Claiming that the iPhone 4's infamous "death grip" problem is "even smaller than we originally thought," Apple announced Friday that it would end its offer of free cases for all iPhone 4 owners by the end of the month.
After that, says the notice on Apple's Web site (which was first spotted by The Loop's Jim Dalrymple),
users who are still having reception problems with the new iPhone can
call the AppleCare hotline to "request" a free case, although it's not
clear if you'll get one automatically by doing so.
During a July press briefing convened in the wake of widespread complaints of reception problems on the revamped iPhone, which boasts an external stainless-steel band that doubles as an antenna, Steve Jobs promised to hand out free iPhone 4 cases, including Apple's own Bumper case, to all owners of the new handset.
At the time, Jobs said the offer would run until Sept. 30, and that Apple would "re-evaluate" the deadline as it approached. Looks like the top dogs at Apple decided that there weren't enough lingering complaints to extend the offer.
For the record, Apple's full statement reads:
We now know that the iPhone 4 antenna attenuation issue is even smaller than we originally thought. A small percentage of iPhone 4 users need a case, and we want to continue providing them a Bumper case for free. For everyone else, we are discontinuing the free case program on all iPhone 4s sold after September 30, 2010. We are also returning to our normal returns policy for all iPhone 4s sold after September 30. Users experiencing antenna issues should call AppleCare to request a free Bumper case.The iPhone 4's reception problems were ultimately narrowed down to a thin, black stripe on the lower left side of the handset, which marks the separation between the two segments of the external antenna. Wireless experts theorized that the iPhone's reception could dip when a user bridges the gap between the segments while holding the phone in his or her hand.
During the original "Antennagate" press conference, Jobs -- who'd earlier drawn fire for suggesting to a handful of iPhone 4 users over e-mail that they could avoid reception problems if they'd "just avoid holding it that way" -- defended the iPhone 4's design, calling the handset "perhaps the best product we've ever made at Apple," and he also showed videos of other top-drawer smartphones losing reception when they were held the "wrong" way (much to the annoyance of the singled-out manufacturers, by the way).
But Jobs allowed that perhaps the spike in reception complaints was because only a fraction of customers were leaving new stores with cases (which were hard to find at the time). Hence, the limited-time offer of free cases for one and all.
Jobs also promised Apple would waive the standard 10 percent restocking fee for returned iPhone 4's, but Apple's statement Friday says that Cupertino will be "returning to our normal returns policy" after Sept. 30.
Despite the "death grip" drama, sales of the iPhone 4 have been strong, with Apple and AT&T stores consistently sold out over the summer and the online Apple store still showing a three-week wait time for new orders. That said, a recent survey suggested that iPhone sales may have taken a hit due to the "Antennagate" brouhaha.
So, do you agree with Apple's decision to end its free case program at the end of the month?
The Loop: Apple to discontinue free iPhone Bumper Case program on Sept. 30
-- Ben Patterson is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.