The iPhone 4 Antenna Issue is real - I can speak from personal experience that of I hold the phone such that my hand touches near the bottom left, then I lose reception. Not a big deal for me, the Voice Feature of the phone is not that important, and I've learned to hold the phone differently.
However, I'm not a civilian, I've read a lot of blog articles and discussions, so I'm aware of the situation.
So, how does the antenna issue affect a civilian? Here's an example. I was speaking to a Contractor, and all of a sudden I couldn't hear him for a few seconds. I asked what happened - "this new iPhone sucks" was his reaction. Lesson - civilians aren't aware of the known antenna issue, so do not know how to hold the phone, which results in them thinking the phone sucks.
This whole affair reminds me of the Intel FDIV issue in 1994. Intel initially (and in my opinion, correctly) claimed that this was not a significant issue. However, the bug took on a life of its own, making it to the chat show circuits, and spawning great jokes like "At Intel, Quality is Job 0.99989960954". Eventually, Intel caved, and organized an "on request" replacement. I feel that Intel ultimately benefitted by the fact that the bar had been raised in consumers' expectations of the product. Intel's smaller competitors were forced to spend proportionately more on QA of their products.
So, what will Apple announce tomorrow...?