As those who have successfully upgraded their iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, or iPhone 4 units to iOS 4.0.1 may have noticed, Apple made a visual change to its signal strength indicator bars in its latest update, increasing the size of bars one, two, and three, while keeping the tallest two bars the same. A more dramatic change was made behind the scenes, however, as Apple changed its formula for signal strength to signal bar mapping resulting in what is hopefully a more accurate representation of the phone’s current connection. Anandtech reports that Apple made the dynamic range broader, while also adjusting the range values for each bar to make them wider. As a result, in some areas where signal strength would have been great enough for the iPhone to report five bars under iOS 4.0 and earlier, it may now show only three. As the report notes, this means that the worst case drop of 24 dBm — seen when applying the left-hand “death grip” on the iPhone 4 — longer makes all the signal bars disappear, but just two. The new formula is also used in the iOS 4.1 beta released earlier this week to paid iPhone developers; illustrations of the difference in bar to signal strength mapping are available below.
Apple may be able to fix the iPhone 4’s left-hand reception issues with a software update, according to a new report. Citing a person with direct knowledge of Apple’s plans, the New York Times reports that the unique antenna design of the iPhone 4 has exposed a weakness in the communications software of iOS, specifically in the interaction between specialized communications software and the antenna. According to the source, the software problem has been present in the iOS for a long time, but was only discovered after the iPhone 4 shipped. The report also claims that the problem could presumably be fixed with a software update, one separate from iOS 4.0.1 that was released yesterday.
Notably, both this report and a separate Wall Street Journal piece claim that Apple will not be launching a recall of iPhone 4 units. Regarding yesterday’s report of Apple engineer Ruben Caballero voicing concerns about the phone’s antenna design early in its development, an Apple spokesperson told the WSJ, “We challenge Bloomberg BusinessWeek to produce anything beyond rumors to back this up. It’s simply not true.” The latter article also claims that Apple gives its carrier partners much less time to test a new iPhone before release. Both articles follow Apple’s announcement of a press conference to be held at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time today, and an open letter from U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) directing Apple to fix the problem.
Apple has posted its iOS Software Development Kit (SDK) 4.0.1, bringing with it compatibility with the latest iOS software releases. Notably, Apple is warning developers that if they have updated their iPhones to iOS 4.0.1 or their iPads to iOS 3.2.1 they will need to download and install the new SDK to continue development. Unlike the iOS 4.1 beta and accompanying SDK released yesterday, iOS SDK 4.0.1 is available to all registered developers, and not just those who have paid Apple’s $99 annual fee to enroll in the iPhone Developer Program. Apple’s iOS SDK 4.0.1 is available now as a free download from the iPhone Dev Center.
Apple has released iOS 4.0.1 Software Update for iPhone, the first update to the iOS since the release of 4.0 on June 21. According to Apple’s release notes, the 4.0.1 Software Update “improves the formula to determine how many bars of signal strength to display.” Apple promised this fix in a press release earlier this month; it remains to be seen whether it also addresses the ongoing proximity sensor issue, as well. The iOS 4.0.1 Software Update for iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and iPhone 4 is available now via the Update feature in iTunes.
A newly published Apple patent application suggests the company is working on a new format Dock Connector that would allow device docking in multiple orientations. Entitled “Methods and Apparatuses For Docking a Portable Electronic Device That Has a Planar Like Configuration and That Operates in Multiple Orientations,” the patent describes a docking system that, like current Apple Docks, offers both power and data to the connected device, either via flush contacts that physically touch similar contacts on the dock itself, or via inductive coils that could be concealed within the device’s body. As AppleInsider notes, the patent also covers less progressive docking ideas including traditional electrical contact docks that can be rotated or adjusted; it notably also shows an iPad-like device being docked to an articulated arm not unlike the one found on earlier iMac models. As with all Apple patents, this filing does not necessarily represent any future product release from Apple, but offers evidence of the company’s research in this area.
Apple’s limited developer release of the beta version of iOS 4.1 yesterday makes a handful of small new changes to iOS 4.0, which debuted in June 2010 for iPhone 3G, 3GS, iPod touch 2G, iPod touch 3G, and iPhone 4 devices. For readers who may be interested in what’s changed, we’ve compiled a brief list, along with several screenshots provided by a reader.
