How Steve Jobs turned a finger spot into a death grip

July 19, 2010: 11:39 AM ET

The PR magician has done it again, dumbfounding both the media and rival companies.  I'm in awe.

If anyone can somehow remember last week (I think maybe Consumer Reports might be the only one who can), the issue with the iPhone 4 was that when you connected the two antennas with your flesh, the signal dropped.  I've posted a few of the hundreds of YouTubes below showing this (watch them quick before they get pulled!).  That's why the trusted testing agency gave it a "can't reccomend" rating.

At the Apple (AAPL) press event on Friday, somehow, right in front of a crowd of journalists (depicted at the end of the Taiwanese video below), the 'finger spot' that cut signal somehow turned into a more universal 'death grip' which also cuts signal but in just about every mobile device ever made.

At the Q&A, one blogger, Ryan Block from GDGT, asked the one real question that needed an answer.  He was given a non-answer by Apple VP Bob Mansfield:

Taken from Jason Snell's Macworld.com liveblog of the event

Then the finger issue was dropped, never to be heard of again -- anywhere. Apple put up its "change the message" antenna page showing 'death grips' across a wide variety of mobile devices.  This isn't what Consumer Reports had made its recommendations on.  Nowhere did Apple address the real issue: the finger spot.

I don't know how Steve Jobs does it, but this somehow became the message.   He actually changed the message entirely from 'finger spot' to 'death grip.' Everyone magically forgot about the two antennas being bridged -- the finger spot!

The four companies that Jobs mentioned – HTC (Eris - there is my Google tie!), Nokia, Samsung and Blackberry – all issued statements saying that they've tested and the death grip doesn't affect their phones.  *Sigh*

Of course it affects your phones!  When you squeeze a bunch of electronics and antennas together and surround them with a handful of signal-blocking water, you will lose signal.  Like Steve Jobs said, "every device ever made has that same issue.  That is just physics."

Inexplicably, the companies took the bait and helped change the message for Apple!  They could have just said, "It is true that when you squeeze any phone it hurts the signal, but there is no part of our phone that, when touched by a finger, causes the signal to drop significantly." (BTW, no charge for that.)

So, of course people who own HTC, Nokia (NOK), Samsung and Blackberry devices took to YouTube demonstrating how death grips hurt their signal.  Then of course the blogs all followed suit right on message saying that the iPhone 4's problem was everyone's problem.

As TiPb notes:

One look at BlackBerry on Boy Genius, Nokia on Electronista, Samsung on InformationWeek, HTC onEngadget, many others via Daring Fireball, and even manufactures' own warnings against touching their antennas in their own manuals via 1FPS shows how they've become part of a story that last week was all about Apple.

But, the death grip was never the issue that made the iPhone 4 unique.  The issue was with the 'finger spot.'  The unique design of the external antennas makes it so that bridging them with flesh cuts the signal.

That's why Apple is giving out free bumpers to everyone, because that blocks the bridging of the antennas, not because it blocks death gripping!

For the record, I don't think this whole thing, beyond Apple's handling of it, is a big deal.  Get a free bumper, don't worry about it.  Apple might have to change the specs on the iPhone 4 to include the added girth and weight, but I don't see it as changing your ability to use the phone.  It is still a great phone -- as Consumer Reports has always suggested.

Speaking of CR, the one agency that probably caused Apple to have a press conference stuck to their guns and didn't change their outlook on the device.  I've gained a new respect for them and their independence.

Some day in the not-so-distant future, I think there there will be a curriculum in PR, -- based on Jobs' magic -- that will be required to work in the field.   The man has control over his message and the media in a way that makes Don Draper look like Gerald Ford.

Again, I am just in awe.  Here's the master at work:

(Thanks to @ReneRitchie from Tipb.com for proving I'm not insane!)

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About This Author
Seth Weintraub
Seth Weintraub

Google went from searching the Web to worming its way into nearly every facet of business and government. Seth Weintraub unveils where the company is going, who it's competing with, who it's about to compete with and how market forces push the company to veer or adhere to its Don't Be Evil motto. For 15 years, Weintraub was a global IT director for a number of companies before becoming a blogger.

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