Apple iPhone 4 Problems Result of Design Over Engineering

Apple’s products have long been known for the unique designs that set them apart from their competitors’ products, emphasizing both aesthetics and functionality. In marketing the iPhone 4, Apple boasted that “the future is in the details” of the smartphone’s distinctive design. In a sense, the company has created what Gizmodo calls an expectation of “perfection from Apple design.” Unfortunately, as has been widely reported, the iPhone 4 is far from perfect – it is fundamentally flawed in its primary mission – making and receiving telephone calls.

What could explain this gross departure from the “perfection” consumers have grown to expect of Apple? One likely explanation, for the iPhone 4’s antenna reception problems is that, at Apple, design trumps engineering.

“A source in Apple’s engineering team tells us that the kind of reception issues found in the iPhone 4 are a symptom of an internal issue that’s been going on for a while—extremely inflexible mandates around the industrial design of products during their development. Jon Ive and his team of industrial designers can run “a little amok sometimes”, they said, coming up with and steadfastly insisting on designs that, while aesthetically pleasing, cause the engineering team extreme difficulty in terms of implementation and maintaining the highest levels of functionality.”

With the iPhone 4, Apple engineers have lost a battle with industrial designers, resulting in a product whose technical genius is overshadowed by a design that is neither functional nor durable. As Consumer Reports today concluded, the iPhone 4 is an excellent device, it just isn’t very good at making telephone calls. The design decision to place the antenna around the outside of the phone is a fatal one, which makes the iPhone 4 virtually useless as wireless communication device.

How could Apple, a company that has for so long taken pride in its design excellence, have made such a fundamental mistake? As Gizmodo asks,

“How did Apple miss a real design mistake on the iPhone 4’s antenna? We’re not trying to be vicious for the sake of it when we’ve noted the flaw in an otherwise class-leading phone. We’re simply asking: If you’re the only company that cares so much about design, don’t underplay one of the few times you’ve made a minor gaffe. Being perfect at customer satisfaction can be magical, too.”

If Apple is going to hold its products out as representing excellence in design, then it should be able to admit when it’s made a mistake. Its promotional materials tell how the iPhone 4’s metal “band provides impressive structural rigidity and allows for its incredibly thin, refined design.” Apple needs to come clean and admit that this “refined design” came at the cost of the phone’s functionality.

By failing to acknowledge the design defects of the iPhone 4 and instead offering what are widely believed to be dishonest excuses for signal-loss problems, Apple is putting at risk the reputation it has spent decades building. Consumers, who for so long have driven enormous pre-release sales of the latest Apple gadget (whatever it may be), may now think twice before becoming early adopters, instead waiting for reports on whether Apple’s rhetoric about its design matches the actual functionality of the device.

If you own an iPhone 4, and are interested in participating in our lawsuit against Apple and AT&T, please email me at I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,

Dan Ward

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