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Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 05:30 pm PT (08:30 pm ET)

iPhone 4 recall could cost Apple $1.5 billion

A recall of the iPhone 4 could cost Apple as much as $1.5 billion, according to one investment research firm.

Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst for Bernstein Research, said in a note to clients on Tuesday that while a full product recall is "highly unlikely," it could theoretically cost the company up to $250 per phone. Sacconaghi estimates 6 million units sold or in transit, resulting in a recall price tag as high as $1.5 billion.

Another option is for Apple to offer an in-store hardware fix, which could cost $75 per phone. Giving away a free bumper case, which currently retail for $29, would be a much cheaper alternative for the Cupertino, Calif., company. Sacconaghi estimates this approach would cost just $1 per unit.

Examining the longer-term consequences for Apple, Sacconaghi turned to "the emerging pattern of hubris that the company has displayed, which has increasingly pitted competitors (and regulators) against the company, and risks alienating customers over time."

As some examples, the analyst noted Apple's "limited disclosure practices, its attack on Adobe's Flash, its investigation into its lost iPhone prototype (which culminated in a reporter's home being searched while he was away and computers being removed), its restrictions on app development, and its ostensibly dismissive characterizations of the iPhone's antenna issues (i.e., phone needs to be held a different way; a software issue that affects the number of bars displayed)."

Sacconaghi further speculates that "these issues may, over time, begin to impact consumers' perceptions of Apple, undermining its enormous prevailing commercial success."

The report arrives just a day after Consumer Reports — the nation's largest and most trusted nonprofit product review organization — warned that it could no longer recommend the iPhone 4. After conducting its own tests inside a radio frequency isolation chamber, the organization issued a statement on its blog reversing its previous recommendation of the phone.

For its part, Apple earlier this month released an open letter stating that the iPhone 4's reception issues were largely due to an inaccurate formula for calculating signal strength. The company assured that a free software fix would be available in the coming weeks. Consumer Reports' findings are in opposition to Apple's statement.

Another Wall Street analyst, Gene Munster with Piper Jaffray, estimated Tuesday that a fix from Apple could impact its operating income by 1 percent. Like Sacconaghi, Munster also suggested the possibility of issuing free bumper cases. Additionally, the analyst said that since only 25 percent of users are affected by the issue, the company could "weather the storm" by doing nothing.

Apple stock was down $5.49 (2.13%) at the market's close on Tuesday.