That Thunk You Heard Was The iPhone Falling Off Its Pedestal

Here’s today’s lesson: The iPhone isn’t perfect, nor are Apple’s hard-working engineers.

So if you’ve been tormenting yourself over whether to switch to AT&T (NYSE: T) for the iPhone, or wait until it comes out on Verizon Wireless, you can breathe a big sigh of relief. The iPhone is imperfect just like any other smartphone. Buy whatever you want.

Seriously, as Apple CEO Steve Jobs testified today in a last-minute press conference in Cupertino, Calif., the iPhone 4 does have a weak spot. If a user grasps the phone in just the right area, its signal strength may drop. He also demonstrated how it can happen on a BlackBerry or an Android phone. Jobs played down the extent of the problem, saying that the phone is experiencing extraordinarily low returns and complaints. Still Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is being forced to act on it, and will be giving iPhone 4 owners a free case, and if you still aren’t satisfied, you can return the phone for a full refund.

Unfortunately, the damage has already been done. During the past 22 days that Apple stayed quiet about the issue, consumers opened their minds to the possibility that the iPhone doesn’t embody perfection. And, while Jobs was apologizing today and offering up reasons of explanation, he only further confirmed that the iPhone is flawed like any other device. Even if the problems have been overblown, Apple’s pristine reputation has been tarnished.

This is not to say that Apple hasn’t been one of the biggest innovators in mobile and in consumer electronics in general — and won’t continue to be. But going forward, expectations for Apple devices may have to come back down to earth.

Up until now, the only fault of the iPhone was that it was on AT&T’s network. Now the door is open for Apple to be at fault, too. It reminds me of how IT managers were once programmed to buy from IBM or else they’d get in trouble. Likewise, consumers have been programmed to believe that they couldn’t buy anything else because it was inferior. In the past few months, Motorola (NYSE: MOT), Samsung and HTC have been proving different by launching a strong line-up of Android phones. Today, the playing field just got more level.