One subtle change was first spotted in iOS 4.1 but will likely appear in an iOS 4.0.1 update, as well: Apple’s signal bar strength meter has been updated to more accurately depict cellular signal strength, such that they will show fewer bars than before under some conditions, and the first three bars have been made larger.
Game Center, a matchmaking and leaderboard application for iOS 4-compatible games, has been added again to the list of icons. Apple included Game Center with developer versions of iOS 4.0 until the date of final release, but pulled the app from the publicly available iOS 4 release to give developers additional time to integrate their apps with the feature. The new version of Game Center includes an updated interface with stylized graphics.
Apple has added a new Settings > General > Restrictions option to turn off multi-player game matchmaking within Game Center, which disables the request tab and friend adding for that application. It has also added a new Settings > General > Keyboard option to disable the spell checking feature. User-created dictionary entries also appear to be in the offing for iOS 4.1, enabling the auto-correction feature to learn additional words that shouldn’t be replaced.
Additional features include support for adding iPhone 4 FaceTime contacts to your Favorites list, a tweak that moves the Flash and Camera switch buttons to different locations when the device is tilted into landscape orientation, and a change to AVRCP Bluetooth handing that allows for track skipping. A version of iOS 4.1 for iPad notably has not been released by Apple.
Apple knew the antenna design of the iPhone 4 could pose an issue, according to a new report. Citing a person familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports that Ruben Caballero, a Senior Director of iPod/iPhone engineering described in the report as an antenna expert, warned company management about the potential perils of the design. According to the report, Caballero voiced his concerns in early planning meetings once the bezel antenna design had been chosen, saying that it might lead to dropped calls and would be an engineering challenge. Beyond Caballero, a separate Bloomberg source claimed that one of Apple’s carrier partners also expressed concern about the antenna, although the report does not specify the carrier’s name. Apple is expected to address the iPhone 4’s antenna issues in a press conference scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time tomorrow.
Apple has invited a small number of journalists to a special press conference, expected to be held at its headquarters in Cupertino, CA, to discuss the iPhone 4. Apple has not indicated who will be speaking at the event, which will begin at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time on Friday, nor has it given specifics about what exactly will be discussed, beyond saying that the event will focus on the iPhone 4. Most likely, the company will address concerns over the device’s ongoing antenna issues, and possibly other, less publicized issues like malfunctioning proximity sensors.
Apple has released its first beta version of iOS 4.1, along with an accompanying software development kit (SDK), to registered iPhone developers. Notably, there is no version of the beta operating system available for the iPad, suggesting that contrary to prior reports, iOS 4.1 will not be a platform-unifying release, but will instead cater to Apple’s pocketable devices exclusively. It is currently unknown what, if any, new features or APIs may be included in the update; it is also unknown whether it is meant to help alleviate initial problems with the iPhone 4, or whether those fixes will come in an incremental 4.0.1 update. Both the new iOS 4.1 SDK and pre-release builds are available now for download by registered iPhone developers from the iPhone Dev Center.
ColorWare has started offering a send-in iPhone 4 custom coloring service. The service allows customers to choose from a variety of solid, metallic, or pearlescent colors, some of which are available with a soft touch finish, for application on the phone’s back, frame, Home button, micro SIM slot and earbuds. Each component can be painted a separate color, although each component beyond the frame costs extra. ColorWare’s custom coloring service for the iPhone 4 is available now with an estimated three week turn around time, and starts at $260.
The lack of response by Apple to a known iPhone 4 proximity sensor issue, in which calls can be accidentally interrupted by button presses and hang-ups, has led to a grass roots campaign to force Apple to acknowledge and resolve the problem. Reader Trent Phillips, who previously emailed with the results of controlled proximity sensor testing, has launched a letter writing campaign to both technical and mainstream media outlets covering Apple products. Phillips’ message claims that Apple “is ignoring earnest requests from customers for support and resolution of this issue,” and asks recipients to cover the proximity sensor problems with the same vigor given to the iPhone 4’s reception issues.
In addition, Phillips also pointed to an Apple discussions support thread on the subject that, at 1,689 replies, had been deemed “too long” by Apple. Apple locked that thread after 113 pages of discussion, which it said was causing browser timeouts when loading, and started a continuation thread earlier today with additional replies. Prominent in the new thread is discussion of returning the device before the 30 day limit is up, as are complaints over Apple’s silence on the issue up until this point. It is still unknown whether the issue can be fixed via a software update, or whether hardware replacements will be necessary to fix the problem for affected users.
