As part of the fallout from Mark Papermaster's exit from Apple, a couple of reports have surfaced indicating Apple knew about the potential for iPhone 4 antenna "death-touch" (detuning at the spot on the lower left side) for 1 to 2 years prior to launch.
The Wall Street Journal claims one year:
It was Mr. Jobs, rather than Mr. Papermaster, who decided to move forward with the development of the phone even though the company was aware of the risks of the antenna design as much as a year ago, according to people familiar with the matter.
Daring Fireball says two year:
One last tidbit from an informed source: the bug on the “touching it wrong” signal loss issue was filed two years ago. This is not a problem they didn’t catch, or caught too late. So, on the one hand, clearly the fundamental antenna design predated Papermaster’s time at the company. But on the other hand, there was plenty of time to find a solution to the problem. I.e., it’s not that Apple should not have used an external antenna. It’s that it should have been even better.
And again it's worth pointing out that the issue as it currently stands is part real problem for people in low signal areas who do touch the phone on the left, part media feeding frenzy, and part Apple mishandling the introduction and subsequent media frenzy.
If Steve Jobs, as part of the WWDC 2010 iPhone 4 introduction, had explained the new iPhone 4 antenna as providing better reception in most cases, allowing for a bigger, longer-lasting battery, and adding to the structural support of the phone -- with the trade-off being that spot of detuning -- information like the above probably wouldn't have even made it to post.
Now we're getting free bumpers. (Though Google still hasn't offere me a free sun shade for my daylight impaired Nexus One AMOLED display...)