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

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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  • Letter to Apple

    Dear Apple,

    I think these questions are in everyone?s mind reading your letter. You are saying the signal bars display incorrectly due to software issue:

    1. How does physically touching the antenna triggers the signal bars to display ?correctly??
    2. Why calls consistently dropped and data degraded only after touching the antenna?
    3. Since it is a software issue, why the problem disappear when using bumper?
    4. Are you retracting previous recommendation to use a bumper?
    5. Are you waiving the restocking fee?
    6. If the fix being released close to the 30 days return window, will you allow the 1.7 millions early adopters more times to test and return the phone?
    7. Do you have plan to modify the hardware in any way for future inventory?
    8. Is Iphone 5 launching next month?
    9. Is this letter a response to the reception problem or the class action lawsuit to deny any previous knowledge?
    10. Are you telling the truth?

    Thank you!
    • umm

      @Ry3222... HTC has similar issues.
      • Your Smoke Screen & Misdirection...

        doesn't explain what apple is telling the people who spend good money (albeit, the money that apple believes it deserves), on these apple products.
        Ry3222 has questions that any sane, lucid, non-drugged person would ask. So if you're replying to his post, then reply to his post with something relevant, something regarding the questions that need to be asked of apple. The statements that apple is making, have nothing to do with what any other phone does... PERIOD...
        The other thing that strikes me, is that this, according to apple, puts complete blame on AT&T, for all of the iPhone 4 problem. This is exactly what I would have expected of apple.
      • RE: Apple can't fix iPhone reception, will start telling truth about signal strength

        we are talking about iPhone 4
      • RE: Apple can't fix iPhone reception, will start telling truth about signal strength

        @JM1981 Not a real comparison here. The video shows the phone's back has been taken off and the phone is held in "unnatural" positions such as just the top which you would never see in real world conditions.
      • FUD

        @JM1981 Except that issue doesn't yeild dropped calls. And he couldn't even reproduce it every time. And the Signal barely dropped when he gripped the phone.
      • RE: Apple can't fix iPhone reception, will start telling truth about signal strength

        @JM1981 As a matter of fact, even on a walkie talkie, if you touch the antenna reception and transmission is going to be affected because you de-tuned the antenna. The issue with the iPhone 4 is that you can't hold it in the standard (traditional, common, expected, natural) way without affecting the antenna operating parameters. Of course if you hold any cellphone with an internal antenna with both hands or cup the top part of the phone you will reduce its effectiveness. And if you put a HTC (or any other) in a safe box it will drop all calls. So, again, the problem with the iPhone4 is its awkwardness in relation to the way it has to be used. Another thing, is it true that the stainless steel band around the edge of the iPhone 4 is its antenna? It this is true that means that the user has to be in physical contact (or close proximity) with a microwave transmitter signal. It may be low in wattage but still I wouldn't want to risk my health touching that.
      • Sorry JM1981

        But just because your neighbor shot a dog doesn't mean its perfectlly fine to shoot a dog yourself.

        The issue here is that the iPhone has a major defect that the vast majority of other phones don't have.

        So how does the fact that 1 other phone has a defect make this defect go away?
        John Zern
      • So.... What you're saying here...

        @JM1981 that it's OK for Apple to unload a POS phone on the public just because other brands also have similar issues.

        Funny.. My now 4 1/2 year old phone doesn't have issues like that. NONE of the other phones I've had ever had issues like this. But suddenly, it's perfectly OK.

        I don't think so. Not for Apple, nor for HTC. Nor ANYONE else to produce a POS like this.

        You'd think those guys running around with the prototypes would have noted the problem and reported it. Maybe that's the real reason why those phones got "lost"... The owners didn't want the bloody thing either.
      • Not just a reception issue, but a perception issue


        There are connectivity issues with most phones, but most makers (a) don't put it where you would want to hold it; (b) don't charge as much as an iPhone; (c) don't deny it publicly by the CEO in terse notes which is just asking for trouble.

        Perception is that Apple views itself as always right and customers as the source of the problem.

        Here is a great "jab at Jobs" and at other infamous CEOs article if anyone is interested:
      • @JM1981, I wouldn't pay...

        ...too much attention to most of the responses to your post. They're the typical who's-who of Apple-hatin' Redmond shill boys who would never buy an iPhone anyway and are looking for any excuse they can.<br><br>That being said, it's the one's who actually bought the phone that have a legitimate gripe and Jobs explanation for it just doesn't cut it. They're gonna have fix this problem, somehow...
        ahh so
    • Great Points...

      @Ry3222 <br>Almost all these points were on my mind immediately, but you even had some better points. But, it seems like I remember, that when the i4 was introduced to the public, the new antenna was specifically identified as a vast improvement, that not only improved the reception, but was stylish like everything else apple did...<br>I would like to see that portion of apple's sales pitch be addressed.<br>
    • RE: Apple can't fix iPhone reception, will start telling truth about signal strength

      i like your valid questions... only problem, you are dealing with just another arrogant corporation it seems, which does not need loyal customers and supporters... and I thought all was going so well for Apple...
      • RE: Apple can't fix iPhone reception, will start telling truth about signal strength

        @IKE:) I have to agree here. I have a thing now with Apple that is going through the Attorney General. I attempted the tamer BBB first (this issue is for misrepresenting selling me a 3rd gen iPod Touch and sending a 2nd gen), but they were very snappy and nasty about the whole thing. They avoided the whole issue of advertising 3rd gen on the store and sending out an older model, and just quoted return policies and crap. They used to be so customer conscious but it's all now about trying to brush you off.
    • Letter To Apple


      and P.S. what about the bars on the 3G ipad???
    • RE: Apple can't fix iPhone reception, will start telling truth about signal strength

      @Ry3222 so true
      Regarding 10. on Gizmodo they say it's also a problem of transmission not only reception! everything works fine unless you touch that spot..

      A case may help.
    • re: Letter to Apple


      "How does physically touching the antenna triggers the signal bars to display ?correctly??"

      It's the same reason why on old rabbit-ear antennas for TVs, you'd drastically alter your reception when you're touching them.

      Basically: If you're physically touching a metal antenna, your body essentially becomes part of the antenna, which can alter reception.

      Touching the antennas can also expose them to static electricity, which can affect (and even damage) the electronics.
      • re: Letter to Apple

        @CobraA1 then why put the antenna on the outside in the first place??
      • True, but....

        @CobraA1 ....I think it was a sarcastic question raising a point about the relevance of Apple's explanation.
        Lester Young
      • RE: Apple can't fix iPhone reception, will start telling truth about signal strength

        They should have placed either a thin film over the external antenna, or at least not have the antenna loop all around the phone. Having an external antenna would provide a better reception/transmission of a signal if you were not to cover it, but then again this is a handset so of course you are going to cover the antenna and absorb the radiation. Another point to bring up is that by looping the antenna all around the phone, when you grasp it at the point where the antenna tip and transmission line are separated you effectively bridge the antenna causing higher return loss (vswr) on the signal and also grounding of the signal.