iPhone 4 Antenna: Apple wrongly calls it a software problem – but it is easily fixed with a case

Apple is sufficiently bothered by criticism of the iPhone 4 antenna, an external band around the device whose reception is poor when held in the normal way, that it has posted a letter on the subject:

We have discovered the cause of this dramatic drop in bars, and it is both simple and surprising.

Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength.

Apple’s reasoning is that because the range of values displayed by its signal bars is smaller than it should be, users can see a signal drop of two or three bars when the real drop is only a small one. So it’s apologised … for its software error:

For those who have had concerns, we apologize for any anxiety we may have caused.

However, users are not primarily concerned about the number of bars. They are concerned about calls dropping, or even being unable to make calls. The best article I have seen on the matter is Anandtech’s detailed review which has the measurements: the iPhone 4’s signal attenuation when “holding naturally” is 19.8dB, nearly twice as severe as an HTC Nexus One at 1.9dB, and ten times worse than an iPhone 3GS at 1.9dB.

It is disappointing that Apple will not own up to the problem, or do anything about it for existing customers – though you can bet that future iterations of iPhone 4 will fix the issue.

Still, there is one thing in Apple’s letter that I agree with:

As a reminder, if you are not fully satisfied, you can return your undamaged iPhone to any Apple Retail Store or the online Apple Store within 30 days of purchase for a full refund.

The antenna problem is a fault and a return is justified. That said, you can fix the problem by buying a case – yes, Apple should pay, but it seems determined to avoid doing so. Since iPhone 4 is still in high demand, my assumption is that most customers feel it is worth having despite its flaw.

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4 comments to iPhone 4 Antenna: Apple wrongly calls it a software problem – but it is easily fixed with a case

  • honkj

    ———
    Apple wrongly calls it a software problem
    ———–

    uhh, did you actually read the ananTech review? if you look closely at it, the AnaTech review is using the “BAR”s, just the number representation rather than the Graphic, either way, he is using the BARS, and if you read even further, the reviewer is actually confused that he is getting better calls, and better reception, while he has poor BARS….

    so uhhh, duh, it is a software problem with display,

    here is an example of what is going on, lets say that the antenna design is actually twice as good as any antenna design before, but if you grip it in such a way, that it brings it down to what old antenna designs achieved….

    would you still call it a flaw????? this is exactly what the AnanTech review was finding, they just didn’t put 2 and 2 together and realize they were dealing with bad numbers coming from the BARS.

  • Norm

    The software “fix” just hides the hardware problem. A different hardware design decision could have avoided the dramatic attenuation seen, as evidenced by the “fix” of adding a protective case. So, yes, I would call it a hardware problem. It’s at least a lost opportunity to make it “insanely great”.

  • Zimmy

    @honkj, yeah, that’s right, just a software problem… meanwhile back in the real world, people are losing calls and dropping connections.

    Funny how the bars were ok on all previous iPhones? They can rig the bars to make it look better, but this is just a smoke screen by Apple, they should be supplying rubber cases for free to all their iPhone4 customers.

  • They’re simply bluffing. how they can make a totally wrong calculation with such an high demanding prodcut. They’re lying. They’ve already claimed the antenna design is a perfect example for wise engineering. Now they wanted to stick on that by complaining softwares. if a case can solve the problem, then how they could say the algorithm is totally wrong? they’ve been working with AT&T for so many years and yet can’t they figure out how to calculate? This is really stupid thing. There’s nothing has changed with AT&T with iPhone release. Comparing with Microsoft they’re not so devil as Apple in these days. What’s the point in returning a product which brought with immense efforts especially long queues? They will not offer a case for free, it will make another problems for them. The competitors will make use of it as Apple already pricked lot of other guys by their TV ads. Now let’s see how they gonna solve this problem. Jobs may be thinking we will eat any shit he produces and markets.