iPhone 4 Reception Problems

iPhone 4 went loudly into the streets and with reports of a number of critical issues in the design of the device. Some conflicting reports say that the problem is in the device-level design and some users did not see any problems with reception.

After talking with quite a few iPhone 4 owners in Israel and abroad and with senior representatives at cellular companies, I formulated a thesis about what probably happened and where the big miss is, not only of Apple, but also of its customer community and its potential claimants.

iPhone 4 went loudly into the streets and with reports of a number of critical issues in the design of the device. Some conflicting reports say that the problem is in the device-level design and some users did not see any problems with reception.

After talking with quite a few iPhone 4 owners in Israel and abroad and with senior representatives at cellular companies, I formulated a thesis about what probably happened and where the big miss is, not only of Apple, but also of its customer community and its potential claimants.

The highlight is the announcement of Apple, recently, that the problem is actually a software problem - which brought laughter and ridicule over technical experts.

So what happened?

Go back a few seasons before launching the device – when Apple defined its objectives, the instrument had a few goals. The slimmer design change required a new design from which taking out the antenna was the obvious step. Apple is not the first to make design plans like this before, but they are the first that really made experiment into reality.

When this type of external antennas being used, it is customary to often use an internal backup antenna. As far as we know in this case, Apple has chosen (probably due to the serious limitations place the new iPhone) to use two antennas which both external. One antenna is used cellular reception while the other is used to absorb Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS apparently. The distance between the antennas is very small and physically separated by two stripes along the frame.

As mentioned above, when Apple defined its goals, it intended to improve the quality of reception of the iPhone 4, not only the cellular level but at all levels – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, cellular absorption and transfer of speech information. As we know, in all of these levels, iPhone is trailing somewhere relatively behind competing devices from other companies.

The issue has become critical due to the amount of customer complaints, especially from AT&T. It is well known that in the U.S. there is a great awareness in regards to cellular antennas and the area of coverage that AT&T is asked to provide is enormous by any possible measure (except for China and India, no other cellular company ‘s layout is so geographically widespread). The amount of complaints about poor reception quality, the calls drops during driving or walking – makes Apple the target for many jokes and they really do not like it.

Therefore, it aims to make the iPhone 4 the best device that it could in terms of absorption.

So, how Apple screwed up?

As mentioned, Apple has very limited space for improvements when the actual phone surface is so small. In comparison to the iPhone 3GS, the device volume fell by almost a quarter, while the battery area grew. That is, the area where the electronics can be placed in is a dramatically smaller in comparison to other phones. Even the design requirements beyond the glass on both sides of the device makes it very difficult for placing additional antennas inside the device itself.

As we know, in the iPhone 2G the antennas were in the bottom of the device (under the ugly black plastic band). Except the GPS antenna, this location was saved along the instrument's design, apparently to keep the energy that the devices emit away from the brain.

After my conversation with one senior official from an Israeli cellular company, it turned out that the problem is not just Apple's exclusive, but most of cell phone devices that we know today have the same problems that when specific points are being touched, the quality of reception decreases dramatically. Sometimes it's the back of the device, sometimes at the bottom.

We will add more additional parameter to this equation - Apple is fanatical of maintaining the confidentiality of its devices. This confidentiality is being used as a high priority marketing strategy – the level of interest that this causes increases the value of the product, and as it is very well known, that long lines at the entrance of the Apple stores is the best sales factor exists for Apple.

Therefore, even when we forget that iPhone 4 at the bar, it was masked by the shell that actually made it look like a normal iPhone 3GS. This framework that Apple forced all of its employees (and partners from cellular companies) to use the same coverage through their tests, unequivocally denied them from identifying the phenomenon. The phenomenon of hand contact between the two antennas - requires physical touch on the device, and since outside the laboratories at Cupertino everyone must use secret envelopes, no one really could identify the phenomenon. Most likely, inside the labs, where the cellular reception was excellent, the problem was not seen anyway.

