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Apple on iPhone 4 reception issues: don’t hold it that way

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By Charles Starrett

Contributing Editor
Published: Friday, June 25, 2010
News Categories: Apple, iPhone

Apple has issued a statement on the reception issues some iPhone 4 users are reporting when holding the device in their left hands, with their palms bridging the small gap between the upper and lower steel plates. According to Engadget, Apple said, “Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.” Notably, a large portion of Apple’s promotional material for the phone up to this point has featured people holding the phone in the exact same manner, and while the service changes do not appear to be as severe as the loss in service “bar” indicators suggests, the issue is gaining media attention and could become a larger problem should it become more widespread.

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Comments

1

“avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases”. Hmmm…

There have been suggestions that Apple’s “Bumper” case was designed specifically to solve this very problem, as it insulates the antenna from the users hand and fingers without offering any significant protection to the rest of the phone. Maybe it’s a coincidence, I don’t know, but you can understand how that theory has arisen.

I would be extremely interested to see a comparison test here. Exactly how different is the signal drop-off between a bare-naked iPhone 4 and examples fitted with cases? Is the problem eliminated when using a case or is there no difference? Any test should cover the Apple bumper plus a good selction of third party alternatives from a variety of manufacturers and - crucially - made from a variety of materials.

If a case solves the problem then I kinda guess that’s OK with me (although of course the problem should never have been there in the first place) and I’ll probably buy an iPhone 4 then, but until we know for certain then I (and many others I suspect) will be stalling on my upgrade.

Will ilounge be doing a comparison test like this in the near future?

And more importantly, will Apple acknowledge the problem as a design flaw and give a free Bumper case to every customer?

Posted by Pitmonster on June 25, 2010 at 7:22 AM (PDT)

2

It looks like you can’t post a link in the comments…

Anyway, on engadget right now they have assembled a photo collage of people holding the phone “the wrong way” in Apple’s own promotional videos. Pretty hilarious.

I would post a link, but it won’t let me.

Posted by ort on June 25, 2010 at 7:51 AM (PDT)

3

I don’t think Apple’s explanation of “don’t hold it that way” is sufficient if there is a problem with people’s grips interfering with reception. This should have been detected in the prototype testing phase.

If it does turn out that it’s really a problem, I think free bumpers might be a nice gesture on Apple’s part. I think Apple’s profit margin on those things is probably like 10,000 percent—I can’t imagine that the bumpers cost more than 30 cents to manufacture.

I haven’t had too many issues with my unit, though I will have to say that I’m new to AT&T and cannot discern if dropped calls are due to the iPhone 4 design or AT&T’s network or both.

Posted by cxc273 on June 25, 2010 at 8:11 AM (PDT)

4

@ort, The exact collage you mention is linked in the story. smile

Posted by Charles Starrett on June 25, 2010 at 8:43 AM (PDT)

5

my 3GS does the same thing

Posted by Jeff on June 25, 2010 at 9:21 AM (PDT)

6

Just pulled my iPhone 4 out of my pocket and held it “that way” and I went from 2 bars to full bars (iPhone is naked, BTW).  I’m not experiencing the described phenomenon.  Wonder if it’s just a localized problem.

Posted by jkoz73 on June 25, 2010 at 10:08 AM (PDT)

7

I’ve covered the antenna up with my bare hand and nothing unusual happens with regard to my signal indicator. It will occasionally move from four to five bars and back in my office, but that’s not attributable to anything I’m doing.

I agree with jkoz73—this doesn’t seem to be as widespread as the blogosphere suggests.

Posted by Flippy Hambone on June 25, 2010 at 10:34 AM (PDT)

8

I’v held my iPhone 4 every which way and haven’t had any problems at all. Humm, maybe since the iPhone case is the antenna people are being more sensitive or aware of signal strength than before.

Posted by MZ on June 25, 2010 at 2:57 PM (PDT)

9

Patient: Doctor Doctor! It hurts when I do this! <holds arms at impossible angle and pulls contorted face>
Doctor: Then don’t do that.

