– By Steve Robins
Did lack of customer field testing cause iPhone 4 antenna woes?
Yesterday, Apple’s Steve Jobs came clean about the Apple iPhone 4’s woes and offered free prophylactic bumper cases to prevent signal degradation when users touch the iPhone 4 antenna in the wrong place.
Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that,
Chief Executive Steve Jobs defended Apple Inc.’s newest iPhone against complaints that it has a flawed antenna design, arguing that all smartphones have reception problems and saying the issue has been blown out of proportion.
Jobs admitted that the iPhone 4 actually dropped slightly more (fewer than 1% more) calls than the Apple 3GS. He went on to say that “only” 16,500 people (0.55% of users) had complained about their iPhone 4’s antenna problems since it became available 3 weeks ago, far lower than the iPhone 3GS.
“We’re not perfect. Phone aren’t perfect.”
Despite Jobs claims to the contrary, he might as well have said,
“We’re not perfect” but that’s OK because “Phones aren’t perfect.”
Apple is certainly committed to fixing the problem they created. As a stop-gap, they’ll give away prophylactic bumper cases that will prevent users from touching the antenna and dropping calls.
In their quest to deliver The Next Big Thing (aka iPhone 4),
Apple left out their most important constituency,
Prevention is Best
But wouldn’t it have been better if they prevented the problem in the first place? If you watch the press conference, you’ll notice that they did extensive testing before launch – in their labs. But Jobs made little or no mention of user field testing though. According to The Wall Street Journal,
The electronics giant kept such a shroud of secrecy over the iPhone 4’s development that the device didn’t get the kind of real-world testing that would have exposed such problems in phones by other manufacturers, said people familiar with the matter.
The iPhones Apple sends to its carrier partners for testing are “stealth” phones that disguise a new device’s shape and some of its functions….Those test phones are specifically designed so the phone can’t be touched, which made it hard to catch the iPhone 4’s antenna problem.
Apple gave its carrier partners far less time to test the iPhone 4 before its launch and gave them significantly fewer devices to test than other handset makers.
Customer Field Testing?
Given Apple’s secrecy, it’s unlikely that many external users tested the device in the field either. Which means that Apple probably had no idea how the device would perform under diverse conditions far from their offices (which have excellent wireless reception by the way). Worse yet, they probably had little or no idea that users would be so likely to touch the iPhone 4 in “inappropriate places” that would cause signal degradation.
Further user/field testing might have identified the antenna problem so that it could be addressed prior to ship. That might have led to preemptive fixes like warnings in the user manual (the manual says nothing about how to hold the device), bumper cases being included with every iPhone 4 from the start, a fix to the signal strength monitor, or other technology fixes. It would have been far better for Apple to preempt the issue than to take the heat for being reactive.
The bottom line: remember that solutions are built around users’ real needs, use cases and habits. Failure to take that into account leads to product failures similar to that of the iPhone 4.
To be continued.