The post also was a reversal of Consumer Report's previous statement in which they said that the iPhone 4's reception issues "arenâ€™t unique, and may not be serious" at that "there's no reason, at least yet, to forgo buying an iPhone 4 over its reception concerns."
Apple has claimed that the iPhone 4 reception issue is actually a flaw in the software formula that determines signal strength rather than a flaw in the iPhone 4's new design. An update to iOS 4 is in the works which Apple says will correct the way signal strength is calculated by using AT&T's recommended algorithm. Since the update has yet to materialize, it is hard to say if an update to iOS 4 can actually resolve the issue or not. Gadget blog Gizmodo has been extremly vocal claiming that there is no way Apple can resolve the issue with a software fix. Though if you ask me, it sounds more like Gizmodo's argument is made out of spite in regards to the current Apple - Gizmodo lawsuit and investigation related to the whole iPhone 4 prototype theft / leak / whatever you want to call it.
We will have to wait for the iOS update to see if it can actually fix the problem. However, if you take a closer look at the statement originally posted by Apple and then take another look at the Consumer Reports' article you may find that they are actually saying the same thing. Don't believe me? Take a look over the articles again, I'll wait. Still didn't catch it? Ok, we will take a look together.
Based on that statement, Apple is saying iPhone 4 users believe that the signal strength is better than normal because the iPhone's formula for calculating the number of bars displayed. Users may see 4 bars when they only have 2 bars, and as a result users holding the iPhone see a big drop that was never actually there to begin with - you go from 4 bars to "no service" because in reality there should have only been 2 bars.
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. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, 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 donâ€™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.
Now, back to that Consumer Reports article, which states:
The very last part of the quote is key, "...if you're in an area with a weak signal." Sounds to me like that is exactly what Apple said 10 days ago.
It's official. Consumer Reports' engineers have just completed testing the iPhone 4, and have confirmed that there is a problem with its reception. When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone's lower left side - an easy thing, especially for lefties - the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you're in an area with a weak signal.
Now, don't get me wrong here, I am not saying that there is no problem with the iPhone 4's design. As Apple stated, almost any phone will experience some signal loss when held certain ways. That is because your hand, head or body can interfere with the signal. Every one of the user manual included with Nokia's phones include a statement about signal loss when holding the phone in a way that covers the antenna. The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) posted a video demonstrating the iPhone 3GS as it suffers from loss of signal and YouTube is full of videos which demonstrate signal loss among many popular mobile devices ranging from Android to Windows Mobile. The issue is simply more prevalent on the iPhone 4 than any other device.
Personally, I believe that there is indeed an issue with iOS as it calculates signal strength, but that doesn't mean there is not an issue with the iPhone 4's design. In fact, I believe that the issue is a combination of these two things. To explain the issues with the antenna itself, here is what a Ph.D. in Electromagnetics had to say.
So, the iPhone 4 displays more bars than it should due to a flaw in iOS 4 and the problem is further compounded by the iPhone 4's design. Based on the information so far, I can see where an iOS update could help improve the issue, but because of the iPhone 4 design it is unlikely to fully resolve it completely, meaning there is most likely going to always be some level of signal drop when held certain ways.
The technical explanation for the variation in signal strength found when closing the iPhone's case gaps with one's fingers is, that the antennas are being "loaded". The loading from fingers, a material with a high relative permittivity of ~50 at 2 GHz, changes the input impedance and resonant frequency of the antenna resulting in loss.
If I had to take an educated guess, I suspect pressing one's fingers across the gap increases the gap capacitance and changes the feed input impedance and electrical length of the antenna. It is analogous to holding on to a piano wire with two fingers while it is being struck. Its resonant frequency will shift and its quality factor will drop, resulting in a sound that is off key and muffled.
A solution often employed in the field is to preload an antenna. Preloading is including a large permittivity in the design, so when a human puts it close to their body, there isn't a significant change. The down side of this is that it often reduces bandwidth and efficiency. So you can either have a great antenna that takes a hit when your fingers are near it or have one that is not quite as good but never changes.
While the design problems are present, most users may never actually notice it. For starters, the problem is most common for those that are left-handed, a trait that is only found in an estimated ten percent of the world's population. Sure, there are right-handed which will occasionally hold the phone in the left hand. But the problem is not as simple as holding it in the left hand, you also have to hold the phone in such a way that causes your hand (or finger) to cover the black strip in the lower left corner of the phone. Many users that I have personally observed holding a phone (any phone, that is not just the iPhone 4) in the left hand tend to hold their devices closer to the top.
Ok, so perhaps you hold the phone in such a way that causes some interference and signal loss. What are you to do? There is no great answer, especially when each of the fixes (or work around) available right now require you to spend some additional money. The Consumer Reports' article made mention that think tape such as masking tape, duct tape, or electrical tape can reduce the interference by blocking user's contact with the antenna. That is not exactly an attractive solution, though it is probably the quickest and cheapest method to fix the issue.
By far, the best way to cover the antenna would be to use a protective case of some sort. Prices on iPhone cases vary and can be as little as $20 and more than $100. Sure, it sucks to spend anything extra after already dropping several hundred dollars on the iPhone. It may help you if you don't think of the iPhone 4 case as a fix to the antenna, but rather protection (or insurance even) for the phone itself. With a glass front and back, the iPhone 4 is more likely to break and shatter than previous models. That's a scary though, and one that would have had most iPhone 4 users purchasing a protective case even if there were never any reception issues to begin with.
Apple's "iPhone 4 Bumpers" offer a little protection and resolve the signal issue for $30. You can also make your own knock off bumper using those $0.99 silicon bracelet things.
Of course those unhappy with the iPhone 4 and not willing to wait to see what happens with the iOS update have the ability to return the iPhone 4 without a restocking fee. Just take it back to Apple, get your money back and use the cash to get an older iPhone or another device. You have about 15 more days left before the 30 day window for returns closes.
Despite the reception issues, Consumer Reports' still rated the iPhone 4 higher than any other smart phone on the market, including the previous champion the iPhone 3GS which is tied for number two with the fairly new HTC Evo 4G.
In short, there are issues with the iPhone 4 that some users may experience. Other users will never notice a problem. Pretty much every website out there agrees that aside from the reception issue, the iPhone 4 is superior in many ways when compared to other phones. The problem has been over sensationalized my the media and used by Apple haters to stir up FUD.
The iPhone scored high, in part because it sports the sharpest display and best video camera we've seen on any phone, and even outshines its high-scoring predecessors with improved battery life and such new features as a front-facing camera for video chats and a built-in gyroscope that turns the phone into a super-responsive game controller.
I will end now by quoting a Tweet from a few weeks ago that makes fun of the hysteria concerning the iPhone 4 antenna and reception issues.
For those of you with an iPhone 4, have you noticed any issues? Are you using a protective case, and if so where you using one or planning to use one prior to the news?
Blocking iPhone 4 antenna kills reception. Blocking mic kills audio, and covering the screen makes it impossible to see Retina Display.
Bryan K. McDaniel / "d3bruts1d"