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Apple To Issue a 'Fix' For iPhone 4 Reception Perception 534

Lisandro and several other readers let us know that Apple has just released a statement addressing the signal issues a lot of users are having with their iPhone 4. They claim to have discovered the cause for the drop in bars, which is "both simple and surprising" — a wrong formula used to calculate how many bars are displayed for a given signal strength. "Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. ... we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place. ... We will issue a free software update within a few weeks that incorporates the corrected formula. Since this mistake has been present since the original iPhone, this software update will also be available for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G." Wired notes that there is still a signal drop when the iPhone 4 is gripped in particular ways.
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Apple To Issue a 'Fix' For iPhone 4 Reception Perception

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  • by stanlyb ( 1839382 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:28AM (#32772960)
    So, instead of solving the problem, they just downgraded the problem??? Sorry iPhone fans, but it looks like your phone cannot event manage something so simple and base as signal strength!!!!!!
  • If it's just about the bars, why didn't earlier iPhone versions have the same problem, then, if it's just that, and not the antenna design?

  • Re:Formula change (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:28AM (#32772980)

    No they said it's too high right? if (bar_count GREATER_THAN 3 ) bar_count = 2,

  • Worse! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:30AM (#32773008) Journal

    Uh, isn't this even worse? They were inflating the apparent signal strength all the time! I guess this is one of those perks a cellular carrier gets when they obtain exclusive rights to hardware.

    So is Apple claiming it is also a superficial display problem when service is completely lost because of this hardware problem?

  • by s122604 ( 1018036 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:31AM (#32773026)
    The algorithm must change upon moving your finger

    Seriously this whopper might be too big for even the Jobs' reality distortion force-field to overcome...
  • by ZackSchil ( 560462 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:35AM (#32773100)

    Apple is both right and wrong here. They're right in that the bar display has been misleading from the start. They're wrong in saying that was some accident. Of course they know about it. More bars makes your phone look good and to hell with giving the user a sane metric for phone reception.

    They're right to say that the bare antenna in not a design flaw. They're wrong to conclude that this means it is not a problem. The only proper way out of this is free bumpers and dielectric coating over the antenna on future models. I know Apple likes to charge $30 for their $0.30 loop of rubber bumper case but this time, they could really be in trouble, so they need to suck it up and do what's right.

    And if I see one single comment pimping the Android in this story, I'll have all you Android fans know that you have become what you hate. Why can't someone use a product they like for any reason at all? Is that not allowed anymore, or do we all have to care about the same things you care about and use the same phone that you use?

  • by ProppaT ( 557551 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:35AM (#32773110) Homepage

    It's well known that the iPhone has never reported reception as it should. So what, they fix this software bug and it becomes apparent to everyone that their AT&T reception sucks. So, is Apple trying to place the blame on AT&Ts shoddy service instead of taking the blame for designing a defective antenna? This is ludicrous.

    It's sad, if it was any other manufacturer, people would return these defective phones in droves and there would be a massive recall. Because it's an iPhone people are willing to ignore these issues that should honestly result in a class action lawsuit to extend the return period from 30 days to 60 or 90 days with a free optional rubber bumper. This whole situation is absurd.

  • by whisper_jeff ( 680366 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:42AM (#32773220)
    Yes, but if someone has one or two bars and does something that is likely to degrade the signal strength (such as holding the device, which applies to virtually all cell phones on the market, which has already been discussed elsewhere, ad nauseum), you won't be terribly surprised if you lose a call. It won't be perceived as a sudden and drastic drop - it will now _correctly_ be perceived as a weak signal being lost. It may not fix the problem but it fixes the perception of the problem.
  • Re:bars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by southpolesammy ( 150094 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:47AM (#32773300) Journal

    New AT&T logo -- "Less bars in more places?"

    AT&T has got to be hating this update. It's going to expose their lack of coverage in a HUGE way.

