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Apple Hires Antenna Engineers. Really. 417

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the you're-holding-it-wrong dept.
kangsterizer writes "Sometimes, news items are just about a good laugh. You may or may not like Apple, but the way it has been handling its antenna issue has been like a small tech soap opera — Steve Jobs, the CEO, saying 'not to hold the phone that way,' rumors of software issues, and the latest but most crunchy part, since the antenna issue has been widely discovered, on 23 June, several 'antenna engineer' positions opened up at Apple. Seems someone got fired: Antenna engineer job position 1, Antenna engineer job position 2, Antenna engineer job position 3." I just figure they did all their testing in California, where AT&T dropping calls is as common as $4 coffees.
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Apple Hires Antenna Engineers. Really.

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  • by Alcimedes (398213) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @10:24AM (#32744122)

    That must have been a really, really, really awkward conversation.

    Although to be honest, I wonder if this is Apple's secrecy coming to bite them in the ass. If you are uber careful about how many phones you have out in the field, you're a lot less likely to run into scenarios where your product fails in real world situations.

    beta testing, google does it for a reason.

  • by WilyCoder (736280) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @10:26AM (#32744156)

    OP have you ever used an Android phone? The platform is maturing extremely fast. I just switched from an iPhone 3g to an Evo 4g and I don't have regrets. The features of the iPhone 4 just didn't impress me enough. Plus, once I got an android I realized how much the iPhone was stifling my inner geek. I've loaded custom roms, overclocked, rooted, everything...It has been a lot of fun and I recommend android to any geek I know. And if you're not a geek, I still recommend it.

    Ok, I do have ONE regret about my switch: a unified mailbox. There's probably one in the android market...hmmm brb!

  • Reading into it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by _merlin (160982) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @10:26AM (#32744158) Homepage Journal

    Someone got fired, or they just realised that you can't expect it to work properly if you don't hire experts. Reminds me of all the issues with noise in the G5 towers getting onto the supply rails and then into the audio I/O and Firewire power that lead to them hiring analog electronics experts to fix it. When I first read that the stainless steel surround was an antenna, I predicted these kinds of problems - you can't expect an antenna to maintain tuning while allowing a meatbag to touch it, especially when you need to be able to tune several microwave bands from hundreds of MHz to GHz. The laws of physics are against you, and any engineer should be able to point that out. Other handsets have issues where your hand can obstruct the signal, but the iPhone 4 is unique in allowing you to place things in galvanic contact with the antenna, which has a far bigger effect on its RF performance.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @10:29AM (#32744200)
    Depends which phone you've got. The Nexus One has a great interface and an ever growing list of available software. Plus since Google doesn't banish software from the market for duplicating functionality or allowing people to see naughty things, you can customize things quite a bit more if the interface isn't to your liking.
  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @10:39AM (#32744372) Journal

    P.S. This will probably get me modded down, but I don't care. Robin Hood helped the poor by taking-back what the rich had stolen from them. I consider this to be the same deal. (Especially since Apple received a taxpayer bailout - they stole that money IMHO.)

    - Buy rubber bumper.
    - Install on iPhone to fix its defect.
    - Return empty envelopes with tracking number.
    - Wait two months.
    - Call credit card company to explain that you returned the rubber bumper, and would like to be refunded the money. Provide tracking number.

    Apple owes every customer a free fix for their defective phone.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @10:50AM (#32744588)

    I hope they at least compensated for the capacitance of the human hand touching the antenna by using a varicap circuit to tune the antenna. (You use a longer-than-ideal antenna, add capacitance to compensate, then back off the capacitance if you determine that it's too high because somebody is touching the antenna.) I'd expect them to have something like that anyway because it's impossible to build an ideal antenna for such a broad range of frequencies.

    If they have a *software-controlled* varicap, they might be able to fix the entire problem in software by just pushing the capacitance higher when they determine that a human hand is bridging the antennas. So a software update might be possible if they have a good way to test the capacitance on the antenna with the existing hardware (or I suppose they could just watch for a sudden drop in signal strength and try adjusting up, see if it helps, then try adjusting down if it made things worse).

  • Re:Reading into it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@g m a il.com> on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @10:56AM (#32744704) Homepage Journal

    You have metal around the case to bring the front and back pieces together. Why not make that piece of metal useful?

    Sounds like reasonable engineering to me, except for the fact that it ended up introducing a new problem.

  • Re:Bumpers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trapnest (1608791) <janusofzeal@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @10:56AM (#32744712)
    They did the testing with the iPhone 4 inside an iPhone 3GS case... so no one would know what it was.
  • by realityimpaired (1668397) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:00AM (#32744780)

    You're being facetious, but you're probably not that far off the mark... not that it's too expensive to actually remove the word, but because it could be too expensive to remove the word if things go pear-shaped and some corporate entity that's using the service loses all their work/documents. By keeping the word Beta there, they discourage people from relying on it for money-making purposes, and that in turn discourages idiots from trying to sue them when it breaks and they lose a day's pay. And even if somebody is dumb enough to try to sue them over a gmail outage, they can reply "sorry, but it's still in beta testing. That's clearly advertised on the site. It's well known in computing that 'beta' means that it's still in testing and has no guarantee that it'll work 100% of the time, it's your own damned fault you relied on it."

