Its products are launched with more hype than a new Madonna album and generate small armies of fanboys queuing around the block.

As far as they are concerned, Apple can do no wrong. Until now.

A leaked memo to the company's helpline staff over problems with the iPhone 4 reveal the company's remarkably jaundiced view of its customers.

The phone has a fault. Customers in Britain, who have paid the equivalent of $1300 for the gadget, find that it doesn't work properly if they hold a part of the casing where the aerial is located.

Many who have complained have been told buying a $55 rubber bumper will cure the problem.

This weekend it emerged that Apple staff have been instructed not to provide these bumpers even though the problem stems from a design fault.

In a leaked memo, helpline staff for AppleCare have been told: "We ARE NOT appeasing customers with free bumpers - DON'T promise a free bumper to customers."

The news is another blow to Apple's reputation, already marred by a spate of suicides at the factory in China that produces its products.

The company is already facing lawsuits relating to the antenna problems with its latest model, but Apple's chief executive, Steve Jobs, insists that owners need to "just hold it right".

Luke Peters, editor of the technology magazine T3, said: "We've tested it and the fact is there is a signal problem with the phone. The real question is, how did the phone leave their labs?"

The news has prompted a further backlash against the company, which has come under fire for the quasi-religious fervour of its workers and followers. Nearly 6000 people have signed up to the Facebook group "I hate Apple".

- INDEPENDENT