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Did CR Actually Confirm Apple's iPhone 4 Statement?

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#1 d3bruts1d


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Posted 13 July 2010 - 05:01 AM

Yesterday a post on the Consumer Reports' Electronics Blog said that Consumer Reports could not recommend the iPhone 4 based on the highly publicized reception issues. This story has since been picked up by just about every major news publication and technology blog around the globe. The news certainly does not sound good for Apple, and some analysts have even gone so far as to call it a "black eye" for the Cupertino, CA based company.

The post also was a reversal of Consumer Report's previous statement in which they said that the iPhone 4's reception issues "aren’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.

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 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.

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.

Now, back to that Consumer Reports article, which states:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Blocking iPhone 4 antenna kills reception. Blocking mic kills audio, and covering the screen makes it impossible to see Retina Display.

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?

Bryan K. McDaniel / "d3bruts1d"
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#2 airman



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Posted 13 July 2010 - 05:45 AM

Makes perfect sense. I like that Tweet quote.

Just as a pointer though, the link to the $0.99 fix on iPhoneGuru in your news post you linked says that the page is no longer available.

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#3 Psywar


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Posted 13 July 2010 - 06:10 AM

Oh my! Looks like this might have struck a small nerve with d3! :)

I don't have anything against apple or the iPhone 4. I do however find it funny that this all has happened. I find it ridiculous that Apple did not have the common sense to test the phone before shipping it to come across the fact that your hand would get in the way of the antennas reception.

But hey they are a multi million/billion dollar company and they want more money like every other company out there, so really why should they take the time to test any of the products when they know its going to sell anyways?

Just keep pumping out new un-tested hardware for us to use plz! Posted Image

EDIT: Oh and BTW d3. I got my Micro HDMI to HDMI cable yesterday and I tested it to day on my 32" LG LCD TV with my HTC Evo 4G.
It does not work. So yet more hardware company's like HTC did not bother to test before releasing/adding it to there applications.

And yeah, I am not the only one with this issue Sprint retracted all of there HDMI cables for the phone off there website so they are no longer for sale.
Oh well it was worth a shot.

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#4 OCFreak



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Posted 13 July 2010 - 07:22 AM

I am able to recreate the issue, and I do think that it is hardware based. I am currently using the bumper with it, and I prefer it with the bumper so that the steel does not get scratched.

My issue is this: How does something like this make it out of R&D let alone QA?

Even if the software reads it wrong ... who cares if it is dropping calls? I can be talking to my wife with perfect signal strength holding the phone in my right hand, switch to my left hand and within 30 seconds have a dropped call without the bumper on.

I suppose it is a good thing that I am not a lefty. :)

All that being said, the phone is an amazing piece of technology, the camera is better than anything else out there (yes including the DROID X and EVO), and the games on it are phenomenal.

#5 CAINuKe


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Posted 13 July 2010 - 08:38 AM

"Apple Censors Negative Consumer Reports' iPhone 4 Test"

What about this?


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#6 Jump4h



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Posted 13 July 2010 - 08:54 AM

Couldn't they just design it in a way there are two antennas, on top and side. That way it would be nearly impossible to lose signal.

#7 RogerDeath



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Posted 13 July 2010 - 09:35 AM

"Apple Censors Negative Consumer Reports' iPhone 4 Test"

What about this?

Apple has always been one of the most sensitive companies out there and usually the first to censor bad news in some way. Not surprised at all.

Couldn't they just design it in a way there are two antennas, on top and side. That way it would be nearly impossible to lose signal.

What, Apple release something that costs more and actually works 100% when compared to the competitors?

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#8 d3bruts1d


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Posted 13 July 2010 - 09:41 AM

Couldn't they just design it in a way there are two antennas, on top and side. That way it would be nearly impossible to lose signal.

Sure they could design an iPhone with 2 antennas. Motorola did that with the Droid X. However, one thing that you have to keep in mind is that adding another antenna requires more power, which would shorten the battery life. So, it is a trade off, which would you rather have more battery or a bit of interference?

#9 suchuwato


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Posted 13 July 2010 - 09:58 AM

There can only be one conclusion from this, as far as I can see. Apple continue to make half-baked overpriced and overestimated products, and their customers continue to be stupid sheep.

Now I'm back off to my FCP project.

#10 Kash


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Posted 13 July 2010 - 10:36 AM

My issue is this: How does something like this make it out of R&D let alone QA?

Most people have speculated that when Apple tested the phone out in the wild, it was always covered in a case so as not to give away its identity, thus masking the antenna issue. It wasn't until it was too late in the production process that the problem was discovered and by then they couldn't change the design if they wanted to make their deadline.

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 10:56 AM

Sure they could design an iPhone with 2 antennas. Motorola did that with the Droid X. However, one thing that you have to keep in mind is that adding another antenna requires more power, which would shorten the battery life. So, it is a trade off, which would you rather have more battery or a bit of interference?

Yeah but with that logic why not take out it's only antenna since it doesn't work all the time and save even more power :rolleyes:

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#12 slick2500


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Posted 13 July 2010 - 10:58 AM

The only reason I bought an iPod was because everything under the sun supports iPods, and I do a lot of driving so its easier to load all my music on my iPod then just plug it into my car stereo that plays the music off the iPod. That is where Apple wins they have almost everything so that it works with there products.

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