  • by ballwall (629887) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:07AM (#32744922)

    Well, they probably did test, but their testing apparently included a case that looked like the iphone 3gs to hide the fact that someone was out using a new iPhone. I'm wondering if that's why they didn't discover the issue sooner. None of the testers were using bare phones.

  • Re:Reading into it? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phonewebcam (446772) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:18AM (#32745096) Homepage

    Correct - hence this turkey known as the i "Phone" 4.
    Another thing that strikes me - didn't they do all the testing with the engineers using components built into 3GS cases, and only switched to the production ones at the last minute? So basically their testing was all about software, and Apples usual paranoia over security wasn't thought through properly.

  • Re:Bumpers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tlhIngan (30335) <(ten.frow) (ta) (todhsals)> on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:19AM (#32745116)

    My guess is they did testing in an RF chamber. They never had anyone hold the phone during testing and then they put test phones in cases as a disguise.
    They just never did a valid real world test. More than one company has made that mistake. What is so funny is how everybody now is going duh...

    A good guess, actually, because when you're doing FCC testing, you pretty much use an instrumented RF chamber to gather field data. You can't have people in it for obvious reasons.

    Even in real world testing, you might not find it - after all, once this hit, people have tried to replicate the result, failed, then watched a dozen YouTube videos seeing how to replicate it. After seeing them, they have to purposely set their hands in one position. Other people, trying to see the effect, have dropped their phones. It really depends how you hold the phone - some people like ot hold the bottom and use leverage to hold it to their ear (results in problem - you have to "cup" the bottom), others hold the top and press their hands to their ear. The latter, except for those with the right hand geometry, probably can't figure out how to do it.

    Hell, I've seen phones where the radio locks up if you do *just* the right set of motions. One of my coworkers spent a week riding the commuter train with a phone, laptop, and debug hardware because that was the only reliable way to reproduce the issue. And you have 5 minutes because it happens in just one particular part, then you get off and have to ride it the other way to set up for the next round of debugging.

    For phone testing, there's tons of issues a limited testing won't find. The only way you'll find them is well, release it to the public

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:20AM (#32745126)

    Corporations commit fraud every day. Hell my second-to-last job only paid me 51 weeks out of the 52 week contract. But when I challenged them, they claimed they had no timecard (even though I typed it in myself), and therefore owe me nothing since there's no proof I was present from January 4 to 8 (my last week). In other words my boss and some HR manager lied, and said they never saw me at my desk for those five days. (Which of course I was and my secretary can attest to that.)

    In my first job (with a huge company in Germany), I worked for three months to make some money between school and university. They paid everything just fine. Then they told me that I hadn't taken any holiday, and since their employees got 24 days per year, I got six days holiday for my three months work. Then they told me that since I hadn't taken the holiday, these six days were overtime, so they paid 50% on top of that. Nine days paid, almost half a months salary that they paid me quite unexpectedly. Just a different attitude, I guess.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:20AM (#32745146) Homepage

    Plus, once I got an android I realized how much the iPhone was stifling my inner geek. I've loaded custom roms, overclocked, rooted, everything..

    so you just did not even try this on the iPhone? You have been able to do ALL of these for longer than andriod phones have existed.

    Dont make crap up like you cant do this on an Iphone, Jailbrake and root an iphone for some serious fun... Hell one dude has Linux running on the iphone. http://linuxoniphone.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

    http://www.appletell.com/apple/comment/overclock-your-jailbroken-iphone-or-ipod-touch/ [appletell.com]

  • by Tobyb (163448) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:21AM (#32745154)

    Disclaimer: I am an engineer (electrical test, in fact) so I'm a bit biased. But from the brief insights that we can get about the Apple development process, Jobs loves to keep different parts of the organization completely oblivious from each other. My guess is that the actual antenna engineers never had knowledge of the final design of the phone. The process guys designing the machining to make the external antenna probably didn't know they were making antennas. The only people that probably knew the whole picture was Jobs, Ive, and the usual group that is in that iPhone 4 video shown during the keynote.

