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Experts Explain iPhone 4 Antenna Problem 427

Posted by Soulskill
from the darth-jobs-doesn't-see-what-the-fuss-is-about dept.
CWmike writes "Reports of call and data signal strength problems in the new iPhone 4 have a basis in fact, a hardware expert said Thursday. Later in the day, Apple acknowledged that holding the iPhone 4 may result in a diminished signal that could make it difficult to make and maintain calls or retain a data connection. 'Gripping any 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,' Apple said in a statement issued to several media outlets, including PC Magazine, which had run tests earlier Thursday. '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.' Scores of new iPhone owners confirmed the reception problem in a string of more than 360 messages posted to a thread on Apple's iPhone 4 support forum." A blog post from an antenna design company explains that the reception problems are probably the direct result of phone design adapting to FCC requirements.
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Experts Explain iPhone 4 Antenna Problem

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  • Another person (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:15PM (#32697344) Homepage Journal

    who would rather be part of a group then have a properly working device.

    Sad really.

  • Re:Cases (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wramsdel (463149) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:21PM (#32697420)

    It'll insulate the metallic ring that's "part of the antenna system", which might mean "the antenna" or might mean "some other element that helps the antenna do its work" (i.e. a resonant grounding piece). Antennas are tuned, resonant, structures...think of a tuning fork that needs to oscillate at a certain frequency. Bridging the gap between the two exposed elements changes the electrical characteristics of it such that the antenna becomes detuned and reception is impaired. By applying a case, your hand can no longer come in contact with the ring, so the antenna isn't as severely detuned and the cell phone signal isn't as attenuated. I say "as severely" because there will always be some impact when your hand is in reasonable proximity to the device, but it won't be of the magnitude that direct contact would be.

  • form over function (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nobodyman (90587) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:31PM (#32697516) Homepage

    Of course, apple could have easily designed the phone with with a some plastic along the side, but this would go against their aesthetic "vision". Anyone who has used an Apple mouse (*any* Apple mouse) knows that ergonomics takes a back-seat to physical appearance. Always.

  • Re:Cases (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PPalmgren (1009823) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:31PM (#32697522)

    Form over function has been Apple's M.O. when it comes to certain design choices with their devices, something like this shouldn't be surprising. Its also the reason a lot of people buy their devices.

    Apple sells Shiny, and this is a result.

  • Re:Another person (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:36PM (#32697572)

    I can hold my Android phone any way I want to and I don't see any loss of signal strength, so apparently it *is* possible to design a working phone within current SAR limits...

    I wasn't aware that government regulation forced BP to cut corners and undertake a risky well closure strategy, ignoring evidence that the BOP was damaged. Which regulation was that?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:36PM (#32697574)

    They all want to flood the Net with their obligatory iPhone 'reviews' and 'reactions' claiming:

    "It's amazing!"

    "A must upgrade for all existing iPhone owning Hipster Douchebags!"

    "Magical!"

    "Teh best thing evah!!!"

    while the actual piece of crap iPhone 4 is:

    Ugly
    Defectively designed
    Runs an outdated OS

    No wonder Google kicked Apple and the iPhone into 3rd place in sales and Android is now selling at roughly 50-60 million phones a year.

  • Re:Another person (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Edzilla2000 (1261030) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:41PM (#32697638)
    It's funny how every single other phone is not affected by this very dangerous government regulatior...
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:42PM (#32697654)

    They already had the phone inside the case in previous generations, the external antenna does improve the signal. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. A light non-conductive coating would work perfectly well.

  • Re:Cue the fanbois (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LBArrettAnderson (655246) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:46PM (#32697692)

    In a sane world there's no way that my theory can be right, but here it is:
     
    The lab tests were done at Apple HQ, where AT&T has a tower in order to keep Steve Jobs happy -- plenty of signal even with the defect. The field tests were done with the rubber disguises on, so it didn't affect them.

  • Re:Cue the fanbois (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hope Thelps (322083) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:47PM (#32697696)

    It Just Works. As long as you hold it the way Steve Jobs instructs you to. Coming from the supposed experts on user interface this is a major let down. Users holding the phone the way that comes most naturally to them are not wrong - the product is wrong.

  • FCC? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by guspasho (941623) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:47PM (#32697698)

    A blog post from an antenna design company explains that the reception problems are probably the direct result of phone design adapting to FCC requirements.

    Because it has nothing to do with their decision to place the antennae on the exterior of the device.

  • by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:53PM (#32697770) Journal

    ...then why is it that this is the first time so many people are experiencing this problem?

