. But it clearly won't be as easy as Jobs and Apple would like, and it doesn't look like Apple will have much help from the usually compliant media this time around.

Photo credit: whatcounts via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 19 July, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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