NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) --

Apple's

(AAPL) - Get Report

iPhone antenna problem

has turned into a growing public relations problem.

Apple shares were down 3% Tuesday in the wake of a troubling

Consumer Reports

review of the newest iPhone. The review, which otherwise spoke glowingly about the phone, concluded that "Apple needs to come up with a permanent -- and free -- fix for the antenna problem before we can recommend the iPhone 4."

Apple has now effectively been called out on the problem that has been widely apparent since the iPhone's arrival five weeks ago. And to date, Apple has taken little responsibility for the glitch, initially blaming users for

holding the phone incorrectly

.

But the outcry seems to be getting a little louder and Apple may have to find a suitable response.

"It's time to offer free bumpers," said David Chamberlin, director of crisis management for PR group

MS&L Group

, referring to rubber covers that may insulate the antenna in a way that duct tape helped improve the performance at

Consumer Reports'

labs.

Cramer: Wait to Buy Apple >>

"The key in reputation management is five-fold: keep the customer as your north star, be prepared, take quick action, be authentic and be responsible," said Chamberlin.

"Apple needs to address this issue through the lens of their customers, not through the lens of an engineer. Providing bumper cases to customers with the phone would be a nice gesture," Chamberlin said.

Bumpers could help Apple avoid a massive recall, but it would also put Apple in the position of having to fess up to a hardware design problem.

Apple did not respond for comment.

It is also quite possible, given the sales strength of the iPhone and iPad and Macs, that Apple may not feel the need to offer customers any free fixes to the phone.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

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