  • by HexKrak (1716604) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:58PM (#32697824)
    The first and 2nd gen iPhones had the highest dropped call rates in recent history but it didn't stop people from using them. If apple announced their next phone would be constructed purely from dog poo, for environmental reasons of course, people would still line up around the block to be the first to own one.
  • Re:No case? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LBArrettAnderson (655246) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:01PM (#32697860)

    Something that affects 50% of customers is a non-issue? Despite your claim, you are, in fact, a "fanboi."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:02PM (#32697872)

    The Nexus One does this. An old Nokia 6230 from the old days does this. There's plenty of snapshots people are making which demonstrate exactly the same effect on loads of devices out there. Every phone - even those with extending antennas - does this to some extent. You don't even have to be in direct contact - RF at these frequencies doesn't work like that. The 'bars' thing is bullshit anyway. Most phones are faking them up to make it less obvious.

    The only difference here is Steve erred by pointing out exactly where the antenna lives. Everyone's aware of what they're touching, whereas in other phones they didn't notice the difference because they weren't looking for it.

  • Re:Cue the fanbois (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StikyPad (445176) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:04PM (#32697896) Homepage

    Grounding, or effectively grounding (by say, shorting two ends of a dipole) an antenna will *always* result in loss of signal, even when starting values are ideal. But regardless of how it was missed, the fact that it was missed at all means one thing: inadequate testing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:07PM (#32697938)

    Would it be better if the rubber band was part of the design but the marketing team forced the engineers to remove it so that the device would look better?

  • Re:No case? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by C++0x (1597609) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:13PM (#32698018)

    I'm no fanboi, but seriously, how many people don't use a case for their iPhone? Probably 50% of my friends own one, and I can't think of a single one who goes "naked". This is a non-issue.

    Your "non-issue" decree is thoughtless. I use a leather sleeve case like this one http://store.apple.com/uk/product/TT756ZM/A [apple.com] and so for me this iPhone 4 design defect is a very real problem. Apple should do the decent thing, admit their stupid mistake and provide a real solution - such as giving customers Apple iPhone 4 bumper cases, which they already recommend as a workaround, free of charge (instead of charging $30 a piece).

  • Re:Cue the fanbois (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:18PM (#32698060) Homepage

    Grounding, or effectively grounding (by say, shorting two ends of a dipole) an antenna will *always* result in loss of signal, even when starting values are ideal.

    I think the bigger problem is that with all of Apple's "expertise with hardware", they would design something with this kind of flaw.

  • Re:Cases (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:23PM (#32698108)

    The standard defense of the artless engineer: form over function.
    When will you learn is a lot of cases form is part of function?

    This new antenna design was supposed to be a step forward in both form AND function, but due to a design oversight, or possible manufacturing error, it suffers from what appears to be an easily correctable flaw. Saying 'form over function' is unfair and implies that the design suffers an intrinsic flaw, which I don't think is the case. Something as simple as thin non-conductive coating of the antennas would probably alleviate all these issues. It's possible there was even supposed to be such a coating.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:34PM (#32698232)

    I think the reason they may not have found this in testing, is because it seems that you have to have slightly sweaty hands to trigger the problem. Just after running through an airport I was able to replicate the speed drop, but sitting on the plane a little later I could not see a network speed drop no matter how tightly I gripped the edges.

    The tested mostly in winter, now it's summer - leading more people to have this problem.

  • One Antenna? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:36PM (#32698260)

    I've been working with s device that has four antenna patches, a system to monitor the received signal strength from each, the transmitted SWR, and based upon these inputs, select the best antenna to use. Its not a cell phone, per se, but it operates on GSM systems and cannot be installed in a controlled environment (much like not being able to predict how a user will grab a phone).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:06PM (#32698484)

    ...then why is it that this is the first time so many people are experiencing this problem?

    Because they weren't looking for it. The trouble is the location of the antenna was pointed out to everyone. Try the same thing on a Nexus One, a 3GS or pretty much everyone phone out there: you'll notice the same thing, unless they've tweaked the bar representation to take account of it (yes everyone cheats).

    It's like pointing out the suspension wires in an old Trinitron CRT: people have no idea they're there and enjoy watching the TV, until somebody points them out.

  • by xs650 (741277) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:30PM (#32698632)
    It is a disgrace that it even got to testing, anyone with a clue about RF design would have predicted the dismal performance.
  • Love Glove it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BlackHawk-666 (560896) <ivan.hawkes@gmail.com> on Friday June 25, 2010 @10:53PM (#32699498) Homepage

    Slip a condom on that iPhone before you use it; honestly people - safe sex begins with safe phone calls to arrange the booty call.

