"Just avoid holding it in that way"

Those were the words of advice offered by Apple CEO Steve Jobs to a customer who emailed Jobs after experiencing antenna performance issues with his new iPhone 4 purchase.

What’s going on Apple?

When the original iPhone went on sale in June 2007 it changed the mobile industry overnight. This is not an overstatement. The traditional mobile handset manufacturers had become lazy and lethargic, churning out what was essentially the same product year after year with minor tweaks and trendy colour variants. Apple’s original iPhone product was nothing short of revolutionary in terms of user interface, style and engineering.

Apple were allowed to capitalise on their advancements because lazy handset vendors were unprepared and unable to react quickly enough. Many attempts were made to duplicate iPhone’s innovative touch screen user interface, most notably the much heralded Palm Pre, but none of them could claim to be a success. But that was then.

It took another relative newbie to the world of mobile devices to mount a serious challenge to Apple’s dominance – and that was the mighty Google. While Apple was content with making minor improvements to their devices, Google was plotting a revolution of their own.

Step up Google’s Android platform. Android has slowly gained momentum and adoption in the smartphone marketplace and recent handsets such as HTC’s Desire have finally become a credible alternative to iPhone.

Some would argue that Android’s capabilities have actually surpassed those of iOS (the new name for iPhone’s operating system). Credit for that in part is due to the decision to release Android as Open Source, while iOS has remained proprietary and tightly controlled by Apple – much to the chagrin of mobile application developers. In the first quarter of 2010 Android devices outsold Apple for the first time – and by quite some margin. Apple’s reaction was to sue HTC.

iPhone 4 Fail

So what of iPhone 4? Apple are in the unusual position of playing catch-up but this latest addition to the iPhone line up has failed to impress. Apple’s marketing campaign for iPhone 4 claims “This changes everything. Again.” Something has definitely changed, but not in a good way.

One day after the official iPhone 4 launch and customers are already complaining of poor antenna performance, yellow tinted displays and the ease of accidentally smashing iPhone’s “ultradurable” aluminosilicate glass panels. These problems would ordinarily have been identified during pre-release testing, but Apple’s paranoia dictates that test devices cannot be used without their protective plastic shroud and so early adopters have unwittingly become iPhone 4’s beta testers. There are parallels here with Microsoft’s old approach to product development, this is not something that Apple consumers are used to.

Customers forgave the original iPhone for its idiosyncrasies, restrictive capabilities and lack of features because it was something very special. Now there are many new mobile handsets that can justifiably claim to be special. iPhone 4 and the iOS 4 software update have brought iPhone up to a comparable specification level, but iPhone has lost its crown as the undisputed smartphone champion and the next generation are snapping at its heels.

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