Barely a week since the public got its hands on the iPhone 4, the first lawsuit over it has been filed.
Filed in the US District Court for the District of Maryland on behalf of Kevin McCaffrey, Linda Wrinn and others on Wednesday, the suit accuses Apple and AT&T of knowingly distributing a phone with a malfunctioning antenna. The iPhone maker and its exclusive carrier partner in the US are accused of a laundry list of infractions, including: general negligence; defect in design, manufacture and assembly; breach of warranty; deceptive trade practices; intentional and negligent misrepresentation; and fraud by concealment.
The class action suit is latching on to the reported issue some customers are having with signal loss when the iPhone 4 is gripped in a certain way. It's been suggested the problem is tied to the iPhone 4's design, which incorporates the cellular radio into the metal band running on the outside of the phone, right where most people put their hands when holding the device. However, it's still not clear if a software update to the phone would help with the issue. Apple has maintained that it's a problem common to any phone when held in that manner and suggested that customers buy a rubber case as a solution.
The class action suit says: "Almost immediately after the purchase of their iPhone 4 devices, both McCaffrey and Wrinn began to experience significantly reduced reception and performance when handling the phones as demonstrated in Apple's advertisements or as a reasonable person would handle a mobile telephone while making phone calls, browsing the internet, sending text messages or utilising other services provided by the iPhone 4."
As evidence of Apple's mishandling of the situation they cite the internal memo that was leaked to the web in which AppleCare representatives were coached not to provide warranty service to customers experiencing this problem. The plaintiffs were also not cheered by the news that when a reader wrote to Apple CEO Steve Jobs complaining that if he held the phone in a certain way he lost the signal, Jobs responded, "Just don't hold it that way".
The lawsuit is asking for monetary damages as compensation and that Apple and AT&T be prevented from selling similar iPhone 4's with defective antennas.
Correspondence from Steve Jobs
The antenna issue has also seen a marked increase in Jobs responding directly to complaints emailed to him from irate customers.
On Thursday, Boy Genius Report published a series of emails between one of its readers and Jobs. The reader — one of the original people to post a YouTube video demonstrating the iPhone 4's signal loss when held in a certain way — complained to Jobs about Apple's lack of a solution for the widely reported problem.
After the customer said he had "lost all respect" for Apple, Jobs reportedly replied, "No, you are getting all worked up over a few days of rumours. Calm down". When the customer asked not to be talked down to by Jobs, the Apple CEO responded that he probably lived in "an area with very low signal strength". When the customer pressed the matter, Jobs came back with "You may be working from bad data. Not your fault. Stay tuned. We are working on it".
It's not clear whether "we are working on it" means Apple and AT&T are remedying the low signal area problem, or if Apple is indeed coming up with a solution to the antenna "non-issue" (as Jobs described it to another customer).
In another correspondence with a customer, Jobs promised that in the future there would be a better solution to uploading high-definition video from the iPhone, according to MacDailyNews. The customer wrote, "What's the point of building in HD video capabilities when the compression upon uploading directly to YouTube makes the videos useless and not viewable? They're not even remotely viewable!!" To which Jobs reportedly responded, "You can upload them via a Mac or PC today. Over the air in the future."
The past few months have shown a steady rise in Apple customers who are emailing Apple's CEO directly with questions, complaints and compliments and receiving replies, which they are then posting to the web.
It's notable because CEOs of companies valued at US$226 billion aren't known to interact directly with customers regularly, and because apparently bypassing Apple's public-relations staff and customer service representatives is working for people who want answers.
Apple on Monday said it has sold 1.7 million iPhone 4 units worldwide through the first three days of sales.