Can a software update fix the hardware problem?

Reports on the problems of reception into contact with the frame of the iPhone 4 are inconclusive and are clearly accurate to me. Contact with a slightly wet hand (what is very common in summer) between the two antennas, especially at the bottom left corner of the device – causes a diminished cellular absorption, and based on the screen of the iPhone 4, a dramatic reduction in quality of reception (the number of absorption lines). Incidentally, after this story, it was revealed that the iPhone 3GS has a similar phenomenon when covering the lower right corner of the device.

Apple's initial response to this issue was “you are just holding the device incorrectly” (which made it kind of a ridiculous joke after showing Steve Jobs himself holding his phone that same way in so many photos).

Even a more puzzling answer came later that reported that Apple "discovered" a software bug that will fix the problem.

Of course, the technical community stood up and refused to believe that Apple thinks we bought that story.

My first thought was that they must be able to detect the short between the two antennas and take advantage of a backup antenna instead of this antenna, and thus fix the problem. But not so.

The Big tall tale mobile manufacturers do not want you to know

As mentioned, Apple's goal was that the iPhone 4 will pick a better reception that the phone's previous versions. This, at least for the various tests respectable network sites, they probably actually did achieve. But we know that Apple is a company that does not deal with technology as it deals with marketing. The marketing of the iPhone is much more significant that the market share of the actual device. 

As a marketing-oriented company, the goal is not only the device would have a little better reception but that the device would seem as if it the best mobile device ever invented and that its absorption has been improved remarkably. But, what to do, technical limitations and especially problematic deployment of AT&T in the U.S., does not really allow them to make it happen in practice. 

A good example is the Ferrari car manufacturer would come out in the campaign for a new luxury vehicle that comes to 240 miles an hour, when everyone stuck on the 405 freeway at 70 mph on a good day. Apple has produced good phone, the telephone infrastructure which runs the U.S. looks like a traffic jam on the 405 freeway after the first rain. 

So what do we do? We tall tale. 

For example: suppose the device picks up three bars, why don’t we report that it picks up five bars? The user can’t really check on the level of the DB, and it is very easy to falsify the data –just distort the absorption formulas so that it seems the device (which really get better reception) improved dramatically. Put an iPhone 4 and an iPhone 3GS in the same place and you'll see the quality of reception suddenly improved dramatically. 

It is clear that this kind of testing sites and newspapers will do - and obviously it will be caught by the public - the device actually get better reception, and must be purchased. Actually the device does get better reception, just not as good as it is reported. 

So what happens in the U.S.? Because they changed the method of calculation, in places where the absorption is poor (that is most major U.S. cities - the absorption of AT&T in New York City, for example is not less shocking) - people still get 4-5 bars of reception. They are very pleased. Now, when they distort the antenna or touch it slightly, the quality of reception is reduced (as noted, each mobile device has a touch sensitive area which reduces the absorption). But if the device would report correctly - that is 2-3 bars, then a drop to one line would not raise so many eyebrows. When coming down from 5 bars to one due to the grip, that's another story altogether! 

Apple's announcement that it would change the formula because of the bug, masks the fact that the "bug" was intended originally to make good public relations by making the device’s quality of reception significantly improved! Apple is locked into a multi-year agreement with AT&T, which apparently ends at the end of this year (observe announcements of the iPhone on the competing networks before January). The exclusive network responsibility of AT&T just cannot keep the layout in relation to the amount of iPhone sales and the amount of calls and data that iPhone owners use. The immediate result of the continuing failure of AT&T to keep up, is just a poor reception quality. 

Apple cannot fix what is not its responsibility or control, but its apparent attempt to beautify the numbers make people think the network is not as bad as they thought, an experience that really bothers me and I'm sure that it is not only exclusive to Apple. 

