Apple Confirms iPhone 4 Reception Not a Software Problem

By  |  Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at 8:16 am

It’s been like pulling teeth, and it took journalists mailing AppleCare rather than Apple’s notoriously tight-lipped and selectively-responding public relations department, but we have our answer. That iPhone 4 software update will do nothing to fix the reception problems–it is a hardware issue.

Gizmodo e-mailed AppleCare support three times this week and got the same answer every time, which means that Apple has changed their tone ever so slightly. AppleCare representatives confirmed an antenna interference issue when the phone is held near that infamous lower left-hand corner. The software update would only make iPhone 4’s signal meter more accurate, and not fix the problem.

In other words, now you’ll really get an idea of how much this issue is killing your reception.

Apple is telling its customers as it has in its most recent public statement to not hold the phone in a manner that causes the hand to touch that lower left hand corner, or purchase a $30 bumper from Apple which would solve the problem (a case from any manufacturer would, too).

Neowin’s Brad Sams has an obviously Microsoft-centric take on the issue, but its definitely true: Apple’s iPhone 4 problem is beginning to look a lot like Xbox 360’s Red Ring of Death Issue. Microsoft attempted to sweep the issue under the rug, but waseventually forced to take action just based on the sheer scope of it.

It could be argued that Apple is getting close to this point, and that’s why we’re beginning to see a change in its tone. I do agree that if customers are having enough of an issue with the phone that Apple should be providing these bumpers at no cost. It wasn’t the consumers’ fault that designers decided to make the antenna out of bare metal that surrounded the case.

Either way, it doesn’t look like this issue will be going away anytime soon. I highly doubt Apple would change the design of the phone in midstream, so we’ll probably be waiting until iPhone 5 for a true fix.



23 Comments For This Post

  1. Vern Says:

    When will the Apple Zombies wake up & realize that for years Apple has been lying & is NOT consumer-friendly?

  2. Josh Rhoderick Says:

    I guess I'm one of those Apple zombies because I have been enjoying Apple's consumer friendly, albeit costly, products for a few years now. Few of us claim Apple to be perfect. Rather, most of us consider Apple to be the least shitty out of a lot of shittier options.

    I'll have you know, however, that we zombies do not "wake up." We can only be killed by removing our heads with edged weapons or by severe crushing. Automatic weapons sometimes work too.

  3. Josh Rhoderick Says:

    I'm not sure what to make of this issue. It obviously exists, yet none of the people I know who own iPhones have a problem with it. All of them report better signal across the board. It's a shame that Apple's response was so ridiculous. I think Ken Segall's response is dead on:

  4. Ed Oswald Says:

    Josh, yes thats the whole problem here. I think Apple is still living in that world where it could get away with statements like that and nobody would challenge it. Now that it is MUCH bigger, Apple is watched much more closely, and its statements parsed that much more.

  5. AlfieJr Says:

    well, ed, you could note that the only actual hardware lab test – by Anandtech – shows that even with the attenuated reception of the 'grip' the iPhone 4 still has BETTER reception than the 3GS. but nah, that would be fact-based reporting, not sensationalized Blog BS which clearly is what you want to write.

  6. MEC Says:

    "Red ring of death"? Are you serious? That flaw made the Xbox completely inoperable. The antenna issue on the iPhone 4 makes the phone slightly less capable for making phone calls in marginal reception areas, and only if you hold the phone like you hold your d***. Talk about false equivalencies!

  7. David Says:

    Well, Josh. I've owned every version of the iPhone, and I have this problem. It's real, it's serious, and Apple's handling of it is atrocious. The fact that they'd use it as an opportunity to sell lousy rubber bumpesr for $30 (when the probably cost each 10 cents to make) really makes me wonder whether they were perfectly aware of the problem before the iPhone 4 went to market, and saw it as a way to cross-promote an overpriced accessory. I think the discovery that will be obtained in the class action lawsuits should be very, very interesting, although it likely will be subject to a protective order that won't let mere mortals see it. Expect a settlement, and expect it soon.

  8. Ed Oswald Says:

    I'll reply to two comments here:

    @MEC – Did you bother to read that the "Red Ring of Death" comment was made by Neowin, and not by anyone here?

    @Alfie – Apparently the issue was enough to have Apple change what they're saying to their customers. Nobody's complained to the company about 3GS reception, so we don't know if they're saying anything to those customers.

  9. MEC Says:

    Ed Oswald: Neowin may have made the original red ring comment, but your post endorses it with the phrase "but its definitely true." So, I stand by my statement about false equivalencies.

  10. Brett Says:

    All phones exhibit some signal degradation when held near the bottom where the internal antennas are located. If you are in an area of low coverage (unfortunately AT&T's cell network is riddled with such areas), the degradation may be sufficient to cause the connection to be dropped entirely. This nothing new. People have complained about dropped calls since the launch of the first iPhone. The fact that the signal strength bars had erroneously indicated string reception even in weak areas only added to the frustration when the connection inexplicably is dropped. Apple will be issuing a software update to more accurately display signal strength.

    What is new with the iPhone 4 is its external antenna. This actually improves reception for most users in most locations, but is more sensitive to hand position. In a marginal signal situation (which should be more apparent after the software update), one should avoid holding the phone tightly near the bottom. The use of a protective bumper or other case is also helpful in preserving signal strength.

    Some irate complainers are claiming that Apple should recall the iPhone 4 and (I guess) replace them with a newly designed phone having an internal antenna, as if that were a realistic possibility. Others feel that Apple's Bumper case should be bundled free with the phone, or given to those with connection issues.

