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Inside Apple's Anechoic Testing Chambers 229

As part of Apple's press conference on Friday, they mentioned their state-of-the-art testing facilities and released a brief video showing some of their anechoic chambers. They later invited journalists on a tour of the rooms and explained some of the experimentation process. Quoting: "There are four stages. The first is a passive test to study the form factor of the device they want to create. The second stage is what Caballero calls the 'junk in the trunk' stage. Apple puts the wireless components inside of the form factor and puts them in these chambers. The third part involves studying the device in one of these chambers but with human or dummy subjects. And the fourth part is a field test, done in vans that drive around various cities monitoring the device's signal the entire time (both with real people and with dummies). ... The most interesting of these rooms was one that Caballero called 'Stargate.' Why? Because, well, it looks like it belongs in the movie/TV series Stargate. Inside this room, there's a giant ring that a human sits on a raised chair in the center of. This chair slowly rotates around as signals are passed around the entire outer circle. This creates a 360 degree test area. I was told this room is completely safe for humans. And people typically spend 40 minutes in there at a time for testing. By comparison, devices can stay in the other anechoic chambers for up to 24 hours at a time. ... We then went into a room that contained fake heads."
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Inside Apple's Anechoic Testing Chambers

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  • PR Glitter (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ProdigyPuNk ( 614140 ) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @10:25AM (#32942556) Journal
    The linked techcrunch article sure does have some pretty pictures, but it just makes it that much more sad that Apple missed something with their million-dollar test chambers that any left-handed person will notice in a day or two.
  • by HumanEmulator ( 1062440 ) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @10:35AM (#32942604)

    Nearly everything about how Apple has handled this has been wrong. From their disingenuous attempt to rebrand the problem "Antennagate" to stop the media from calling it the "Death Grip", to their feigned surprise [] that the iPhone signal bar calculation was heavily weighted to make the iPhone look like a strong performer.

    Now they're showing off how much testing the phone went through, which seems indicate they knew it was glitchy from the start. Or did they? I mean after all, in one of the first reviews of the iPhone 4 before it was even released, Walt Mossberg said []:

    However, on at least six occasions during my tests, the new iPhone was either reporting “no service” or searching for a network while the old one, held in my other hand, was showing at least a couple of bars. Neither Apple nor AT&T could explain this.

    So the very first review picked up on it, but they didn't have an explanation? They said they waited to have a press conference because they wanted to do testing to determine the problem, but doesn't that undermine the point that you've done adequate testing? Why after their press conference, is it still so unclear if they knew whether skin connecting the antennas was a problem or not?

    The really bizarre thing is I've had an iPhone 4 since day 1, I've seen the glitch and until I got a case it had been affecting my data connections, but I still really like this phone! Is Apple turning us all into battered wives?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 18, 2010 @10:44AM (#32942642)

    many people do this!

    I use my right hand for dialing, etc

    but honestly, even right-handers hold the damn phone in their left hand most of the time...

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by je ne sais quoi ( 987177 ) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @11:07AM (#32942752)
    I can't watch the video because it's in quicktime and I'm on a linux machine, but it is true that a lot of instrumentation runs windows only. I had the opportunity a few years back to visit the manufacturer of some scientific microscopes. I asked them why in the world they were using such an unstable and complicated platform as windows XP to run their software when what you really wanted was something that was dedicated to running a microscope. E.g., we used to comment on how back in the days of dos, the software for these microscopes was actually better, because dos had few (no?) abstraction layers to the hardware and the software had direct control over the vesa bus cards that controlled the microscope and running that software was the ONLY thing that computer was doing. In the days of NT and XP, software glitches and lag time (e.g. screen updates, etc.) have gotten worse and I think some of that is due to the fact that a modern operating system has a lot of things going on in the background that interrupt the microscope software.

    Anyhow, I brought up this problem with the manufacturer and told him that something like linux might be better since it's easier to have a more fined-grained control over which processes are running under what conditions. Their response was sort of typical, the engineers knew about this already and even had an alpha quality version of the software that ran on linux. The managers, on the other hand, couldn't even pronounce linux correctly and didn't even understand the problem. They said that if enough users ask for it, they'll do it. I guess the users don't ask.

    I have noticed that on some of the non-production machines, such as the software controlling instrumentation at synchotrons, the software is running on some form of unix. So there's hope, but I think we're stuck with windows until the general user actually sees the benefit of a dedicated instrumentation OS over a perhaps ill-fitting, but familiar, OS. For those of us forced to use mission critical windows software, we still have a lot of computers that are forbidden to be plugged into the internet since obviously if just the OS is getting in the way, AV software would get in the way as well. It makes the validating the MS Genuine Advantage a fun experience when you don't have cell reception in a basement lab (nor land line) and no internet connection.
  • Other projects... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LongearedBat ( 1665481 ) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @11:19AM (#32942820)

    “This lab used to be secret. Most people don’t know it exists,” Caballero told us. Dubbed the “Black Labs,” when I asked about the black cloaks, Caballero said that “we have a lot of other projects going on.”

    Other secret projects? Alien research!!! That's how they stay ahead of the curve. I knew it!

  • by xianthax ( 963773 ) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @11:33AM (#32942884)

    good job on the photography but these are pretty standard anechoic RF testing chambers. The only news worthy thing is that Apple is main-steam enough that people actually looked at these photos.

    Any company doing serious RF development will either have their own and rent time in a dedicated testing facility.

    Search google for "anechoic chamber" and you'll find hundreds of photos of such facilities.

    The US Air Force has one big enough to park a C-130 in :)

  • by tgibbs ( 83782 ) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @02:51PM (#32944140)

    If they have all these testing facilities and the testing procedure were in fact not flawed, then this problem is not caused by negligence but rather deliberate prioritization (i.e. time to market and/or development costs were more important). It other words, it would mean they really did not "give a shit".

    Steve Jobs said explicitly in his press conference that Apple's decision to use an external antenna was part of a design tradeoff to house the phone in a slim case while offering extended battery life. He even acknowledged that there are designs that would provide substantially improved reception, such as an antenna protruding from the case. So Apple tested the reception of the design, and found that no matter how you hold it, performance was similar or better to that of their previous phone, as independent testers have since found [], and concluded that Apple's customers would be happy with the design. So far, the phone is selling quite well, and returns are lower than previous models in the line, suggesting that Apple's estimation of its customers' priorities is pretty accurate.

    I'm not sure how that translates into not giving a shit.

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