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Apple Offers Free Cases To Solve iPhone 4 Antenna Problems 917

Posted by Soulskill
from the enemy-at-the-antennagate dept.
Apple just finished their press conference about the iPhone 4 antenna issues that have been widely reported and discussed in the past few weeks. Steve Jobs started by showing that the problem wasn't limited to iPhones, using videos of the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the HTC Droid Eris, and the Samsung Omnia 2 as examples, all of which dropped bars while being gripped in certain ways. He said, "This is life in the smartphone world. Phones aren't perfect. It's a challenge for the whole industry. Every phone has weak spots." He went on to say that only 0.55% of all iPhone 4 users have called in to complain about reception problems, and that the return rate on the iPhone 4 so far is less than a third of the return rate for the 3GS. Jobs then said that according to their data, the iPhone 4 drops an average of less than one additional call per hundred than the 3GS. He continued by pointing out that because the 3GS was based on the 3G, there was already a large supply of Bumpers, which most customers left the store with. When the iPhone 4 came out, the old Bumpers didn't fit, so stock was lower and fewer customers used them (80% vs. 20%). Therefore, Apple's solution to the antenna problems is to give a free case to every iPhone 4 purchaser before September 30. Refunds will be offered for those who already purchased one. Since they can't make the Bumpers fast enough, they'll be supplying other cases from third parties. Jobs also acknowledged recently reported problems with the proximity sensor, promising a future software update to fix it. Engadget's liveblog of the conference has a ton of pictures and more direct quotes from Jobs. It's worth looking at if only for pictures of Apple's anechoic testing chambers.
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Apple Offers Free Cases To Solve iPhone 4 Antenna Problems

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  • by jtotheh (229796) on Friday July 16, 2010 @01:58PM (#32928970)

    My daughter has a Macbook, which she worships. A month or two ago, she damaged the screen on it. Nothing else was affected. I walked into an Apple store with it and was told

    1. it'll cost $755 to repair
    2. you need to make an appointment to speak to us,the next appointment is in 2 hours

    These guys are supposedly providing the greatest consumer experience - I didn't think this was so great! The whole computer only cost $800!

    We found instructions to replace the screen and the replacement part ($120) online and my son and I replaced it in about an hour. Would have taken someone with better information, experience and tools half that. Good as new.

    I know their stuff is nice and shiny but this really pissed me off.

    I just found the attitude in the store a little extreme. And the price for the repair.

  • by Americano (920576) on Friday July 16, 2010 @01:58PM (#32928976)

    When you put it in perspective and consider the data offered, it is a fairly minor problem.

    1) Every phone exhibits signal attenuation to some degree when the hand is placed on/near the antenna assembly, and many can be made to exhibit this same behavior;
    2) The dropped call data from ATT shows that the iPhone 4 has performed less than 1 *more* dropped call per 100 calls than the 3GS - an increase, and a sign of a problem, but certainly not in the "IF YOU HAZ IPOHNE 4 U WILL DIEZ" class of problems.
    3) 1.7% have been returned so far (about 1/3 the rate for the iPhone 3GS)
    4) ~0.5% of the sales have prompted a call to AppleCare about this problem.
    5) 3 Million units have been sold so far.

    Does this sound like it's a widespread problem where 3 million iPhone 4's are nonfunctional? If all these iPhone 4's were causing call after call after call to drop and just weren't working, the return rate & AppleCare volume would be much higher. Their response is to adjust the signal strength algorithm being used to more accurately reflect the strength of the signal, to offer a free bumper case with each purchase, and to say "if you really find it intolerable, return it for a full refund." If you were following any of the coverage, Steve Jobs actually did offer an apology to "the small number of users affected by this," as well.

    What more, realistically, do you expect them to do?

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:3, Informative)

    by Haffner (1349071) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:05PM (#32929082)
    I recently bought an iPhone, and I have fairly large hands, and when I talk I hold the phone in my right hand. As such, I cannot talk without a case, for fear of dropping the call.