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:47AM (#32773308) Journal

    Wow you really enjoy that Apple Kool Aide don't ya? "They told me and I believe it." ;-) ----- *I* suspect that the company is lying to us (as virtually all corporations do), and that there's nothing wrong with the number of bars being displayed. The display is accurate.

    BESIDES it doesn't matter - a dropped call is a dropped call. If the iPhone 4 drops calls in areas where other phones (like the iPhone 3) worked perfectly, then the problem is not the number of bars displayed or the software. It's the antenna being short-circuited by the user's hand. I've seen this with my television - touch the antenna and lose the picture. It seems logical that iPhone antenna is experiencing a similar effect. IMHO.

  • Re:Formula change (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:49AM (#32773332)

    This doesn't change the fact that the signal strength changes with how you hold the phone. If the change manifests itself only in fewer bars, everything will be alright. If actual call quality or reliability is affected, this change won't do anything for that


    Dear Apple, please note that shifting the blame to your crappy, and exclusive, network partner won't work. You can't mitigate the act of holding the phone in a natural way via software update. The end result is still a dropped call, and with the thing up to your face you're not going to notice what the bars say anyway.


    Even if this were a true fix, and I don't believe for a second that it is mind you, but if it were you'd want to sneak it in via security update and THEN start laying blame on AT&T. Not preemptively!

    Just flat out moronic.

  • by not already in use ( 972294 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:53AM (#32773366)

    And if I see one single comment pimping the Android in this story, I'll have all you Android fans know that you have become what you hate.

    No, I haven't become what I hate. You don't see me supporting an abusive, shitty company so I can have a trendy, overpriced device. I don't slap Google stickers on my car and blindly claim my device is superior to all others.

    Why can't someone use a product they like for any reason at all? Is that not allowed anymore, or do we all have to care about the same things you care about and use the same phone that you use?

    I love the fact that you are being preemptively defensive. If anything, its indicative of the fact that many iPhone users are emotionally attached to their overrated device and have an allegiance to a terrible company.

  • by eln ( 21727 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:56AM (#32773404)
    They are not solving the problem as reported, they are redefining the problem to something they can fix without a hardware recall.

    The problem as reported is that the signal strength weakens consistently when the phone is held in a certain way. This is clearly a hardware issue, but hardware issues are expensive to fix. So, Apple fixes a similar but ultimately unrelated problem via a much cheaper software patch and hopes their loyal fan base will just pay attention to the fact that *a* problem has been fixed, even if it isn't *the* problem everyone is complaining about.

    Unless Apple honestly believes this software patch will fix the actual reported problem, which I find very difficult to believe, they are acting in an unethical and customer-unfriendly manner in order to avoid the real solution, which would be to issue a recall of their flagship product and fix the hardware.
  • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:56AM (#32773406)
    I have inside information. This is the actual code after the fix:

    if (user.fanboy) marketing.damagecontrol.emit("you are holding it wrong");
    else if (user.dumberthanthat) marketing.damagecontrol.emit("there was never a reception problem. we just displayed the wrong number of bars");
    else if (user.inclassactionlawsuit) marketing.damagecontrol.emit("here is a coupon for $20 off our $30 rubber bumper, which cost us pennies to make");
  • by whisper_jeff ( 680366 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:59AM (#32773458)
    How old is the original iPhone? How long do you expect companies to support old tech?

    No, really. It's well known in the tech industry that tech gets old and stops being supported at a certain point. Typically, it's when that tech is sufficiently old that the market of users has dwindled below a certain point. If you look into things you'll probably find that the original iPhone is both quite old by smartphone standards and it's use in the market has dropped below a threshold where it's logical to continue providing support for it.

    So, feel free to hate on Apple for moving on from the original iPhone but it's a practice that has occurred in the tech industry from, well, the very beginning and every company does it. Every. Single. Company.
  • Re:Formula change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:12AM (#32773630)

    Again about that AC activity that always supports the vendor in question, in any discussion.

