iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug? (video update: bug)

iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug? (video update: bug)

Summary: iPhone 4 owners have been reporting poor reception and even dropped calls when holding the device by its metal frame. Apple has responded that the problem happens when holding the phone incorrectly. It's a feature not a bug.

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iPhone 4 owners have been reporting (PC MagGizmodoEngadget) poor reception and even dropped calls when holding the device by its metal frame. In fact, the first five calls that I made from my iPhone 4 yesterday from The Pier in Atlantic City were dropped calls, but I was willing to overlook them, attributing the drops to the notoriously poor AT&T reception in the mall.

Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?

The iPhone 4's new metal frame -- which doubles as its antennae -- has been touted by Steve Jobs in his WWDC keynote as serving double duty: structural element and external antenna, which in theory should provide better reception because of its lack of obstruction.

AntennaSys Inc.'s Spencer Webb, has designed antennae for satellite communications, GPS, law enforcement surveillance applications, and wireless video for over a decade. AntennaSys Inc., a company specializing in RF consulting services, custom antenna design and specialized antenna manufacturing, writes:

The antenna structure for the cell phone is still down at the bottom (I won't address the WiFi nor GPS antennas in this blog entry).  The iPhone 4 has two symmetrical slots in the stainless frame.  If you short these slots, or cover them with your hand, the antenna performance will suffer (see this video I found on YouTube).  There is no way around this, it's a design compromise that is forced by the requirements of the FCC, AT&T, Apple's marketing department and Apple's industrial designers, to name a few.

To wit, Apple responds to the antenna issue in its traditional "it's a feature not a bug" manner:

Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.

Translation: you're doing it wrong.

It hasn't been an epidemic for me (yet), and I was able place and receive several dozen calls in my first 24 hours without issue. But that could be related to Apple's bumper case which effectively blocks contact directly to the antenna frame. Could that be the reason Apple engineered its bumper case in the first place? I'm not ready to go that far yet, but so far at least, I haven't had any reception issues with my i4 other than the first few drops in the mall in A.C.

What about you? Is your iPhone 4 reception good?

Photo: Engadget

Update: As you can see in the above video, the antenna reception degradation flaw happens to my iPhone 100% of the time. I hadn't noticed it in my first day's use because I've been using a black iPhone 4 bumper case exclusively. Does it happen to your iPhone 4? If so, please post your experience in the TalkBack below.

I'm completely shocked that this easily reproducible issue didn't come up in testing. Perhaps it was because many of Apple's i4 prototypes were in cases? Regardless, it's positively an issue and I think that Apple is should include a free bumper case with every iPhone 4 sold to solve this obvious engineering oversight.

Topics: iPhone, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones

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Talkback

112 comments
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  • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

    BUG! So.... to avoid a serious design defect that Apple knew about prior to the phone's release, consumers are expected to hold the phone unnaturally and uncomfortably when it's in their left hand, to avoid affecting the circuit? Or, alternatively, shell out yet another $30 for their rubber bumper case to avoid touching the antenna strip? C'mon Jobs! Really? Other than this, and a yellowing on some phones (mine is fine), this new phone really is terrific. But this known flaw, and Apple's response to the outcry by claiming it's a "non-issue" and to just hold it differently, is insulting, evasive and manipulative, and overshadows the excitement and fun that we DID have until we received our shipments and the problems were discovered. "Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone." Oh no you didn't just say that!
    kat284
    • The question is, how much room

      did moving the antenna externaly actually produce inside the phone? There is a reason as to why so many devices requiring antennas place them on the inside when the opportunity is available: in some signals, the human body actaully [i]helps[/i] with reception, with others it detracts.

      This antenna should have remained inside the unit.
      John Zern
      • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

        @John Zern - What do you know? Nothing!
        The Danger is Microsoft
    • What's all the complaining about?

      Apple actually made one engineering mistake? Oh no!

      They made a product with one flaw that is only apparent if you are among the very few people who don't put their iPhone in a case AND you happen to hold your phone with the pad of your thumb pressed against the side of the phone. This seems to be such an utterly uncomfortable way to hold an iPhone that I can't understand why anyone would complain that they can't do it.

