CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple will give free protective cases to buyers of its latest iPhone to alleviate the so-called death grip problem in which holding the phone with a bare hand can muffle the wireless signal.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the giveaway Friday during a news conference at the company's headquarters, even as the company denied the iPhone 4 has an antenna problem that needs fixing.
The more than 3 million people who have already bought the iPhone 4 and new buyers through Sept. 30 will all be eligible.
People who already purchased the $29 "Bumper" cases will be reimbursed.
Jobs began the event by saying, "We're not perfect," but was quick to point out that no cell phone is perfect.
He played a video showing competing smart phones, including a BlackBerry from Research in Motion, losing signal strength when held in certain ways.
Phones usually have an antenna inside the body.
In designing the iPhone 4, Apple took a gamble on a new design, using parts of the phone's outer casing as the antenna. That saved space inside the tightly packed body of the phone, but means that covering a spot on the lower left edge of the case blocks the wireless signal.
Consumer Reports magazine said covering the spot with a case or even a piece of duct tape alleviates the problem. The magazine declined to give the iPhone 4 its "recommended" stamp of approval for this reason, and on Monday it called on Apple to compensate buyers.
On Friday, in the company's first remarks following the magazine's report, Jobs said Apple was "stunned and upset and embarrassed."
Jobs said the iPhone 4's antenna issue isn't widespread. He said just over five out of every 1,000 users have complained to Apple's warranty service, and less than 2 percent have returned the device.
"We're not feeling right now that we have a giant problem we need to fix," Jobs said. "This has been blown so out of proportion that it's incredible."
Analysts have criticized Apple's first responses to reports of reception problems as dismissive, and cautioned that the company shouldn't come across as arrogant.
Jill Small, an iPhone 4 owner who runs a fashion consignment business in Los Angeles, said she was of two minds about the antenna issue.
On the one hand, she hadn't noticed any problems with the phone. On the other hand, if there really is a problem, she finds Apple's response inadequate.
"A case you can get for $10, but the antenna issue you'll have for the life of the phone," she said. "If it was my business, I'd do a recall."