Apple’s White iPhone Delay a Chance for Antenna Redesign

Like Henry Ford’s Model T, you can have the Apple iPhone 4 in any color you want, so long as it’s black. That’s the continued message as Apple (s aapl) today announced further delays for the white iPhone 4, citing manufacturing challenges. The company says the “more popular iPhone 4 black models” are not affected by those challenges, but availability for the white iPhone 4 is now expected “later this year.”

This isn’t the first delay of the white iPhone 4 model, however. Indeed, in the press conference held to discuss antenna issues last week, Steve Jobs himself said the white model would be shipping by the end of July — and now a week later the device is delayed again? Engadget suggests there are production challenges at play, saying:

Specifically, the factory’s still working out the perfect combination of paint thickness and opacity — the former to ensure the next sub-contractor has enough clearance for the digitizer overlay, and the latter for the absolute whiteness that Jony Ive and co. strive for.

The cynical side of me says this is BS. It could well be that Apple is trying to get the white color just right, but I’d expect that it would have worked out the manufacturing process to do so well in advance of the product launch. If anything, I suspect that Apple is tweaking the antenna design or finding some non-bumper solution to improve the device signal in areas of marginal coverage.

If I was a betting man, I’d guess that Apple’s white iPhone arrives fairly close to September 30. That’s the date when Apple’s free bumper case program currently expires. Which raises another question: Why does it expire on that date? One reason is that Apple likely feels no further obligation to address the “antennagate” issues beyond that, since customers at that point should arguably know full well about potential signal issues when holding the device a certain way.

Another reason could be that by September 30, Apple will have a minor antenna tweak for its iPhone. At last week’s press conference Jobs addressed the bumper case date, saying “Maybe we have a better idea. We will re-evaluate in September.” The black models already sold with a perceived problem are mitigated by the free bumpers. A new production run — say of white iPhones first, followed by black models later — gives Apple to time to make its magical product better, sans bumper.

That better idea Jobs referenced might be more than just a case. I expect that when the white iPhone arrives, it won’t just have the “perfect combination of paint thickness and opacity,” but will have less of an antenna issue too.

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