      In reality, this "issue" will only have a real effect on a handful of people, and is easily addressed by a case, the cheapest of which I found on Amazon for $2.92, if you absolutely have to press your thumb against the phone.
      RationalGuy
      • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

        @RationalGuy this flaw will affect many people right handers as well as lefties, my "natural" hold on a phone will do the same thing in the other hand, why don't apple do the decent thing and provide the bumper
        amosf64@...
    • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

      I totally agree that the bumper should be INCLUDED free with the iPhone 4. I'm not even a lefty and I would have issues because I hold my phones in my left hand while I dial, text, etc. with my right. Include the bumper (actually, pre-install it) for now and in the new design (iPhone 4 v2) put those marks that cause the issue at the TOP of the iPhone!<br><br>Waiting for V2 to get the iPhone 4. Waiting for V2 to get the iPad. My current MacBook Pro and iPhone 3G are just fine for now.
      The Danger is Microsoft
  • Jobs to iphone 4 lefties. "FU use your other hand"

    Seriously? Thats what apple has to say? what about being the pinnacle of design, of blending form and functionallity? Wow. This is what you'd think they would have done as a prank to see how user hostile they could make t and still get the iTards to buy it to test what blindly stupid sheep they are.

    Live with that for a year and pay us again for iphone 5 iTards!
    Johnny Vegas
  • Form over function

    Always amused me that apple sacrifices some level of function to create these beautiful, sexy looking devices to inspire gadget lust... and then everyone who buys one immediately wraps the beautiful design up in 4 inches of formless rubber to protect it.
    SlithyTove
    • LOL!

      Good point!
      John Zern
    • Or...

      @SlithyTove

      ...puts a piece of tape over the antenna. How's that for stylish?
      rapson
      • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

        @rapson

        Duct tape I hope for proper effect.

        Personally I would recommend the "retractable boom-box-style antenna soldered to the side of the case" comined with rubber padding to prevent it from shattering when dropped and for insulation. You can add one antenna per iphone antenna for that "triple direction" look.

        That way you get a phone that works AND get to retain that minimalist apple style so you don't look like a geek.
        SlithyTove
      • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

        @rapson - Jealous much???
        The Danger is Microsoft
    • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

      @SlithyTove This is why I will NEVER buy any iDevice. Style over substance. Windows Phone 7/Android Here i come!
      MSFTWorshipper
      • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

        @MSFTWorshipper - Yeah - When is WP7 gonna be here? Thought so!
        The Danger is Microsoft
      • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

        @MSFTWorshipper So which is it WP or Android? Given the choice I personally would go with Android as my experience with WM left quite a bit to be desired and while WP may be a better OS at this point it's simply too little too late... But wait, I'm making the same type of judgment call you are - you are avoiding all iDevices because of an antenna issue with the iPhone 4 (a device you very much likely would have not purchased anyhow) and I'm avoiding WP 7 because of my prior experience with the buggy crap knows as WM... oh wait, it's NOT the same - I have previous experience with WM...
        athynz
  • This quote says it all....

    "In fact, the first five calls that I made from my iPhone 4 yesterday from The Pier in Atlantic City were dropped calls, but I was willing to overlook them, attributing the drops to the notoriously poor AT&T reception in the mall."

    Whatever issues they expierence with their iThing, the Apple fans will ALWAYS blame it on something other than Apple.

    You just can't buy loyalty/ignorance like that these days! ;-)
    iTeaBoy
    • Just a guess:

      People will blame the yellow screens on AT&T. :)
      John Zern
      • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

        @John Zern

        People will blamethe recession, global warming and the gulf oil spill on AT&T, too.
        Lunatic59
      • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

        @John Zern At least the yellowing went away after a day or two according to reports, when the binder dries. They're shipping them that damn fast from the factory. The antennae problem is a basic design flaw. Maybe the only lefties who tested them at Apple were using those 3G cases in public to avert attention. Oops. Not being a Leftie, I'd still consider getting one, maybe with an affordable 3rd party "bumper" case. Personally having the antennae on the outside bothers me though.
        msandersen
      • RE: iPhone 4 antennae: feature or bug?

        @John Zern - Folks with yellow screens are getting free replacements. It's a manufacturing defect (pity the poor Taiwan company that is paying for this!).

        Gee...guess no other hardware company in the world has EVER had problems. It's only Apple that has these problems!
        The Danger is Microsoft