    If statistically it is shown to be a huge problem as such to trigger a recall, the board should do its job and hold one someone in this high level team responsible. Obviously, it is a cultural thing with Jobs. He loves to get feedback of what is possible from the engineering staff and then ignore it. For example, the Mac Mini. He famously asked what was the smallest computer they could build at the time. He got feedback and then said make it 1" smaller in each dimension. Sometimes it works. I have done some of my best work for people who were similar, just unflinching in their demands. It is gratifying to complete such a project. However, this time taking industrial design over engineering backfired, and big time. Apple has been inching towards this day for a long time. For example, why no strain relief on the old Macbook MagSafe connectors? Aluminum backs on the original iPhone? I'm hopeful that this episode shakes up the culture and process a little bit. Enough to be cautious when necessary, but not to stifle their crazy industrial design creativity either.

  • by illumin8 (148082) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:24AM (#32745204) Journal

    (Especially since Apple received a taxpayer bailout - they stole that money IMHO.)

    Excuse me what? Did you say Apple got a taxpayer bailout? You should probably back that up with some facts or other data first because I've never heard of it. They have so much cash they do not need any kind of bailout.

  • by Dihce (1845556) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:41AM (#32745514)
    The reason they didn't detect the issue is because all of their phones where in cases to protect their identity. so yeah, it's definitely biting them in the ass
  • That's my bet (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:53AM (#32745766)

    They probably didn't bother with any engineers for it. I would guess that in their phones they normally use off-the-shelf antenna designs. So I could see that they have no need for an engineering department. Also, when it comes to antennas for cell signals, there are some pretty well established designs/rules to use.

    So my bet is that the marketers started going wild. They figured it'd look at really cool if the phone was all glass, thin, with the antenna as a metal band running around it. That layout for antenna was generally ok, so a prototype was built. It was tested sitting on a desk, and worked fine. Things moved forward. However all testing was done in non-real circumstances, either sitting on a bench in a lab or using disguised prototypes, that didn't have the same structure as the final thing. Everything looked good, product launched, shit hit the fan.

    At no time was an actual engineer in this area consulted.

    I would say this is the most likely scenario. Not that there was some dumbass engineer that didn't know or whatever, but that there was NO engineer, that nobody with antenna design expertise was ever consulted. It was done because it looked cool, without proper thought given to all the functional constraints. A marketing decision, not an engineering one. Now, given the problems, they are hiring engineers to try and keep it from happening again.

  • cheap buggers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DarthVain (724186) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @11:53AM (#32745770)

    Considering with subscription your iPhone costs like 7-800$ and that you can buy a rubber "bumper" case on ebay from china for like 1$ or 2$ bucks, you would think they would be just throwing those things at customers!

    Of course they probably would view this as conceding that a problem actually exists...

  • by Afell001 (961697) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @12:20PM (#32746234)
    Germany is one of those strange European countries that actually has (gasp) laws to limit bad labor practices. If your boss wants you to work overtime, even if you work just one hour overtime, you are allowed to take the next work shift off PAID in addition to the overtime pay you receive. You have 24 days of vacation in a given year (one month with weekends). If you don't take your vacation, and November rolls around, you HAVE to take the entire month of December off. Some employers are allowed to apply for special dispensation, but the regional government labor board is usually very loathe to grant such dispensations lest they start a trend. In the US, you are lucky if you get 2 weeks paid vacation, and your employer can cancel your vacation on a whim (as has happened to me on several occasions) and you have no government labor board to take your complaint to when this happens. In fact, if you were to take this up with any government entity, they would probably laugh you out of the office, while in Germany, this can be a very serious offense and can end up with the company being sanctioned and having to pay a hefty fine.

    A lot of these practices are used to make working your employees overtime more expensive than it is to actually hire new employee. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that most of Europe is combating a high unemployment rate, and the best way to get to full employment is to create more jobs. That Germany is still near the top in individual worker productivity speaks volumes about German work ethics. They are able to get as much done in a standard 7 hour day/35 hour week as most Americans do in 8 hour day/40 hour week.

    What is also really strange is that the cost to hire a new worker in Germany is not nearly as expensive as it is in the US. For instance, in the US, if you hire on a new full time employee, you have to pay his/her benefits (health, dental), while in Germany, most of these are already covered under the universal health system paid for by the German taxpayers.

    As to the original topic, it stands to reason that the best solution for Apple at this point is to offer a free bumper rim to all their affected customers. If they purchase it in volume, the cost is minimal, and they can tell their customers to go to the nearest Apple Store to pick one up for free. It goes a long way to placating customer relations as well as bringing those customers back into the Apple Store, where, more than likely, these people will also probably purchase one or two additional retail items, so Apple wins all the way around. If they offer it in fruity colors, all the better.
  • Re:Reading into it? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by newcastlejon (1483695) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @03:25PM (#32749012)

    This is only reasonable engineering if function follows form. I try not to bash apple, I really do, but in this case it's painfully obvious what they are after when they "engineered" this thing.

    I agree wholeheartedly; design is not engineering. This was a design decision but the RF engineer in charge still didn't shoot down this proposal as soon as it was suggested.

    Industrial design is such a hit-and-miss affair simply because it's the intersection between two very disparate disciplines.

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