Unless you’ve been on Mars since the release of the iPhone 4, you surely know that they’ve had problems with the phone’s signal. The difficulty has been blamed on user error (“Dude, you’re holding it wrong!”), the AT&T network, a software error (they claimed that the signal was lost because it was actually weaker than what they were displaying in the first place), and the antenna design, but it’s clear that the first three are smoke screens. Apple plans to have a press event this morning to work the Steve Jobs magic spin on it, a move that’s sure to induce euphoria in the believers.

Customers have been complaining since the phones went on sale, but it was Consumer Reports that finally forced them into this press conference, by saying that they “can’t recommend the iPhone 4,” confirming quite clearly that the problem is caused by a design flaw in the phone’s antenna.

In Wednesday’s Gadgetwise blog in the New York Times, Jenna Wortham wonders whether what Consumer Reports says matters, in the case of the iPhone. Smart-phones and household appliances are not the same sorts of things, and, Ms Wortham says, our love of our phones transcends the Consumer Reports rating system:

[...] does anyone react to Consumer Reports any more?

The short answer is, They do. Each month, more than eight million subscribers flip through the magazine’s pages for advice on the greenest air-conditioners or cars with the best fuel efficiency.

But the longer answer is a bit more complicated, in part because our relationship with technology, and in particular, our smartphones, has become a lot more complex over the last few years.

There’s a reason that the latest Kenmore refrigerator has never been a trending topic on Twitter or dipped in and out of your Facebook news feed with persistent regularity. Would you bemoan a partners’ unhealthy addiction to a KitchenAid mixer? Or fiercely defend — and brag — to friends about your choice in microwave ovens?

Distilling it down, Ms Wortham puts it this way:

Our smartphones have become much more than personal appliances — they are intimate fixtures in our daily lives, often the first items we reach for in the morning and the last things we carefully lay to rest at night, before ourselves.

But wait! Sure, I like having my BlackBerry, and I’d not like to be without it. And yes, I’m certainly more fond of it than I am of my refrigerator, or my clothes washer. But let’s not belittle the Kitchen Aid and the Cuisinart too hastily! And a state-of-the-art Jenn-Air or Aga would absolutely have an intimate place in my heart.

The BlackBerry wins on portability, of course. Still, if I could get my email and browse the web while stirring the risotto... well....