According to data from the latest ChangeWave smartphone survey, more than half of all respondents planning to buy a smartphone in the next 90 days are planning to purchase an iPhone. 52% of respondents said they planned to purchase an iPhone, a dramatic 21% increase from the March survey. Following Apple was HTC, with 19% of respondents planning to purchase one of its phones, Motorola, with 9%, and RIM with 6%. Notably, both Motorola and RIM saw significant decreases from March, with Motorola down 7% and RIM falling 8%. In addition, Apple continued to lead in cell phone customer satisfaction, with 73% of iPhone customers saying that they are “very satisfied” with their device. ChangeWave’s numbers are based on a survey of 4,028 consumers, completed June 24.
Apple has been removing any threads on its support forums mentioning Consumer Reports’ post from yesterday, claiming that it couldn’t recommend the iPhone 4 due to reception concerns. TUAW reports that Apple has removed at least six such discussions, one of which is still available in cached form from Bing. As the report notes, this is hardly the first time Apple has been caught removing unfavorable threads from its support forums, but it does reflect poorly on the company as it attempts to deal with the iPhone 4 antenna debacle.
After stating in an earlier post that there was “no reason, at least yet, to forgo buying an iPhone 4 over its reception concerns,” Consumer Reports has published a new blog post claiming that it “can’t recommend” the iPhone 4 due to its ongoing cellular reception issues. During testing of three separate iPhone 4 units within the publication’s radio frequency isolation chamber, Consumer Reports was able to replicate the “left hand” issue in which the device experiences significant signal degradation when skin touches the black band on the lower left hand side of the handset. The signal issue is cited as the sole reason the iPhone 4 was not considered a “recommended” model in new smartphone ratings released by the publication today, despite the fact that it “sports the sharpest display and best video camera we’ve seen on any phone, and even outshines its high-scoring predecessors with improved battery life and such new features as a front-facing camera for video chats and a built-in gyroscope that turns the phone into a super-responsive game controller.”
A long-standing lawsuit against Apple and AT&T over the two companies’ iPhone exclusivity agreement has been granted expanded class action status. According to the court document posted online by Wired, the suit now covers “[a]ll persons who purchased or acquired an iPhone in the United States and entered into a two-year agreement with Defendant AT&T Mobility, LLC for iPhone voice and data service any time from June 29, 2007, to the present.” In an interview with Wired, Mark Rifkin, lead counsel representing the plaintiffs of the suit, explained that AT&T’s two-year contract provides an option for customers to terminate the agreement—for a fee—and switch to another carrier. Due to the nature of the U.S. cellular industry, and because the iPhone is only offered by AT&T, customers are essentially locked into using AT&T despite having the termination option.
Apple has argued that its original five-year iPhone exclusivity agreement with AT&T was widely reported, and that even if it wasn’t disclosed, it fails to produce the kind of monopoly power claimed by the plaintiffs. Notably, the exclusivity situation described above is the same for many current smartphones from other cellular providers, such as the Evo 4G from Sprint, the Droid from Verizon, and the original model of the Nexus One from T-Mobile. In addition, it remains to be seen whether the five-year exclusivity deal between Apple and AT&T is still in place, as it has been speculated that the terms of the two companies’ iPhone deal may have been part of the negotiations over iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G data plans.
Apple has posted four new iPhone 4 television commercials. Similar to the company’s first iPhone 4 ad, the new 30-second spots highlight the phone’s FaceTime video chat feature. “Meet Her” shows a new grandfather meeting his granddaughter for the first time, “Haircut” revolves around a boyfriend seeing his girlfriend’s new haircut, “Smile” shows a father attempting to get his daughter to smile so he can see her new braces, and “Big News” shows a wife sharing the news with her husband that they are going to have a child. All four new TV ads are available for viewing on Apple’s website.
