Apple can't fix iPhone reception, will start telling truth about signal strength

Summary:Apple issues an open letter that offers no fix for antenna issue but reveals a software problem that's been making iPhone users think that AT&T's signal has been better than it truly is.

In an open letter to iPhone 4 users this morning, Apple attempted to explain the antenna problem that has been plaguing the iPhone 4 since its release last week - but instead ended up talking about a software issue that incorrectly displays signal strength as being stronger than it actually is. (Techmeme)

In other words, we can't fix those reception problems but we will fix it so that those signal bars on the phone will actually reflect how weak the signal is, instead of fooling you into thinking that your signal is strong. Is that about right? Here's how Apple explained it in its open letter (emphasis is mine):

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.

So, does that mean that all of those people who claim to have strong signal strength on the iPhone actually had a poor signal but just didn't know it? What about people who were in areas with strong signals? How would they know?

Also, to be clear, that issue of the reception reducing when users grip the phone a certain way isn't an iPhone problem alone, the company said. Apparently this is a problem on older iPhones, as well as many Droid, Nokia and RIM devices - though I can't ever recall BlackBerry users or Droid users being up in arms in such large numbers over an antenna issue like this.

With that said, Apple is not looking at fixing a hardware design flaw and I didn't read anything about an iPhone recall to make some sort of adjustment. No, the "mistake" of incorrectly displaying signal strength - which apparently goes back to the original iPhone - is a software problem. And the company will send out an update in the coming weeks. Here's what Apple had to say in its letter about that:

The real signal strength remains the same, but the iPhone’s bars will report it far more accurately, providing users a much better indication of the reception they will get in a given area. We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see.

For those trying to follow along, here's the recap:

  • iPhone 4 users experience sudden drops in signal strength when they grip the phone a certain way and start squawking about it.
  • Apple investigates and issues an open letter that says that the grip issue occurs in other devices too so don't blame us for that problem.
  • Apple then says we've actually been giving you the false perception that your iPhone signal was stronger than you believed because it has been miscalculating how to display signal strength - since the first iPhone.
  • Now, Apple will send out a software update in the next few weeks so that users can finally see how truly crappy AT&T's wireless network is and have it portrayed correctly in the signal strength display.
  • In summary, there's nothing we can do about your poor reception problems except to fix the signal strength display to be more accurate.

As I close out this post, I'm inclined to post some sort of snarky comment about other wireless carriers or other alternative devices - but I think I'll just let Apple's letter speak for itself.

It's really quite sad.

See also:

Topics: Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Smartphones

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