At Surprise Apple iPhone 4 Press Conference, Jobs Unveils ... Free Cases

Journalists poured into Apple's headquarters this morning for a surprise press conference, at which Apple discussed issues with the iPhone 4's antenna that have been plaguing the gadget -- and announced free cases to fix it.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs didn't unveil any new gizmos or gadgets, nor did he announce a partnership with Verizon, as many pundits had predicted. He also didn't apologize, and didn't announce a software fix.

But he did announce a fix of sorts: free cases for iPhone 4 purchasers.

As Jobs took the stage, he began his announcement by unveiling a 15-minute presentation -- but Jobs promised that he would answer everyone's questions shortly. In the presentation, which detailed Apple's defense of the iPhone 4 from "antennagate" as he described it, Jobs demonstrated similar reception issues with other smart phones,  notably the Blackberry Bold 9700 and a Samsung smartphone.

The message is clear: Cell phone reception is a challenge for the entire industry.

And as to a Bloomberg report that the company has known ahead of time about issues with an antenna, Jobs called the article "a crock."

In answer to the numerous reports and complaints that have come out this week, Jobs detailed for journalists its cell phone testing facility, a futuristic environment that Jobs said contained "17 anechoic chambers." And Jobs explained that merely 0.55% of customers have been calling about the antenna flaws.

According to industry analyst Michael Gartenberg, return rates in the neighborhood of 5% would more indicative of serious flaws. Jobs explained that merely 1.7% of people had returned the phone.

But Apple never announced a software fix for the iPhone antenna problem, other than to explain that the hardware issue would be solved with the free cases the company would be handing out. Instead Jobs spent the majority of time at its press conference explaining that cell phone reception problems were an ongoing issue for the entire industry, and defending its testing methodology.

In answer to a question about Jobs' health, Steve explained that he felt better when he was on vacation last week, in Hawaii.

Apple, which surprised consumers and investors by announcing the iPhone 4 press conference earlier this week, had kept mum on what it would announce prior to the event.

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