    I think the latter would be a nice gesture and would help to address the bad PR that has resulted from this issue, but even a bumper won't completely eliminate the shielding effect of being held in areas of sufficiently low signal. I think it is sufficient that Apple provides a 30-day full money-back guarantee.

  11. Bob Morgan Says:

    What Ed is saying by comparing the RROD problem to this is that it's a common issue that is dragging the company's name down, not how operable either is because of the issue, get your head out of your ass, it's not difficult to understand. Besides, if you think you can write a better article, why aren't you?? Fuckin' Christ you people bitch about irrelevant shit.

  12. WDC Says:

    I love how people talk about what a beautiful design the iPhone is (which I agree) and then suggest that you cover it with a case to protect it. They oooh and awww about how thin it is but the case you just put on it makes it and bulky. Why not make a resilient case part of the design in the first place even if it does make the phone a little bigger? No one suggests that I put a bumper case on my camera and I've beat the crap out of it but it still takes good pictures. I dropped my iPhone 3G with a case on it and it still broke the little piece of cheap, fragile plastic that holds the volume rocker and ringer switch in place. Durability should be a part of the design and you should have to put a case on it to protect it during normal use or to keep from interfering with reception.

  13. Pete Says:

    The problem is that when skin touches the metal on boths sides of the insulator, it creates a capacitive coupling from one antenna to the other. Therefore changing the load and wavelength of the antenna. This completely changes the characteristic of the antenna and causes it to not work with the frequencies it was designed for. Just placing a larger insulator over the current insulators, one just large enough to keep your skin from touching the two different antenna elements at the same time, resolves the issue comepletely. I have tested this by using 3/4 inch strips of electral tape across each insulator on the bottom antenna. I suggest that apple make a repair kit made of small strips of the clear 3M plastic that is used for clear car bras. These strips can be placed over each insultor area, they won't show, they will cost next to nothing to provide and labor to install them will be minimal.

  14. Mark Bright Says:

    NO! You mean apple were wrong and there IS a problem with the iPhone 4 reception!! Well! Who would have thought it?

  15. Vulpine Says:

    You know, Apple might come up with a very simple fix that doesn't require hiding the beautiful stainless steel frame (/sarcasm). All they need to do is add a clear, insulating coating to the frame before assembly. A quick dip, let it dry, and assemble. Cheap and effective.

  16. Pete Says:

    Very true. But they need to supply a solution for the 1.7 millions phones already sold. You're solution is perfect for any phones being manufactured from this point forward.

  17. Vulpine Says:

    Clear fingernail polish would do the job nicely.

  18. Brett Says:

    The problem unfortunately is not due to sweaty hands actually short-circuiting the antennas. It is the close proximity of human flesh shielding and absorbing the microwave signal. A thin insulating layer will do little to improve reception.

    I say: Buy an Apple Bumper or other case, change your grip, return the phone (if you think a competing phone offers a better solution), or adjust your expectations. Remember, no phone has perfect reception everywhere, and all phones degrade when their antennas are shielded by flesh. Even given the "Death Grip" scenario, most reviews indicate that the iPhone 4 has better performance overall.

  19. Sloan Says:

    It is a problem. The bumper trick helps, but is more like a band aid then a cure. Apple's future moves will define how they are judged for it. Obviously… Denial is not going to work. I know Steve jobs must be holding the left hand corner of his iPhone… Watching the signal drop and just shaking his head in disbelief.

    I am right handed, but I hold my phone in my left hand. I am also 6 foot 2 and do not hold the phone like my penis or like a delicate little flower. I lose signal to the point of dropping calls and I live in Philadelphia. I DID NOT have this problem with the 3GS.

  20. AlohaGuy Says:

    I had every iphone model so far, and use them in the same exact location, in my home. I never had reception problems with previous models, and recently upgraded to the iPhone 4. The twist is that I do have the Bumper, and it has not helped (or maybe it has helped, but the help still results in a far inferior reception level than previous models). Every call I make that lasts for more than 3-5 minutes is dropped, and I don't even receive a call dropped indication. The call is just terminated, and I keep talking (no beep or indication that the call has ended). Also, I definitely have fewer bars, and I am using the bumper, and also not holding the "off limits area." I have also experienced other problems, often when talking the feature that puts the screen on sleep mode so that it isn't touch sensitive is somehow deactivated, so that buttons are pressed while I talk (mute for example, or Face Time). The bottom line is that just about everyone I talk to experiences a dropped call several times during the call, which is really frustrating. Now when I talk to anyone, I immediately tell them that I am on an iPhone 4, so the call will probably drop a few times, which it inevitably does. Everyone laughs, as do I, but the reality is that this really is a huge inconvenience. Apple mentions in their PR statement a 30 day return window on the phone, but where I live (in Hawaii) the receipt only shows a 15 day return for the phone. I am considering returning it, but not sure what to switch to. Has anyone else tried the bumper with success? So far it has done nothing for me, so a free bumper case really would be useless. I just bought another case as well, by Frogz, and that hasn't helped either.

  21. bims Says:

    .) There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impact of just a moment’s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

  22. Manthissom Says:

    I am iPhone 4 user. I think it is perfect device. However, when Apple said "iPhone 4 Reception Not a Software Problem" is impossible, No device without Bug.

  23. Lora Says:

    Hard to believe it. I'm a iphone4 user and I have little bug on sometime.

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