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A woman examines the iPhone 4Apple might have been expecting trouble with the iPhone 4’s antenna. Last year, senior engineer and antenna expert Ruben Caballero expressed his concerns about the new antenna design to Apple’s management, including CEO Steve Jobs, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

Another person went on to say that a carrier partner expressed similar concerns.

Since the iPhone 4’s launch, Apple has faced considerable criticism regarding an issue with the device’s new external antenna design — simply touching the lower-left portion of the metal antenna band can cause the phone to drastically lose reception. The issue is so well-known and easily replicated by this point that Consumer Reports was unable to recommend the device, which led to Apple’s stock falling 3 percent on Tuesday. Apple announced yesterday that it will be holding an iPhone 4 press conference on Friday, and it’s expected to comment on the antenna issue then.

Apple desperately needs to say something about the issue, because it has just been digging a deeper hole for itself with its lackluster response thus far. Steve Jobs famously replied to a customer’s email with “Just avoid holding it that way.” The company’s initial response was to downplay the issue, then it went on to apologize for something completely separate. Apple never actually admitted to a reception issue, instead it said that the real problem was that the phone’s reception bars were not being displayed correctly. The company announced that an upcoming software update will fix the reception bar problem.

The situation has escalated to the point where New York Senator Chuck Schumer has written a letter to Jobs asking for a free fix for consumers. Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has weighed in, saying that it’s as if “the AT&T dead zone has been extended with this new phone.”

It’s bad enough for Apple that it will likely be forced to admit to the issue on Friday — but if it actually knew about the reception problem well before launch, the company will have a lot more to answer for. Its weak response to initial complaints would seem even more egregious, and even a full recall might not be enough to satisfy wronged customers.

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