Apple was warned about iPhone 4 antenna issues

Summary:An Apple engineer as well as a carrier partner reportedly warned the company that the iPhone 4's antenna design could be an issue.

Possible reception problems with the iPhone 4 were raised early in the design process by Apple's antenna expert, according to a Bloomberg report Thursday. A carrier partner also issued some red flags about possible antenna problem.

But Apple, which is known for its sleek designs and flashy interfaces, moved forward with the antenna design. And when it came time for Steve Jobs to unveil the iPhone 4, the cool sleek look that the antenna offered, as well as the implied reception improvements, was one of the new features that he highlighted.

Apple wouldn't make the antenna expert, who works as a senior engineer at Apple, available for comment to Bloomberg. The company also declined to talk. However, it has called a press conference for tomorrow to presumably talk about the iPhone 4's problems and hopefully address a fix. Analysts have dismissed the idea of a recall, calling it unlikely.

Sales of the iPhone 4 have been strong since its release and there's been no indication that they've suffered under the negative press. But the company received a blow when Consumer Reports said this week that it would not recommend the iPhone 4 and suggested that the problem was a hardware design flaw, not a software issue that could be fixed with an update, as Apple had previously suggested.

Since then, shares have stumbled and the publicity around the iPhone - which normally gets overwhelmingly positive coverage from the mainstream press - has been focused around its antenna problems, even to the point where it's become the butt of late-night jokes. Even headline happy Senators are getting in on the iPhone 4 act.

Meanwhile, the anecdotal evidence piles up. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has replicated the iPhone 4 problems. Here's Wozniak's take:

The first time I tried I was able to duplicate the problem. My wife was driving me to the airport and as soon as I got a short distance from my home, and no longer on wifi, I tried it by accessing a web page (using Safari on my iPhone 4) and observing the progress bar.

As the bar started to proceed I lightly (‘lightly’) touched a couple of fingers to the trouble area and the progress bar froze. When I lifted my fingers the progress bar continued it’s rapid progress. Putting my finger[s] back down halted the progress bar again. Lifting my fingers another time allowed the web page to finish loading.

I tried it again with one more web page I was in a moving car in the hills near my home. Currently I maintain cell phone calls fine there with my iPhones and with other cell phones, although this exact area used to drop AT&T calls reliably, a few years ago.

I was in a moving car in the hills near my home. Currently I maintain cell phone calls fine there with my iPhones and with other cell phones, although this exact area used to drop AT&T calls reliably, a few years ago.

I tried to repeat this experiment somewhere else a second time, I think in a San Jose restaurant, and I only had partial success. That time I could only slow the progress bar a little and only if I squeezed my iPhone 4 tightly. I concluded that the effect only occurs in some places. It’s like the AT&T dead zone has been extended with this new phone.

If you can afford it, carry a second Verizon phone for backup. Another option is to carry a Verizon mifi and rely on Skype on your iPhone. I have used this mifi technique to rescue my own, and others’, iPhones on occasion. If you buy a Verizon Palm Pre, you get free mifi on it so that is possible the best ‘compromise’ solution, to carry a Verizon Palm Pre along with your AT&T iPhone 4.

Sometimes when I’m back home I’d like to try this experimentation with an iPhone on the T-Mobile network. I don’t know if the iPhone 4 has been unlocked yet by the dev community.

Needless to say, the AT&T microcell in your home is another good solution if you live in one of the marginal AT&T areas.

iPhone 4: The saga

Topics: Smartphones, Apple, AT&T, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Verizon

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