It's certainly true that Android, WebOS, and the like are not as good as the iPhone's iOS, and very few devices using the competitors' operating systems come close to Apple's hardware. But they're getting good enough that people will switch to them if they start distrusting Apple. Apple should remember that from Windows 95's triumph over the System 7 Mac OS.
It's clear now that Apple can't just foist the blame on hapless AT&T, as it tried subtly with that "it's the signal meter" claim. Sure, AT&T's network in major cities can't handle the customer load, but the iPhone 4 has connection problems on the AT&T network that the iPhone 3G S and non-Apple phones do not. You can't blame AT&T for the iPhone 4's specific problems.
What Apple needs to do is simple, even if it goes against company culture: Stop stonewalling. Admit what it does know. Perhaps Apple can't yet duplicate Consumer Reports tests or hasn't found a fix. Fine -- say that. But say something that indicates you are aware that there is at least a possible problem, that you are sincerely looking into it, and you will fix it if you can and make it right through a refund if you can't.
If Apple is lucky, it might be able to fix the problem by offering the $29 iPhone bumper enclosures to all customers at no charge. (There's evidence they shield the case/antenna from such finger interference.) And if a recall is warranted -- which it could be, since the antenna is integral to the iPhone 4 -- Apple should proactively recall the existing units and stop selling any more iPhone 4s until it can make nondefective units and fix or replace those already sold.
Such directness, honesty, and customer-first methods would go a long way to earning user forgiveness. After all, mistakes do happen, and people accept that. Apple has earned the right to be proud of its accomplishments, and people will give it a pass on that pride being expressed as arrogance from time to time. But what people won't accept indefinitely is blind arrogance.
It's up to Apple whether it can avoid Napoleon's mistake and save its empire. It almost died once going down this path. It should know better than to start down that road again.
This article, "How the iPhone 4 could be Apple's Waterloo," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile computing at InfoWorld.com.