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Unhappy iPhone 4 users file lawsuits

Courtesy of Apple.

Courtesy of Apple.

It’s only been out about a week, but the message board murmurs and blog kvetching about poor reception on the Apple iPhone 4 have turned into lawsuits in Maryland and elsewhere.

Kevin McCaffrey of Nottingham and Linda Wrinn of Baltimore filed a putative class action against Apple Inc. and AT&T Inc. on Wednesday evening in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, alleging the new phones are defective.

“This is endemic to this telephone and this is something directly related to the way Apple has chosen to design it,” said Daniel S. Ward, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “Apple knew that it had design flaws … and chose to market, sell and reap tremendous rewards.”

Apple has hyped the iPhone 4’s wrap-around antenna, but many users have reported decreased reception when their fingers touch it. Apple Chairman Steve Jobs allegedly suggested users “just avoid holding it in that way.”

The iPhone 4 debuted on June 24. As of June 26, the company said, 1.7 million units had been sold, at a cost of $199 or $299 each. AT&T service charges can amount to another $100 per month.

The Maryland suit, which alleges both negligence and fraud, takes aim at both partners.

“PLAINTIFFS were sold defective iPhone 4 units, which drops calls and data service when held in a manner consistent with normal wireless phone use,” the suit reads. The dropped calls mean the phone “cannot be used for its normal purpose and in the normal manner in which such devices are intended to be used.”

The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and a ban on sales until the problem is fixed.

Similar federal suits were filed June 30 by other lawyers in San Francisco and Texas, said Ward’s co-counsel, Charles A. Gilman of Timonium.

Apple did not return a Daily Record call for comment. A spokesman for AT&T declined to comment.
Ward, who lives in Maryland and practices in Washington, D.C., describes himself as a “general fan” of Apple products.

“I had a 128K Mac, literally,” Ward said, referring to the boxy 1984 computer. “All but a lifetime Apple user. And this was a bridge too far for me.”

“It’s an excellent product,” he said. “It’s just a horrible phone.”

The Associated Press reported on Friday that Apple Inc. said it was “stunned” to find that its iPhones have for years been using a “totally wrong” formula to determine how many bars of signal strength they are getting.

Apple said that’s the reason behind widespread complaints from users that the latest model, iPhone 4, can show a sudden plunge in signal strength when they hold it in a way that covers a small black strip on one edge of the phone. Users online have jokingly called this the “death grip” for the phone.

That drop seems exaggerated because the phone can wrongly display four or five bars of signal strength when it shouldn’t, Apple said.

“Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place,” the company said in a letter to users.

Apple launched the iPhone 4 on June 24 in the U.S. and four other countries.

Some outside engineers and users have blamed the iPhone 4’s apparent reception problems on the novel design that incorporates its antenna into the case. But the company said that any phone will show reduced reception if held in a way that covers the antenna, usually mounted at the rear and bottom of a phone. It maintains that iPhone 4’s wireless performance is better than previous models. And it said the incorrect signal-strength formula existed in the original iPhone, launched in 2007.

Apple, which is based in Cupertino, Calif., said it will fix its signal strength formula to conform to other AT&T phones through a free software update for iPhone models 3G, 3Gs and 4 within a few weeks.

“We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see,” Apple said.

Despite recurring complaints about dropped calls and slow data service, particularly in the U.S., the iPhone is a standout success, with each model selling faster than the previous one. Apple said it sold 1.7 million iPhone 4s in its first three days, essentially running out of stock.

AT&T Inc., the exclusive iPhone carrier in the U.S., has faced much of the users’ blame for dropped calls and poor wireless performance. Apple apologized to customers Friday “for any anxiety we may have caused.”

The preceding includes reporting by Brendan Kearney of The (Md.) Daily Record and Peter Svensson of The Associated Press.