Lawsuits Mount as Apple Works on iPhone 4 Software Fix

Apple now claims an error in the iPhone 4 firmware is responsible for the dramatic drop in signal bars some have experienced when the device is held a certain way. An update for iOS 4 will be released in the coming weeks to address the problem, but in the meantime several lawsuits have been filed against Apple over the issue.

The most recent suit was filed Friday in the Northern District of California and accuses Apple of false advertising, breach of warranty, and unfair competition among other complaints. The plaintiff, Steve Tietze is seeking class action status for the case and contends that Apple is guilty of "misrepresenting and concealing material information in the marketing, advertising, sale, and servicing of its iPhone 4 - particularly as it relates to the quality of the mobile phone antenna and reception and related software."

Other lawyers are planning action against Apple in the courts. Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff have started an investigation to collect statements from users about antenna problems with the iPhone 4. They plan to file a class action lawsuit as they did over the easily-scratched iPod Nano five years ago. The iPad Nano Cases Settlement Fund sent some owners checks for up to $37.50 each.

In a third case against Apple, Houston attorney Danny Sheena has filed a national class action lawsuit against Apple over what he calls the iPhone 4 antenna "scam" in Galveston federal court. Sheena claims Apple knew the design was flawed before selling the iPhone 4, and only offered to sell affected consumers a $30 case to fix the problem. According to the lawsuit, Apple "has opted to blame consumers for holding the phone in a manner in which cell phones are normally held."

Another complaint filed in the District of Maryland accuses Apple and AT&T of knowingly distributing a mobile phone with a malfunctioning antenna. Plaintiffs Kevin McCaffrey and Linda Wrinn are also seeking class action status in the case. Accusations in the lawsuit include defective design, deceptive trade practices, general negligence, intentional misrepresentation, fraud by concealment, and more.

According to documentation in the suit, "Almost immediately after the purchase of their iPhone 4 devices, both McCaffrey and Wrinn began to experience significantly reduced reception and performance when handling the phones as demonstrated in Apple's advertisements or as a reasonable person would handle a mobile telephone while making phone calls, browsing the Internet, sending text messages, or utilizing other services provided by the iPhone 4."

Others are also suing Apple, including two iPhone 4 owners from New Jersey and Massachusetts who filed separate complaints in a San Francisco federal court. Both cases are seeking class action status so they can represent iPhone 4 owners nationwide.

Apple has not commented on the lawsuits, but the company released an open letter to iPhone owners explaining the iPhone 4 antenna issues from a different perspective:

Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong.

Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.

Reactions to the Apple letter have been mixed to say the least. Although a fix for this issue will be welcome, but Apple stands accused by many following the story of covering up what could be a hardware design issue. Questions have been raised about the open letter, since Apple has issues fixes for signal strength reporting in the past. The number of bars reported on all iPhone models are reportedly affected by the problem.

Besides hiring more engineers who specialize in antenna design and mobile radio, Apple is sure to call up their army of lawyers in defense of iPhone 4.