Navigon has updated its MobileNavigator turn-by-turn navigation applications, adding support for iOS 4 Background Location and Fast App Switching on multitasking-capable devices and several other new features. In addition to multitasking, MobileNavigator 1.6 adds live weather information, directions to parking, voice guidance for pedestrian mode and an enhanced Reality View Pro. The new Live Weather feature updates and reports current weather conditions enroute and at the destination with temperature and weather conditions shown in the route overview screen during navigation. A new Clever Parking feature enables users to display a list of available parking areas near their destination and easily plot a route to a parking spot. Support for iOS 4 Background Location allows MobileNavigator to continue running in the background and providing voice guidance on multitasking-capable devices. MobileNavigator will also automatically shut down background location mode when no route is active or once you’ve reached your destination, avoiding unnecessary power consumption from the GPS hardware. The latest update also adds enhanced graphics for the iPhone 4 Retina Display and includes the latest NAVTEQ map data, while bringing the Navigon MyRegion suite of regional apps up to the same feature level as the main MobileNavigator series; the MyRegion apps have been renamed to MobileNavigator MyRegion to reflect this. MobileNavigator North America is available from the App Store for $50 until July 22 and is a free update for current users. Versions for other countries can be found on Navigon’s App Store page.
Apple, along with Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft, and Motorola, has been sued over technology relating to wireless email. The Wall Street Journal reports that NTP sued the companies in U.S. District Court in Virginia over eight patents covering the wireless delivery of email to cellphones. “Use of NTP’s intellectual property without a license is just plain unfair to NTP and its licensees,” company co-founder Donald E. Stout said in a statement. “We took the necessary action to protect our intellectual property.” NTP previously received a $612.5 million settlement from BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion, to prevent a potential injunction, giving it some precedence heading into its proceedings with Apple.
Noting that Apple has not responded to numerous complaints in its own support forums regarding iPhone 4 proximity sensor problems, iLounge reader Trent Phillips has conducted tests to determine differences between the sensor behaviors of multiple iPhone models, and concluded that an iOS software update is capable of resolving the problems. In an e-mail to iLounge, Phillips says that the iPhones are all capable of deactivating their screens when objects are detected at a two-inch distance from the sensor, but the iPhone 4 behaves differently from its predecessors, making decisions that lead to accidental screen reactivations under certain conditions.
Earlier iPhones, Phillips notes, switch off their screens at the two-inch distance regardless of the color and past motion of the approaching object. By comparison, the iPhone 4 appears to be less sensitive to dark objects than light ones, and also changes its deactivation distance dynamically after the initial contact. Consequently, the iPhone 4’s screen deactivates only from a shorter distance—say, one inch rather than two inches—if the object it initially reacted to was at the shorter distance. Testing with black and white pieces of paper suggested that the “black piece of paper greatly reduced the detection range of the proximity sensor,” which “could also explain why some people see different effects,” says Phillips, based on skin tone, makeup, light levels, and other factors. His belief is that the iPhone 4’s sensor retains the two-inch range of prior iPhones, but has been miscalibrated on the software side, perhaps in an effort to improve battery life. While it’s still unclear as to whether changes in the iPhone 4’s glass material and/or proximity sensor hardware could also be responsible for the issues, Phillips believes from his testing that a software update could fix the problem, and “all may be well again.”
Fring has released an update to its iOS voice and video communications app adding support for two-way video calling and multitasking on capable iOS 4 devices. Although Fring added one-way video calling to its iPhone application last December, the lack of a front-facing camera on the earlier iPhone models precluded its use for two-way video conferencing. With the addition of the new front-facing camera on the iPhone 4, Fring users can now engage in bi-directional video calls over either Wi-Fi or 3G from the iPhone 4. As a cross-platform client, users of Fring on the iPhone can also conduct video calls with users on Android and Symbian S60 devices. Users of older iPhone models can also now participate in two-way video calls using the built-in camera, however the absence of the front-facing camera on these devices makes face-to-face video calling less practical. The latest version also adds iOS 4 multitasking support, a new social stream for integrating Twitter, Facebook, chats and call updates in a single view, and a smarter address book for managing the buddy list and contacts. Fring is available from the App Store as a free download.
Update: Our preliminary testing indicates that the two-way video calling works fine on older iPhone models as well, although as noted the feature may be less useful here due to the lack of a front-facing camera. Video and audio quality are noticeably lower than FaceTime, even over a Wi-Fi connection. Further, on the iPhone 4 only the front-facing camera appears to be used with no way of switching to the rear-facing camera as in FaceTime. The main advantages over FaceTime are 3G support and compatibility with older iPhone models and Android and Symbian S60 devices.