by Al Sacco

iPhone 3GS Problems Galore and Apple Laughs Its Way to Bank

Jun 29, 20095 mins
Computers and PeripheralsConsumer ElectronicsData Center

iPhone 3GS owners reportedly experienced a slew of issues since Apple released the device, capped off today by reports of over-heating...yet iPhone sales are off the charts, dwarfing even first-generation and iPhone 3G launch-sales. Is Apple's "cool factor" enough to make iPhone loyalists overlook the glitches?

The iPhone 3GS, Apple’s latest addition to its smartphone lineup, has been flying off of store shelves faster than you can say “shiny new status symbol.” In fact, the iPhone 3GS sold out in many places before it was publicly available, due to a deluge of pre-orders.

image of White Apple iPhone 3GS with Damage from Overheating
White Apple iPhone 3GS with Damage from Overheating (via Le Journal du Geek )

That’s no shock, given the company’s skillful marketing of the iPhone and all things Apple, as well as the device’s general popularity and tendency to appear in all the hottest movies and coolest television series. What’s more surprising are the many quality and performance issues popping up around the new iPhone 3GS…and the iPhone community’s apparent lack of concern.

The hubbub started shortly after Apple’s June 8 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) announcement, in which Apple unveiled the new iPhone. Shortly after the WWDC opening keynote, iPhone 3G users interested in upgrading to the new iPhone 3GS cried foul over AT&T’s upgrade pricing. iPhone 3G users with significant time left on their AT&T contracts thought they too should be eligible for the new contract pricing of $199 for a 16GB iPhone 3GS and $299 for the 32GB version. AT&T disagreed, citing specific terms in iPhone users’ contracts that block all additional hardware subsidies until the contracts expire.

Neither AT&T nor Apple did anything wrong here, as iPhone 3G users inked contracts and agreed to AT&T’s terms. But it illustrates early animosity between potential iPhone 3GS buyers and Apple/AT&T. The carrier eventually extended its iPhone upgrade eligibility window to include more wannabe iPhone 3GS owners, but many were still left to wait out their existing AT&T contracts.

Then, just after the new iPhone was released on Friday, June 19, another set of problems reared its head: Marketing issues. Apple, ever the marketing ace, seems to have made an advertising faux pas or two this time around.

For example, when Apple first released the iPhone 3GS, all the related literature and mentions of the device on the company’s website stated the product name as “iPhone 3G S” with a space between “3G” and “S.” However, Apple quickly realized that a Google search for “iPhone 3G S,” the most common way for interested parties to find information on Apple products, turned up a mixed bag of results for the new iPhone and the older iPhone 3G.

Without any sort of official announcement or even an acknowledgement, Apple quietly changed the official iPhone name to “iPhone 3GS” with no space. Again, this is nothing major from a user perspective; however, it’s proof that Apple’s advertising juggernaut isn’t perfect…and represents a significant scar on the face of Apple’s iPhone 3GS launch.

I also noticed another marketing “problem,” though this one has been less publicized: The iPhone 3GS looks exactly like the iPhone 3G. The existing form factor is impressive–sexy even–yet it would’ve made more sense for Apple to differentiate the new iPhone from the “old” one in some way&even if that differentiator came in the form of just one more casing-color option.

The iPhone, like all Apple products, is a status symbol for many folks. (Why do you think so many iPhone users carry around their devices by hand instead of in a pocket or holster?) But the iPhone 3G has been around for a year now, and it’s common. As such, the device’s value as a status symbol is lessened, because your coworker and neighbor both likely have an iPhone 3G.

As is, you can’t really tell the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS apart–at least until you look at the rear panel, where the device name and storage capacity are listed. Had Apple made the iPhone 3GS bezel another color instead of silver, offered an all-white front panel or something–anything–the devices would’ve looked quite different. And more iPhone users probably would’ve upgraded, if for no other reason than to brag about the latest and greatest gadget. If anyone realized this, it should’ve been Apple’s ad and design teams, but I digress…

If contract and marketing issues weren’t enough, some iPhone 3GS users also experienced a variety of hardware problems. First off, a handful of iPhone 3GS owners reported problems with sound files. For example, some iPhone 3GS units are apparently emitting an annoying, high frequency noise after certain audio notifications are triggered.

Secondly, a mysterious rattling noise has plagued some iPhone 3GS users. Apparently a component(s) beneath the iPhone 3GS power button/camera lens is coming loose and shaking around many an iPhone, causing a rattle and sending new owners into tizzies. There’s even an discussion on the subject.

And today, the Web is abuzz with reports of iPhone 3GS battery overheating problems. Some white iPhone 3GS owners say the devices actually get so hot that their cases can turn burnt-brown or singed-pink.

Apple has yet to even acknowledge, let alone respond to, any of these stated issues.

To say the company’s iPhone 3GS launch was a bumpy one would be an understatement&yet the device continues to be one of, if not the, most popular smartphones on the planet and retailers can’t do enough to keep iPhone 3GS on their shelves.

It’s true, none of these issues are really deal-breakers, and most new-product launches have their own sets of individual hiccups. Still, this launch is noteworthy, because Apple’s usually on point when it comes to marketing and earlier versions of the iPhone haven’t really experienced any hardware problems like the ones described above.

It remains to be seen whether or not Apple can resolve these issues with a software fix, if the company will have to replace devices due to manufacturers’ defects, or if only a very small percentage of units were even affected. What is clear is that it doesn’t really matter to Apple buyers; they’ll keep on dropping dollars regardless.