    Also, I'm on an ATT family plan so my options were iPhone or terrible other ATT phone.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:5, Informative)

    by akirapill (1137883) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:11PM (#32929184)
    from the WSJ: "[A reporter asks] 'Are you willing to make an apology?' 'You know, most of the customers that have iPhone 4s think it is the coolest thing they ever owned,' says Jobs. To the customers that are having problems 'I apologize to them.'"
  • Re:'Bout time (Score:4, Informative)

    by misophist (465263) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:13PM (#32929214)

    They were warned by their own antenna engineer that this was an issue.

    http://gizmodo.com/5587815/top-apple-engineer-warned-jobs-about-antenna-problems [gizmodo.com]

  • by Zymophideth (1658251) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:19PM (#32929312)
    I really love it when reading an article and the entire page refreshes every 30 sec and takes me back to the top for a banner. It's becoming really hard to justify not installing ad blocker. I want to support the websites I visit but at this point the ads are just over the line.
  • by rjstanford (69735) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:36PM (#32929622) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if people could get a refund if the handset doesn't work as sold.

    Sure can - you even get your upgradability eligibility back if you'd taken advantage of that offer from ATT.

    What's the problem again?

  • by Irontail (1346011) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:37PM (#32929650)

    Well, it is a liveblog, so the auto-refresh is kinda nice. If it weren't there, you'd have to manually refresh the page if you wanted to get the minute-to-minute updates.

    Also, there's a little link at the top of the page to turn the auto-refresh off.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:5, Informative)

    by IICV (652597) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:41PM (#32929704)

    And according to Jobs during the Q&A [macrumors.com] after this announcement, the Bloomberg story (that Gizmodo cites) is bullshit.

  • by WiiVault (1039946) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:43PM (#32929736)
    In the exact same Q/A an iPhone owner said he couldn't replicate it in the building to which Jobs said that it doesn't really apply to areas with good signal. Like ya know... the Apple Campus. Way to cherry pick. Or do you actually think Apple just made that video up and lied in a verifiable way to the assembled media?
  • by llamafirst (666868) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:56PM (#32929972)

    The iPhone 4 song video that started the press conf... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKIcaejkpD4&feature=player_embedded [youtube.com]

    Moderators: I am not joking, the New York Times report from the press conference [nytimes.com] reported this...

  • Re:The others (Score:5, Informative)

    by silentcoder (1241496) on Friday July 16, 2010 @02:57PM (#32929982) Homepage

    >It kind of bugs me when there's a fairly common problem, and it gets swept up all out of proportion in one particular case. YMMV.

    Is it though ? I've never had it on my HTC desire. Assuming every phone has a bad spot where you can reduce signal - okay, I'll bite it makes sense that it would be the case. But that doesn't mean it's the same problem. Apple's problem is they built the phone so that, that bad spot is in an area where the phone is held by LOTS of people ALL the time. Most notably it is directly where most left-handed people will hold the phone making them particularly impacted (and raising the question: did apple not test the device with any left handed users - they ARE 25% odd of the worlds population after all).

    Apple's video is unclear here - I can't be utterly sure - but it looks to me like those other phones have to be held quite weirdly to hit the spot. Almost as if the phone designers had made a point to keep the antenna's sensitive areas away from where the user's hand will typically be. Apple on the other hand put it where it directly affects 25% of all people all the time and a significant number of the rest on a regular basis.

    If that's the case then this problem IS an apple fault and was NOT overblown.

  • by jtotheh (229796) on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:00PM (#32930038)

    The appointment thing is just part of their personality. I actually realized after I got over the initial anger that it is a good way to cut down on people waiting around, trying to grab someone who's in the middle of something else, etc. It was ignorance on my part to not know I needed an appointment.
      But when you're standing there with the computer in hand having gotten to the place and you expect to just wait til someone's free it can rub you the wrong way.

    I knew it was a crapshoot to repair it ourselves but the cost was so little compared to their basically saying it was totaled that we tried it. As it stands we saved over 600$ on a $800 item, which is nothing to sneeze at.

    There's just a sort of snobbiness to their way of doing business that rubs me the wrong way.

    The free cases or full refunds they're giving on this iPhone thing are pretty decent I guess.

  • Simple math (Score:5, Informative)

    by InvisiBill (706958) <slashdot@invisCOUGARibill.net minus cat> on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:13PM (#32930268) Homepage

    But only .5% (not 5 percent, half a percent) of users have even reported the problem.

    And how many users comprise .5%?

    Based on 3 million iPhone 4's sold, that'd be 15,000.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:4, Informative)

    by sirsnork (530512) on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:14PM (#32930284)
    Go read the anandtech.com articles for a full description of the problem. in short, yes all phones do this, but in the case of the iphone 4 with it's external antenna's it's WAY worse than on any other device
  • Re:'Bout time (Score:3, Informative)

    by BarryJacobsen (526926) on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:17PM (#32930336) Homepage

    Seriously, wtf does an anechoic chamber have to do with cell phone reception? Are loud noises really that detrimental to signal strength?

