eBay sellers capitalize on iPhone 4 antenna problems

Jack up prices of Apple's bumpers, which are in short supply

The uproar over the iPhone 4's call reception, and Apple's suggestion that users slap cases around their new phones, has delayed shipments of the company's own "bumper" casings and driven up prices on eBay.

Reports of problems with call and data signal strength in the new iPhone 4 first surfaced last week, and they continued to gather momentum Wednesday as the technology site AnandTech published test results that quantified the signal loss, or attenuation, when the iPhone 4 is held in certain ways.

Last week, Apple acknowledged that holding the iPhone 4 might result in a diminished signal that could make it difficult to place and maintain calls or retain a data connection. Among the company's suggestions: Buy a case.

"Avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases," Apple said in a statement last Thursday.

Apple's recommendation may have resulted in the delivery delays the company itself is now reporting for its own "bumpers" -- strips of rubber and plastic that fit around the edges of the new iPhone.

According to Apple's online store, the basic black bumper ships in five to seven business days from the time it's ordered. Other colors -- Apple also sells iPhone bumpers in white, blue, green, orange and pink -- won't ship until July 16.

Savvy entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the bumper shortage to jack up prices on eBay, with some asking several times more than the $29.99 Apple charges.

One eBay offering first noticed by the Apple enthusiast site 9to5 priced a white bumper for $99.99, more than three times Apple's list price.

A search of eBay for "iphone 4 apple bumper" returned more than 80 entries, ranging in "Buy It Now" pricing from $39.99 to $99.99. As of 4 p.m. Eastern time, one black bumper up for auction had been bid up to $51.

Some of the listings mention the iPhone 4's signal strength problem in their sales pitches. A $69 blue bumper, for example, links to a MacRumors.com story about the AnandTech.com study.

iPhone 4 bumper on eBay
iPhone 4 bumpers command high prices on eBay, where some sellers pitch their wares with references to the phone's antenna problems. This black bumper goes for $40 more than Apple's list price.

Tucker, Ga.-based iPhone case maker and seller Case-mate said sales of its iPhone 4 cases have been brisk, but it was unable to tell whether any part of that upswing was due to the antenna issue.

A case is the best way to reduce any signal loss caused by holding the iPhone 4, an antenna expert said today.

"Will a case help? Yes," said Spencer Webb, an antenna engineer with 11 patents to his credit, and the president of AntennaSys, a mobile device antenna design and consulting firm. "Will it solve all the problems? No. But I can't imagine carrying an iPhone without a case."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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