    Man up and log in. It isn't really all that hard.

  • by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:13AM (#32773640)

    Actually yes. And if you return it and buy an Android, etc, instead, you'd also be voting with your wallet.

  • Re:Formula change (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:17AM (#32773688)

    Why don't they just fix the number of bars at five, and make it constant? Then people would never complain about not having enough bars again.

    The sad truth is that by arguing that a software update can fix the bar display, Apple has opened a can of worms. Why was the bar display wrong in the first place? The math should be as simple as dividing the desired optimum reception signal by five, dropping the fraction, and if the resulting number is greater than five, reducing it to five. Since Apple has now indicated that the math behind bars is wrong, it begs the question, "Does Apple fudge the bar number in an attempt to mitigate people's perceived displeasure of receiving fewer bars?" Given Apple's marketing and their recent leaks about unpleasant actions best kept hidden, it doesn't require much imagination to see some managers telling programmers to show more bars.

    Even if Apple didn't participate in any underhanded dealings with the bar display, their press report was poorly thought out. Now they appear to be lying about reception, and in marketing appearance is reality. Considering Apple's great advertising campaigns and their prowess in marketing, you would think they would have handled this better.

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:17AM (#32773694)

    And if I see one single comment pimping the Android in this story, I'll have all you Android fans know that you have become what you hate. Why can't someone use a product they like for any reason at all? Is that not allowed anymore, or do we all have to care about the same things you care about and use the same phone that you use?

    Not really sure what your referring to. What is the "reason" why someone would want to use the iPhone over Android? About the only two things I can think of is the apps (which is a legitimate reason) or because they are an Apple fanboy. Apple releases -intentionally- crippled devices in order to make people buy the next generation of their phone. There are few Android devices that do that, heck, there are few devices that do that. Apple ignores all logic and gives people a crappy phone with very few features, claims that such little things like a lack of an SDK isn't a big deal then releases a -new- phone including it (and firmware updates for the old one if they feel generous). Why anyone would put up with these games that happen with -every- new iPhone is beyond me.

    And it isn't subjective, guess what? A lot of Android phones are more powerful than the iPhone, can run many genres of apps banned from the Apple store (emulators are a big one), some even have better cameras, and -all- of them can make calls without having to hold the phone in a certain way.

    Seriously, what Apple fanboys boil their argument down to is looks, what people who like Android reason with is facts. You can't deny that Apple has made a pretty crappy phone if it can't even make calls. If Apple wasn't... well, Apple, they would have done some real field testing and figured out these basic, fundamental flaws before making their customers their prototype testers.

  • by jdgeorge ( 18767 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:33AM (#32774000)

    Apple is making a change to provide more useful information to users of their device. They are not claiming it will keep calls from dropping, but that it will give you information that will help you know when your calls are likely to drop.

    Yes, it sucks that the iPhone has antenna issues. Yes, it sucks that they experience disconnections. However, suggesting that Apple is being deceptive when they are doing a reasonable job of mitigating a hardware problem by providing a software update is not accurate or fair.

    Oh, and you SUCK for putting me in the position of defending Apple. I don't like Apple's model, I don't like the closed ecosystem, and I don't like the smug, cult-like user community. But this issue is NOT an example of what I don't like about Apple. This is an example of Apple doing the right thing. I encourage this from every company, and suggesting it's bad is overt discouragement to companies that do the right thing.

  • by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:35AM (#32774034)
    "pay 30 bucks for 3 cents of plastic" isn't a solution.
  • by willoughby ( 1367773 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:39AM (#32774098)
    The signal strength calculation algorithm is flawed until I touch the phone in a certain way. Then it's magically correct.

    Thanks, Steve, but I don't think I'll be buying one of these....
  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:39AM (#32774108)

    The problem as reported is that the signal strength weakens consistently when the phone is held in a certain way. This is clearly a hardware issue

    All mobile phones will have signal strength weakened when you cover the antenna area with the hand. That's physics, not a design problem. Whether you notice the problem or not depends on how strong the signal from the base station is in the first place.