Apple certainly is not the first nor the last to make such mistakes (good examples are computer processors built to handle test speed programs in particular and appeared to be faster than what they actually where in practice), but this mistake cost her dearly in terms of public relations. Instead of people thinking the device is having a good reception as it really is, they think of it as having a poor design. 

How will they handle it?

The first step in handling the problem is clear - they need to report the reception quality as it is with all other devices, especially the iPhone 3GS so we can have an even estimate. Ideally I'd like to talk in absolutes - how much DB coverage we have instead of how many lines we're talking. 

Probably a more serious problem is that most likely the iPhone 4 is a lot less durable than Apple thought or feared (if they were trying it without a cover, they would have discovered this fact too) - that it is more resistant to scratches, but less to destructive crashes (an employee of GIZMODO managed in one fall on the day he bought the phone to cause both sides to crash). 

This issue is probably some care consumption, and probably will be inevitable in any case or require the use of a protective device. Side-effects of this coverage is the removal of physical contact between the arm antennas and antennas themselves - to improve the quality of reception. 

Apple can fix the issue in a variety of methods - such as adding a coating that prevents contact (assuming the antennas is a the cause of lost absorption) or adding a new cover as part of the package that comes with the device. According to one technical source of cellular companies in Israel, the issue is not of the circuit but of effective broadcast coverage area of the device - and this coating most likely will not help, but just adding some chassis or case will keep your hand from the affected area. 

On the other hand, the same source says it makes the problem much less acute than it was presented - it is essentially not different from other devices in the market. In his opinion, Apple’s identity and the intense feelings for her, combined with the "problem" of false reporting of the quality of reception made this into a bigger that in practice is no different from other devices. 

The same source mentions: the problem is mostly public relations, and contrary to usually dealing with silk gloves to handle these issues, Apple managed to screw up here, and her white clean image cracked as the iPhone 4 on a concrete pavement. She just made all possible mistakes, from the denial of the problem, recommending its users to change the way in which they hold the phone, through the claim that the problem is software. The best solution was if they would just add to the package their shield and its surprising that they do not see how much damage they have caused their image by this ongoing treatment in this case. 

How does this affect us?

From what we know from unofficial reports, the iPhone is quietly turning to be the best-selling device (although not that that gets the most publicity) from cellular companies in Israel. It appears that Apple has set ambitious targets to Israeli cellular companies. This situation will probably maintain and not change dramatically because this subject. 

In Israel the situation is quite different from the U.S. On the one hand, that heat in Israel and the resulting sweat will certainly be a factor in contact with the device. On the other hand, do you know of anyone here that goes around with the iPhone without any cover or some protective shield? Rare. 

In addition, the state of the cellular absorption in Israel, of all cellular companies, is dramatically better than the U.S. Truth be told, the situation is better in Europe. This phenomenon actually started Apple's apparent desire to improve the image of its troubled reception on AT&T is less relevant in Israel. 

Probably, there are also places in here (Israel) with bad reception, it is likely the effect of touching or blocking the lower left corner of the device will cause a dramatic loss of coverage - but in most places we go around, especially in the center of Israel, there will be an excellent absorption and the few DB that will be lost due to contact or blocking signal, will have almost no effect and will not cause a decrease to one absorption bar. 

These are also reports that we get those elite who hold in their hands the new iPhone 4 in Israel. There are those who see a slight decrease in absorption and there are those who cannot make the phenomenon to occur at all (it occurs, but its effect is so insignificant in Apple's formula does not make him lose bars). 

So probably the effect of this phenomenon in Israel will be minimal at best. 

For me, the more difficult problem is the behavior that Apple showed us in this case, printing arbitrary and dictatorial threats, that definitely does not do favor with the device itself and continues to direct the path that characterized the approach this company last year. 

The claims against Apple will most likely not work. It is easy to show the device is materially not different from any other devices on the market in this respect. Perhaps the claim should have been alleged against the artificial improvement of the figures, which is quite similar to false report in the stock market to allow your stock prices to artificially grow. 

Courtesy of hometheater.co.il