It's pretty obvious they didn't [improve] to almost everyone...
I respectfully disagree here. Most reviews put out before this "blew up" were rating reception better on the iPhone 4 than on previous iPhones and also several competitors. I have the same experience (much better reception). I think Apple showed some of their reception testing labs in the press conference. They put a lot of testing into this phone.
..it seems obvious to me that at these wavelengths touching one is not usually going to help it work
I agree. Don't touch the line. I get exceptional reception, and I don't touch the line. It's kind of a simple solution. I guess a case also helps, but I like my phone the way it is. There are places I don't touch on many of the RF devices I use. I don't put my hand on the antenna of my cordless phone either.
Yeah, Apple and cheapness are rarely used together, because if you're a customer, they aren't cheap at all. However, if you build things for them, they are as cheap as it gets.
Many Apple products have been torn down to see what they really cost to make, and they seem to have about the highest hardware profit margin there is in the business, and on just about everything they "make". Or more accurately, have made for them in places where the labor is cheaper.
This has me completely baffled. The CPU, RAM, screen, cameras, and pretty much everything on the iPhone 4 are cutting edge. Apple bill of goods on production is low because they are a company known for cutting good deals on large scale parts purchases. That's a good thing for them, and for consumers. Yes, they build where the labor is cheap; as does every other phone manufacturer. None of this has anything to do with an antenna they spent a great deal of money designing, and seems to work really well for the vast majority of their customers.