  • Re:Cue the fanbois (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PPalmgren (1009823) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:03PM (#32699552)

    I'm curious who they are employing to design this stuff. I learned about this crap in EE 102, my first year of college. Also, if they had anyone with long-term experience in the company, they'd remember what happened with early 90's cell phones with the retractable antenna.

    I honestly think that there's a case here of someone without knowledge in middle management overriding engineer's recommendations.

  • by LBArrettAnderson (655246) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:54PM (#32699790)

    Please tell me where I can touch my Nexus One (with a single finger, mind you) that will cause it to drop a call. Calling this a nonissue is moronic.

  • by symbolic (11752) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @12:09AM (#32699880)

    I don't think this was missed at all. It's like any of the other "defects" that have showed up in Apple products. I'm tempted to believe that Apple knew quite well about this, but decided to go with it anyway because a) fixing it would involve removing some of the "sleek" factor and b) they knew that there would be such mass hysteria over acquiring the new product that it wouldn't matter - at first. It's all about taking calculated risks.

    That having been said, it's precisely this attitude that destroyed my fan loyalty several years ago- I simply got tired of being bent over by Apple's marketing prowess. I still buy an Apple product every now and then, but the days of drooling all over myself at the mere mention of a new Apple product are LONG gone.

  • Re:FCC? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by daveime (1253762) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @12:40AM (#32700008)

    Well it seems to work for just about every other phone made in the last 15 years.

  • Re:Cue the fanbois (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 26, 2010 @01:20AM (#32700134)
    They were testing it, but with rubber band around it (to make it look like 3G)... i'm assuming the $29 rubber band that you can buy for aesthetic reasons has a very important practical application.
  • Re:Cue the fanbois (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZosX (517789) <zosxavius AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday June 26, 2010 @01:28AM (#32700166) Homepage

    Fake!

  • Come'on Slashdot (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 26, 2010 @01:47AM (#32700266)

    Stop sucking up to Apple.

    When this 3 days late "news" first reached the front page of Slashdot, the title was not "Experts Explain iPhone 4 Antenna Problem", it was much more offensive to Apple's dismal focus on functionality, 6 hours later it was edited to a damage control bandaid.

    I am seeing the same pathetic attempts to downplay this rookie mistakes over other consumer focused 'tech' sites. It's sad to see Slashdot singing the same tune.

  • Re:Simply ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by daath93 (1356187) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @02:50AM (#32700478)
    All you have to do is mention Microsoft in a negative fashion and the apple monkeys clap and giggle like mentally challenged school girls. Substance and fact are not required.
  • by sqrt(2) (786011) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @04:15AM (#32700784) Journal

    I'm pretty sure that's why they designed the bumper accessories to be the way they are. They turned a product defect into a way to sell an overpriced accessory to fix their devices shortcomings - and it's working! The Jobsian management style never ceases to amaze me with its outcomes.

  • Re:Simply ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bythescruff (522831) <tim.beattie@nt[ ]rld.com ['lwo' in gap]> on Saturday June 26, 2010 @06:12AM (#32701204) Homepage

    What other company could get away with producing a product like this and succeed?

    Way to ignore the enormous elephant [microsoft.com] in the room.

  • by dzfoo (772245) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @07:18AM (#32701442)

    I'll going out on a limb here and guess that this issue is akin to the "exploding iPhone" problem that was all over the news a couple of years ago. It's perhaps a manufacturing defect or even a design flaw that requires very specific and non-typical circumstances, which is affecting a very small number of people.

    And just like that previous issue, that very small group of affected people happen to blog all over the Internet, which then echos their complaints and amplifies them very efficiently, giving the illusion of a massively reported problem--at least to those who read that sort of stuff (which apparently is every other person in the Internet)--and re-enforcing their own biases that Apple is evil. There will be claims of deceit, and threats of legal action, and the echo chamber will cry that Apple has "lost their cool" (again) and have "made a mockery of themselves and everyone" (again), and of course, that this will probably--and most likely--be their downfall (again).

    Then, as with the "exploding iPhone" hoopla, those really affected by this problem will get rectification or compensation from Apple, while the rest will get told off and ignored for being alarmist and reactionary bloggers; and it'll all die down eventually, quietly, and nobody else will care.

    The sun will rise in the east, then set in the west, and consumers will continue purchasing the thing because it works for the vast majority of them. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

              -dZ.

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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