    From Wikipedia: "An anechoic chamber is a room designed to stop reflections of either sound or electromagnetic waves" (read the bold part as: Cellphone Signals)

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:5, Informative)

    by EdZ (755139) on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:20PM (#32930406)
    The dB drop when holding it is SIGNIFICANTLY [anandtech.com] higher than other phones.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:36PM (#32930702)

    The important and telling ratio is [iPhone 4 dropped calls] / [iPhone 3GS dropped calls]. i.e. how many times worse is an iPhone 4 than and iPhone 3GS.
    We don't get that number but we do get this other number that lets us draw a graph of how much worse the iPhone 4 is than the 3GS as a function of iPhone 3GS' dropped calls.

    I can give you something very close to that number. I have seen figures for call drops from phones on several different networks. Generally the figures I see are somewhat anonymized to indicate only the baseband chipset used by the phone in question (apart from those made by my employer).

    - A good phone drops under 1% of calls, when averaged over several million call attempts. The very best phones (which are usually inexpensive feature phones) get about 0.7% calls dropped.
    - A decent smartphone drops something around 1.5-2% of calls, over a similar number of call attempts.
    - A high-end Smartphone using the Infineon chipset drops around 2.7% of calls. The only such device I know of is the iPhone (3/3GS).

    If the iPhone4 is dropping 1% more calls than the iPhone3/3GS, this implies something around 3.5% of calls dropped, which is a very poor result indeed. My employer gets put under a lot of pressure by networks for any device which is worse than 1.5%.

    There is some variation in calls dropped by a given phone between different networks. This is a function of network planning, congestion and/or poor cell-site configuration, as well as the measurement methodology (which differs slightly between networks). However, the relative positioning of different devices in the league table doesn't change so much, and the absolute figures are pretty similar as well.

    Designing a touchscreen smartphone with good RF performance is a huge challenge. A noisy high-speed apps processor, multiple radios and the presence of a large metal shield over most of the device (i.e. the LCD) are all major problems for designers to overcome. Oftentimes when I look at device teardowns, it is clear that antenna design was a total afterthought. There are a few companies who consistently do a good job in this area: Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Motorola come to mind (HTC are nearly there as well) - almost every product from these is above average in performance. Others are far less consistent in RF performance, although their products may be very shiny!

    More anecdotally, my Nokia E71 has a far better ability to hang on to a signal in a poor signal area than my wife's iPhone (3G). Your Mileage Probably Won't Vary (YMPWV?)

    AC for reasons which should be obvious.

  • Re:September 30? (Score:2, Informative)

    by crossword.bob (918209) on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:42PM (#32930810)
    They were asked about that in the Q&A and apparently the date is just a line in the sand that they will be reviewing later with more data. Take from that what you will, I'm just the messenger ;-)
  • Re:'Bout time (Score:2, Informative)

    by Buelldozer (713671) <cliff@gi[ ]lis.net ['ndu' in gap]> on Friday July 16, 2010 @03:55PM (#32931010)

    So? That's like asking George Bush if he was in the pocket of BigOil. You can't trust any answer you're given by the individual. Everything that Mr. Jobs says on this issue should be subject to a high level of scrutiny. Since you linked an article let me give you a few examples:

    In this article Ol' Stevie Boy also says "We're an engineering-driven company, so we wanted to find the real problem.". Really? Apple is an "engineering-driven" company? That's laughable. Especially since he goes on to present his data with "Bars" as a unit of measurement for signal strength, those very same bars that Apple claims are bullshit and shouldn't be used as a real indicator of signal strength!

    He goes on to say "We knew if you gripped the iPhone in a certain way, the bars would go down, just like every smartphone. It's a challenge to the industry and we're hoping to contribute to some solutions over the coming years.". Yes, but most smartphones aren't being held by their ANTENNA under normal usage scenarios. While not technically a lie it is certainly a massive obfuscation specifically intended to cover up a ridiculous design flaw.

    A little farther down he says "Maybe we should have a wall of PR people to insulate us, but we don't.". This is more of a lie than Apple being an "engineer-driven company". Apple IS a marketing company and they ARE surrounded by a "wall of PR people."

    This one makes me hoot with laughter.

    "Q: Why the September 30th deadline for free cases?
    A: Steve: It's so we can re-evaluate. We don't know what solutions may come up by then. Maybe Eminem will come out with a band-aid that goes over the corner and everyone will want that."

    So he's hoping that some other fad will happen that solves the problem FOR THEM. It's his stated reason for stopping the giveway of bumpers by 9/30!

