Will Apple Issue An IPhone 4 Recall?

Looks like the townfolk in iPhoneville are grabbing their pitchforks and torches to circle in on Apple HQ, demanding a recall. Blog after blog lately are posing the question, “Is it time for Apple to issue a recall for the iPhone 4?”The reports of hardware and software problems are voluminous, and vary from user to user. Sure, not everyone is experiencing issues, but those who are seem to represent a sizable chunk of the buying audience.

As of this writing, our own informal customer satisfaction poll of 267 respondents reveals that 52 percent (or 140 votes) have no major issues and are happy/satisfied with their iPhone 4 purchase. That leaves 127 survey takers, or 48 percent, experiencing some level of glitches. And of those 127 people, 52 percent of them (66 people) are ready to return their device.

This latest model is such a giant leap from previous iterations, it’s practically a whole new device. As such, I think plenty of people were expecting to deal with some glitches. (Any early adopter will tell you this is par for the course.) But the diversity and number of issues turned out to be breathtaking — and not in a good way. There is a lot of outrage pouring out over the webs these days.

It’s one thing for mobile phone sites to foam at the mouth about hardware issues, but it’s another when reports of glitching start hopping the tech fence and reaching mainstream America.

Consumer Reports, which ranked the device very highly overall, outright states it cannot recommend the iPhone 4 until the antenna problem is addressed. Sure, there are engineers picking apart CR’s testing methods, but what does this matter to John and Jane Doe in Anytown, USA? They’re reading CR or watching Meredith Vieira, and making a mental note that iPhone 4 = trouble.

Cupertino, we have a problem.

Personally I agree with the PR experts who say Apple is really screwing up here. All this bad juju is not just about handset performance. It’s about the company’s attitude.

Reception glitches? It’s an illusion from a software bug that we’ll fix, so your bars will be more accurate. But all phones have them, so you’re just holding it the wrong way.

Proximity issues? (You won’t believe this, but) It’s your ear’s fault. The ear canal is too reflective.

Recall? Why issue a recall? This is our best phone ever. The 10 percent restocking fee has been waived, though.

I theorize users would be less upset over all this if Apple just fessed up. I know a number of people who would be willing to exercise some patience with the buggyness if they knew that the company was addressing it.

But so far, there have been half-baked excuses and partial make-goods — all without admitting any actual culpability. This has been the final straw for some owners. There are class action lawsuits in the works. And more websites are jumping on the “demand a recall” bandwagon.

As for the feasibility of an iPhone recall, let’s look at some facts here. First, it didn’t even do one for the flawed 2008 Time Capsule. It issued a Knowledge Base article acknowledging the problems, extended the warranty for some customers, and offered repair/replacement for others. So at least it admitted problems, unlike for the iPhone 4, but it wasn’t a recall.

To make it official and yank all those iPhone 4s, it would cost Apple as much as $1.5 billion. This is a serious chunk of change that Jobs won’t part with easily. And let’s face it — how often do we see recalls for products, unless they make people ill or worse, kill them? Food, yes.

(Right now, there’s a recall in four states over Diamond USA Dried Apricot Rolled.) Cars, definitely. (Toyota even has a special dedicated section of its website for recalls.) Pharmaceuticals, all the time. (A recent one by McNeil was for children’s medicine.)

But pulling the iPhone 4? That is pretty unlikely.

Even so, the PR pros think Apple should suck it up and do it anyway. Obviously not for public safety’s sake, but because the company’s bull-headedness is damaging its brand.

Apple has always had a rep for caring about quality and good design, but this latest fiasco is proving otherwise. But a recall would help preserve its reputation and inspire some good will. And if it won’t, the company faces a PR crisis of a pretty huge magnitude.

How huge? This is what CNN is running on its website right now (click the link to see the vid):

How many free Bumper cases do you think Apple would’ve given to block that story?

When I was seen in public with my iPad, the questions I got tended to be, “Is that the iPad? What do you think? Is it cool?” With my iPhone 4, the questions are a little different: “Is that the new iPhone? Are you having problems?” The last person to ask me that was an 84-year-old relative who just learned how to email.

So Apple, here’s my advice, FWIW: Suck it up and do the recall. Offer to replace handsets with revised models or at least offer free cases. Let this be the next major news story about this product. Until you do, your rep is taking an awful beating.

What do you think? Should Apple recall the iPhone 4? Or would you be satisfied with other make-goods, like bumper cases or discounts to be used for a later model? (Remember the incentives that iPhone 2G 4GB owners got for the 8GB version)? Weigh in below.

UPDATE: Looks like Apple’s about to breach its legendary veil of silence. The company has called a press conference for this Friday. Click here for more on this.

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