If you have an Apple iPhone 4 and you've been having problems with its reception, you're not alone. It's already been demonstrated that when held a certain way, the iPhone 4 loses its signal. So far, Apple's been pretty blasé about the issue, but that looks like it's about to change.
Here's the problem: the device features two antennas built very close to the metal band that runs around its exterior: one on the left for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and one on the right for cellular reception. Gripping the phone so that its left bottom area is covered, however, causes reception to degrade or disappear. Apple acknowledged in late June that the problem was real.
Its initial response wasn't exactly helpful, however. It effectively blamed the problem on the customer, telling users not to grip the phone that way, or get a case. That unresponsiveness seems set to change, however. Last Friday, the company promised a software fix. It doesn't sound like much of a fix, though: it's supposed to correct the calculation of signal bars on the display. How, exactly, this is supposed to help fix an issue that seems more like a design flaw (many people cover the left bottom area of a cell phone just by using it normally) is not clear.
Kent Gorman, writing for CNET, reported on a series of tests done in the Boston area with an iPhone 4 equipped with the Speedtest app by Xtreme Labs. Speedtest measures download and upload speeds for your location. In all cases, performing downloads or uploads on the iPhone 4 with the sensitive area covered cut the speed nearly in half.
Clearly, something is going on. Apple has correctly pointed out that other cell phones also suffer from similar issues when their antennas are blocked, but do they suffer to quite the same extent as the iPhone 4? And if they suffer less, why did Apple go with a design that's provably less functional than the ones currently on the market?
Interestingly, Apple has made a bumper for the phone, which is supposed to help prevent users from covering the antenna area and thus improve reception. The bumper, which is the first one Apple has ever made for any of its phones, costs about $30 – and Apple will not be giving them away. (Purchasing a bumper is not strictly necessary; at least one do-it-yourself website includes instructions for making an iPhone 4 bumper out of a rubber bracelet).
The company with the golden touch seems to be losing a little goodwill over this issue. It's no wonder, too; who expects a design flaw in an Apple device? Time will tell whether this problem will hurt the company's market share or bottom line. It seems unlikely, given Apple's momentum, but its attitude leaves a lot to be desired.
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