    Here is another.

    "Q: The New York Times says there might be a software fix. Is that true?
    A: Steve: We just talked about how the iPhone 4 only drops 1 call per hundred more than the 3GS. Go talk to the Times, because they're just making this stuff up. Scott Forstall comes on-stage: It's patently false. We can continue to tune the way the baseband interacts with the network, and we do that all the time, but the Times' statement is untrue."

    Poor Apple, everyone is making up LIES about their product! The Times is lying! Consumer Reports is lying! Ars Technica is lying! This should, rightly, remind of you of someone else...Baghdad Bob. Please stop the pity train Steve, I want off.

    Oh, and in case there is any doubt about the bars thing here is the relevant part of the interview.

    "Q: A couple of years ago you released an iPhone software update that improved reception. How does that relate?
    A: Steve: We came to the realization about 8 years ago that we didn't want to get into a business unless we controlled the primary technology. And we did that with the iPod, and moved on to the iPhone, where he can frictionlessly distribute software updates because we control it. And now everybody's copying us. But to answer your question, the formula for calculating the bars has been off since the beginning, so I'm not sure I understand your question."

    Here's more of the 'people are lying...and rude too!" attitude.

    "Q: You've been communicating with customers a lot via email. How has that impacted how you're dealing with the issues?
    A: Steve: I've always done that...my address it out there. But I get a lot of email and can't respond to all of them. People have started posting them on the web, which is a bit rude, but now they're even making them up. But I want to communicate with our customers."

    So with all of that in mind please explain to me why I should BELIEVE Mr. Jobs when he says that the gizmodo article is "Bullshit". He claims everyone is a liar, that this is a prevalent problem among smartphones, that bars aren't a valid measurement of signal and then uses them as proof that other phones suffer this problem, claims that Apple is an engineering-driven company and that they don't have a "wall of PR".

    I'd go on but if I did you'd probably have to throw me a life preserver so I didn't drown in Mr. Job's flood of bullshit.

  • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Friday July 16, 2010 @04:03PM (#32931158)

    They didn't hold up the phones in the conference center; they showed a video of it on screen. The video was almost certainly taken somewhere where signal strength was at the very low end of maximum bars; the same sort of location people are reporting problems with the iPhone 4. The conference center is at Apple's HQ and probably has fantastic coverage, so it's not surprising somebody in the room couldn't get their phone to drop below full bars.

  • Re:'Bout time (Score:5, Informative)

    by Low Ranked Craig (1327799) on Friday July 16, 2010 @04:22PM (#32931468)

    True, to a point. It's also true that the FCC has a lot of rules about antenna placement in regards to peoples heads, and power issues. I've used the iPhone 4, and when not detuning the antenna due to a bad grip I found the signal strength and call quality to be excellent. Having said that I'll be waiting until Apple silently slipstreams a new version of the iPhone 4 into production before I buy one. All they need to do is put a 2 to 3 mil clear coat on the stainless antenna to solve the bridging issue.

    All RF devices with antennas can be adversely affected by environment and one of the worst things for reception is a big bag of contaminated water. Having said that, the iPhone 4 is the only cell phone that I am aware of with an external antenna that can be detuned by bridging the antennas. THe Nexus one can, for example, be made to lose up to 17 dB of signal with the "death grip". The iPhone 4 can lose up to 24 dB with the same grip. This is due to the added degradation by detuning the antenna...

    The reality is that a good signal is anything between about -107 and -51 dB, and most phones (iPhone 4 included) work fine down to about -113 dB, below which the call is dropped. Generally speaking, if you are anywhere over -89 dB you won't drop a call with the death grip all other things being equal. If you are less than -89 then you can grip your way to a dropped call.

  • by crossword.bob (918209) on Friday July 16, 2010 @05:20PM (#32932362)

    Well, a clear epoxy coating on the antenna would have fixed this poor design inexpensively. That's still within the laws of physics, isn't it?

    No - that's resistance in a DC circuit that you're thinkng of. On an AC antenna it's impedance you need, and as that varies inversely with frequency, at phone frequencies you'd need a pretty specialist high impedance (low dielectric constant) coating, should a viable such exist (that I don't know; Anandtech [anandtech.com] tested with a specialist tape, and it helped---perhaps enough to bring it in line with other phones, but didn't eliminate it entirely, even wearing rubber gloves.).

    You can read more about it in a post on my own (hobby - I don't stand to gain from hits) blog [wordpress.com].

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