    The problem reported was the number of bars that this lost. e.g. from the article that was linked to from the first slashdot article on this issue:

    "Signal drops from 4-5 bars to 'searching for signal...' when I hold it in my palm or cover up the line on the lower left side of the phone," reported a user identified as "yoshjosh" on the thread. "I understand that cell signals may degrade when you cover up the antenna, but I have never seen anything this severe, and I'm not holding the phone differently than I think most people hold their phones. This is a real issue."

    Other phones might drop one bar when you cover the antenna with your hand. The iPhone with it's current software might drop 4 bars. That doesn't mean that the signal to the iPhone is dropping more than the other phone. Just that the algorithm used for the display is different.

    If Apple is switching to the algorithm that the US carrier suggests, then that is a perfectly reasonable move.

    Want to see the same issue with other phones?

    Nokia E71. []

    HTC Droid. []

    Blackberry. []

  • Re:Formula change (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jahf ( 21968 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:49AM (#32774248) Journal

    Or maybe not all iPhone4 devices have the same defect. Whodathunkit?

  • by CmdrPorno ( 115048 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:49AM (#32774250)

    How old is the original iPhone? How long do you expect companies to support old tech?

    The original iPhone, if you bought one of the first ones, is three years old. The 3G was introduced in July of 2008, so there are two-year-old original iPhones out there that were the best you could buy at the time they were purchased. I'm not certain how much longer Apple continued selling the original model after they introduced the 3G, but it's entirely possible and likely that they continued to sell it for a short while after the 3G was introduced.

    I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that a "revolutionary, game-changing" piece of technology will continue to receive bug fixes for longer than two years. Buying a new iPhone every time your contract is up may be good for Apple, but it's also at odds with their "we're so green" sustainability pandering.

  • by wembley fraggle ( 78346 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:01PM (#32774478) Homepage

    Software patch cannot fix signal attenuation from a hand.

    Actually, a software patch *can* help when it changes how the software-tunable capacitors [] in the antenna system respond. Not that there's anything about doing that in this particular press release, but you're being a bit under-optimistic here.

  • by Str1der ( 524776 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:03PM (#32774526) Homepage
    I think some comments were left out: "Upon investigation, we were [not at all] stunned to find that the formula [if (bars=2) then DisplayBars(4)] we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong [and unethical since it unfairly makes our product seem as if it has better reception than the others]"
  • Re:Formula change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yabos ( 719499 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:05PM (#32774552)
    The "fix" will simply allow someone to realize their signal sucks to begin with. If they are showing 1 bar and the call drops then they expect that, but if they're erroneously showing 4-5 bars and the signal drops they think there's a huge problem. I think this "error" is not an error at all, and Apple really set this bar scale like that on purpose for marketing purposes. People always think more bars is better so they calibrate it to show 5 bars even if the signal sucks.
  • Re:Formula change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shawn(at)fsu ( 447153 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:13PM (#32774700) Homepage

    How did this go unnoticed so long? I mean 5 bars on the AT&T network and no one thought that was suspicious?

  • by repetty ( 260322 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:24PM (#32774932) Homepage

    Can Slashdot users just fucking stop being parodies of themselves for even a little while?

    I read through all the messages and came up with this: The Slashdot users complaining here about the iPhone 4 don't even fucking have one. You turds.

    Same on other topics, not just the iPhone.

    The worst of the bunch? The Slashdot users who write things like, "I'm offended and will never [x] for the rest of my life." As if.

  • Re:Formula change (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chardish ( 529780 ) <chardish&gmail,com> on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:24PM (#32774936) Homepage

    The end result is still a dropped call,

    Not to be an Apple apologist, but dropped calls were frequent on my iPhone 3G, and have been nonexistent on the iPhone 4 I've been using since launch. Same apartment, AT&T service, and I haven't been paying attention to how I've held the phone.

