Heavy Handed: Apple Takes the Gloves Off And Rivals Hit Back
You knew this was coming. After Steve Jobs' dressing down of RIM, HTC, and Samsung model phones in his address to the nation Friday, the other manufacturers have responded to Apple with a collective "Huh?"
If the headline that came out of Jobs' non mea culpa -- "Apple to offer free rubber bands" -- seemed worthy of an Onion story, so too did the videos Apple made showing competitors' phones failing. After Jobs says by way of introduction, "Let's take a look at what happens when you hold it in a totally normal way," a large, well-manicured hand does anything but hold the phones normally. In the video, the demonstrator grasps each phone in a true white-knuckled death grip, with his palm and fingers turning red from the pressure as if he was seeking to crush the phones out of sheer frustration. A live demo was out of the question -- surely the sickly looking Jobs could never have applied such force.
HTC kept its response short and to the point, rebutting Jobs' premise: "The reception problems are certainly not common among smartphones," HTC Chief Financial Officer Hui-Meng Cheng said. "[Apple] apparently didn't give operators enough time to test the phone."
RIM's response, like its users, was curt, businesslike and downright lawyerly. The statement starts with what amounts to disclaimer boilerplate: "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." But then things take a turn, and you can see the real heat Apple's little demo generated under RIM's white collar, "One thing is for certain, RIM's customers don't need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity." Zing!
Samsung specifically addressed any supposed issue with its Omnia 2, the model the Apple staffer damn near reduced to a pile of broken shards of metal and plastic with his bare hands: "The antenna is located at the bottom of the Omnia 2 phone, while iPhone's antenna is on the lower left side of the device. Our design keeps the distance between a hand and an antenna. We have fully conducted field tests before the rollout of smartphones. Reception problems have not happened so far, and there is no room for such problems to happen in the future."
Though it wasn't included in Appe's videos, Motorola took the opportunity to stump for Droid X, ending its statement with, "In our own testing we have found that Droid X performs much better than iPhone4 when held by consumers."
Anyone watching the videos must have noticed that they seemed somewhat suspect. Aside from the previously mentioned cradling kung-fu grip employed on the phone as Jobs laughably disclaims, "And we're going to grip it like you might easily grip it to make a phone call" (have you ever buried your phone in your hand and squeezed?), there is the specter of Apple's elaborate test labs, which Jobs takes great pains to show. The labs, where every element can be controlled by the engineers, seem like anything but a real-world setting, and also would seem to be the likely venue for the "testing" of the RIM, HTC and Samsung devices. In short, it seems like a place where Apple could basically make anything it wants happen. Sort of like the consumer marketplace used to be.