Apple is playing down the antenna issue on iPhone 4, insisting that any cellphone exhibits reception problems when held wrong. Meanwhile, reviewers have confirmed that iPhone 4 in fact drops fewer calls, despite the antenna issue.
Apple praised iPhone 4 as the first handset to integrate the antennas (UMTS, GSM, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth) into its stainless steel inner frame. While this improves signal strength in normal circumstances, we’ve also learned that gripping the phone tightly in your hand could kill your signal bars. The so-called iPhone 4 death grip is to be blamed on the FCC, antenna expert Spencer Web told Cult of Mac:
Just about every cell phone in current production has the antenna located at the bottom. This insures that the radiating portion of the antenna is furthest from the head. Apple was not the first to locate the antenna on the bottom, and certainly won?t be the last. The problem is that humans have their hands below their ears, so the most natural position for the hand is covering the antenna. This can?t be a good design decision, can it? How can we be stuck with this conundrum? It?s the FCC?s fault.*You see, when the FCC tests are run, the head is required to be in the vicinity of the phone. But the hand is not!
So, what’s your key takeaway?
Most iPhone 4 reviews are describing better overall reception and fewer dropped calls. According to the Wall Street Journal’s tech columnist Walt Mossberg, this is the result of some tweaks and the stainless steel bezels doubling as the antennas.*Both*companies told Mossberg that the new phone works better on AT&T’s 3G network than previous iPhones due to both the iPhone 4-specific network tweaks and Apple’s clever engineering that allows the handset to intelligently pick the best available band:
Apple said it tuned the phone to try to grab whatever band on the network was less congested or less affected by interference – to stress the quality of a signal over its raw strength.
Apple has made this a major talking point in their dealings with the reporters. You can find similar explanations elsewhere on the web. For example, iFixIt also observed it in their iPhone 4 teardown:
Apple has gone a step further and tuned the phone to utilize whichever network band is less congested or has the least interference for the best signal quality, regardless of the actual signal strength. Early reports suggest this feature, while buggy in its early stages, will greatly improve the phone’s reliability on AT&T’s fragile network.
Apple’s PR is in full steam regarding the antenna issue. Steve Jobs advised a fan via email to “just avoid” gripping the phone in that way (what way, that way or that way?)*and an Apple spokesperson told Engadget that folks should either buy protective cases that prevent flesh contact with the stainless steel band or accept some attenuation of its antenna performance as “a fact of life.” Interestingly, Apple told Mossberg that the reception issue is a software glitch that will be fixed with a future firmware update.
Christian’s Opinion Okay, so I shouldn’t grip an iPhone 4 in my hand too tightly in order to avoid signal loss, but I should expect fewer dropped calls and better overall reception compared to my trusty, old iPhone 3G? What troubles me here is how Apple addressed the antenna issue. I should accept it as a fact of life, they say? If you ask me, it’s really a huge design omission which slipped unnoticed into the shipping product.
Apple can now either play it down, which they’re trying to do, or acknowledge it and issue a recall while it isn’t too late. Mossberg clearly stated in his review that his iPhone 4 was “either reporting ‘no service’ or searching for a network”* when his other phone “showed some bars.” He wrote that “neither Apple nor AT&T could explain this.” They clearly didn’t have a clue about the reception issue at the time. Makes you wonder, huh?