    Obviously, this is a statistically insignificant sample size of one, but lower reported bars does not automatically equal "dropped call," and many of the loudest and most vocal critics of the iPhone 4 issues have not been actual iPhone 4 owners.

  • by calstraycat ( 320736 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:27PM (#32774976)

    To all the folks unhappy with both the performance of the new iPhone and Apple's response, please heed the advise in this portion of the press release:

    "As a reminder, if you are not fully satisfied, you can return your undamaged iPhone to any Apple Retail Store or the online Apple Store within 30 days of purchase for a full refund."

    Seriously. Please.

    All this ridiculous, over-the-top, self-righteous indignation and emotional hand-wringing over a gadget not meeting your expectations is just pathetic.

    Apple has taken a stand on this issue. They say it works as designed and claim the reception is better than their previous model. You think they're full of shit? Great. Quit posting whiney, indignant messages on the internet and return the goddam thing.

    If the problem is half as bad as all the stories make it out to be, Apple will be flooded with returns and that will have a much greater effect that millions of lines of internet bitching.

    Disclosure: I'm a satisfied owner of several Apple products. I don't own an iPhone and have no plans to purchase one. My wife and I have free-with-subscription LG phones on Verizon. Oh, and guess what? If I hold the phone by the bottom, signal degrades. If I hold it that way in an area with poor cell coverage, service is lost entirely. You think if I submit my sob story to Slashdot, Gizmodo, CNET, CNN, etc. they will make it front page news?

  • Re:Formula change (Score:3, Insightful)

    by delinear ( 991444 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:39PM (#32775218)
    You're confusing two issues. The issue here is that the software to display the number of bars was wrong, the issue about calls dropping when the phone is held incorrectly is a separate issue. Of course the first may exaggerate the second (by making you think you have great signal strength when you only have average, and then the hand position issue depletes that further to drop your call). Fixing the first won't, and was never intended to, fix the second, but it might give people a more realistic indication of whether they have a decent signal to begin with or not.
  • by Montezumaa ( 1674080 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:41PM (#32775266)

    So, what? Are they going to assign more bars to higher db levels? You cannot fix such a major hardware snafu with a simple software change. You, sure as shit, can cover one up, but not fix it.

  • by not already in use ( 972294 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:42PM (#32775320)

    you don't see how self-righteous that is? you're better because you followed your own reasons for buying the device you did, but you hate those who don't follow your reasons?

    If you're strictly a consumer, I understand and respect your decision to buy an iPhone. As a developer myself, it is in my best interest to point out the fact that Apple is an abusive company, and to advocate a platform which treats its developers much better.

  • So? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by toadlife ( 301863 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @04:57PM (#32779530) Journal

    Does it matter if the parent might be wrong?

    Every phone I've ever owned, from cheap-o flip phones, to multiple Blackberries, to multiple HTC/WinMo phones, has been able to accurately tell me the quality of my signal, in real time via the "bar" type display. Based on that I would surmise that programmatically translating raw signal into "bars" has long been a solved problem.


    a) Apple programmers can't even build a bike shed.
    b) Apple programmers have been intentionally obfuscating signal strength from iPhone users.

  • by killfixx ( 148785 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @06:47PM (#32780926) Journal

    I use a different brand of phone on AT&T's network. I am not an AT&T fanboy.

    I have held my phone is every conceivable position to try and recreate this problem.

    Nothing more than 1 bar lost.

    I use a 3G smartphone.

    If I sell you a pile a shit, it will smell like shit. If the solution only modifies your sense of smell, is it still shit? YEAH!! It's still shit!!

    Comcast, Ford, Bank of America, et al, try the same tactic.


    No wonder we're the laughing-stock of the planet.

    This (and many other examples) makes me sad to be human.


"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"