Posted by Dan Woods on June 25, 2010 at 3:14 PM (PDT)

10

I can purposely hold the iPhone 4 certain ways to decrease the bars, however it doesn’t really matter in real life for me since I use earphone or hands free device most of the time. I can also now drive through some of the “dead zones” without getting my call dropped with the new iPhone 4, so if you ask me, I would call the new antenna design is a success.

Posted by BT on June 25, 2010 at 3:14 PM (PDT)

11

The surface conductivity of people’s skin varies with humidity (and to some degree, minor variations in chemistry). So if you’re not having this problem, get your hands a little sweaty and try it.

Posted by rockmyplimsoul on June 25, 2010 at 3:29 PM (PDT)

12

Held my iPhone 3GS with my hand wrapped around the bottom half, and I noticed I was losing bars. Then I let my phone rest on my palm, and the bars started coming back up. Never noticed it before, its kind of funny.

Posted by Daniel J. Ocegueda on June 25, 2010 at 4:17 PM (PDT)

13

ummm… cxc273?  If the cost to (cr)apple to make a bummper was 30 cents and they sell it for $30 dollars, would that really be a 10,000% profit?  Just asking…

Posted by Innocent Question on June 25, 2010 at 4:56 PM (PDT)

14

I’ll tell you what I figured out. It really depends on where you are. When I cradle the iPhone 4 with my hands in my bedroom, the bars go down. But, when I’m away from my room, the bars go up, no matter how I held it. Also, the front camera goes static in my room, but clear when I move out of my room. It really depends on the reception of where you are at, because I do have so many electronics in my room that probably causes the distortion and low bars.

Posted by Mavvy on June 25, 2010 at 5:51 PM (PDT)

15

The only people who can comfortably hold a phone in their right hand are left-handed. Left-handed people are 15 percent. The iPhone 4 is the phone for 15 percent of the world. As one of the 85 percent for whom the new iPhone won’t work reliably, I’ll hang on to my 3GS until there is a revised and redesigned iPhone.

Posted by Allan on June 25, 2010 at 7:51 PM (PDT)

16

I don’t get all the fuss regarding the iPhone 4 antenna issue. In this day and age, who wouldn’t protect a $199-$599 phone (not only expensive, but fragile) with a $20 case? I just don’t get it.

Posted by Luis Velázquez on June 26, 2010 at 6:21 AM (PDT)

17

Apple’s tech support forums originally confirmed that a iOS 4.0.1 software fix addressing the issue would ship early next week (as early as Monday), before the comments were subsequently taken down along with all the other related discussion about the matter.

Posted by Xing on June 26, 2010 at 9:03 AM (PDT)

18

I visited an Apple store today (Liverpool, England) and played with a bunch of iPhone 4’s on both the O2 and Orange networks. I tried everything I could to replicate the 3G signal drop-off problem but I simply could not do it.

I was holding the phones in all sorts of positions, for minutes at a time (the videos show the signal being lost after 20-30 secs) but I never saw the signal drop by even one bar. None of the phones had cases. I did this to 5 or 6 phones, to the eventual annoyance of my partner.

Now of course these may be ‘display’ models with a ‘coating’ or something on the stainless steel chassis/antenna that aleviates the problem, and I accept that they may not be representative of all iPhone 4’s. Also please note that I am not in any way suggesting that the problem is not real, nor am I suggesting that it has been blown out of proportion.

But I can only speak as I find, and there was no problem with loss of signal whatsoever when I tried it for myself, so I am encouraged to upgrade from my 3G.

Posted by Pitmonster on June 26, 2010 at 10:35 AM (PDT)

19

I’m waiting for the wight one comes out. But my neighborn has his blk ones. I told him to give it a try and he said that the bars dropped! I see that not everybody has the issue. I belive it has something to do of how much ur hand   Bridge these two antenna parts. Meaning it depends on the moist percentage in ur skin. .... How much ur skin sweats ... How dry it is. ...

Posted by Dennis on June 26, 2010 at 8:12 PM (PDT)

20

Apple’s position boils down to saying that a case is required for reliably optimal reception.  If that’s true, doesn’t that negate the relevance of the phone’s physical design?

Posted by bluespark on June 26, 2010 at 8:16 PM (PDT)

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