Make us your home page

Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

What's the story on the reported iPhone 4 reception problem?

I've had my iPhone 4 for more than a week and I keep hearing about a reception problem. Lots of people are complaining about it, saying if you hold the iPhone a certain way the signal strength plummets and calls drop. I've tried to replicate this and can't make it happen. That's not to say my iPhone 4 doesn't have signal issues (because it does), but it has them in the same places where I had issues with my 3GS, my 3G and even my old RAZR phone. Other than in those places my iPhone 4 has been rock-solid. Still, I kept hearing about this big "problem."

For several days the folks over at Gizmodo switched to "all iPhone reception problem news, all the time" and it seems apparent they're still grinding their axe. Their coverage included an email exchange between iPhone users who were complaining about the iPhone and Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and they said the emails were authentic. Now they say they're fake and Apple says the email exchange did not take place. And so it goes on the latest episode of "The Days of our iPhone."

Funny pictures have surfaced showing Jobs holding the iPhone in various positions, as if he's demonstrating the "correct" way to hold the iPhone. Engadget published an email exhange with Jobs and an iPhone user, in which Jobs allegedly said to hold the phone a different way. That inspired a new slogan with an adaptation of an old Apple campaign.


There's even a class-action lawsuit and a petition is being signed on Facebook asking Apple to provide the $30 bumper cases for free because they are said to fix the problem. Apple's position over the past week has been mostly denial and they have blamed drooped calls on poor signal strength while defending their design. Well, today that changed a bit.

In a letter released by Apple, they now acknowlege a software problem that displays more bars of signal strength on the iPhone than is actually there. Saying the formula used "mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength," they also go on to say: "The iPhone 4's wireless performance is the best we have ever shipped." Huh?

This problem, apparently, also has been present on all previous iPhones too. So all the times when you thought you had four bars of signal you really only had two. A free software update, available in a few weeks according to the letter, will fix the problem they say, so everyone can go about their business of complaining about their signal strength but now with two less bars across the board.

So how does this apply to the reported problem of gripping the iPhone 4 the "wrong way?" Apple says: "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."

Fixing software to accurately report signal strength doesn't correct an antenna problem, if there is one. So we'll have to wait and see as the saga continuies to unfold. In the mean time, I decided to make an effort to reproduce the problem with my iPhone.

I found that if I go in the closet, stand on my head, slightly squeeze the phone at 2 and 8 o'clock, chew gum and pat my head and stomach at the same time, my signal strength does drop. So there, I guess it's a problem.

Oh by the way, Apple does say that anyone who is not satisfied with their iPhone 4 can return it during the first 30 days for a refund.



[Last modified: Friday, July 2, 2010 4:41pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours