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The guessing game is over. After weeks of being slammed for the (allegedly) spotty reception on the iPhone 4, Apple CEO Steve Jobs climbed up on a California stage Friday and announced that Apple would – wait for it – issue free plastic iPhone cases to all eligible consumers. It was a far cry short of the gigantic iPhone 4 recall that some had predicted, but Jobs did acknowledge that Apple had muffed up a bit when it came to the iPhone 4.

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“We’re not perfect, and phones aren’t perfect either, but we want to make all of our users happy,” Jobs said. He went on to point out that Apple had unloaded more than 3 million iPhone 4 handsets since the June launch – and that the number of consumers actually complaining about bad reception was relatively small. “AppleCare data shows only 0.55% have called in about reception issues,” Jobs said.

Jobs spent several minutes demonstrating that the “death grip” problem affects many phones – not just the iPhone 4. Towards the beginning of the press conference, Jobs picked up a BlackBerry Bold 9700, which showed five reception bars when the phone was held in a “normal way.” But when Jobs grabbed the handset on the left side, the reception strength plummeted. A reporter in the crowd couldn’t pull off the same trick on his personal Bold. When asked about the discrepancy, Jobs said: “You may not see it in certain areas.”

Yesterday, The New York Times published a report – sourced to someone with “direct knowledge of Apple’s plans” – predicting that Apple would soon release a major software update for the iOS 4 system. (Apple, of course, had already released iPhone software 4.0.1, which remedied a problem with the signal display formula.) But according to Engadget, Scott Forstall, the senior vice president of iOS Software at Apple, called the Times report “patently false.”

Apple will provide a free iPhone case until Sept. 30, Jobs said. If you already purchased a bumper case, Apple will give you a refund. iPhone 4 users will be able to select from a variety of iPhone cases on the online Apple store beginning next week.

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