Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

Summary: Apple has released an open letter to all iPhone 4 owners explaining why the signal bars drop so dramatically when the handset is held a certain way - it's not the antenna, it's all down to the software.

TOPICS: Hardware, Apple, Mobility

Apple has released an open letter to all iPhone 4 owners explaining why the signal bars drop so dramatically when the handset is held a certain way - it's not the antenna, it's all down to the software.

Dear iPhone 4 Users,

The iPhone 4 has been the most successful product launch in Apple’s history. It has been judged by reviewers around the world to be the best smartphone ever, and users have told us that they love it. So we were surprised when we read reports of reception problems, and we immediately began investigating them. Here is what we have learned.

To start with, gripping almost any mobile phone in certain ways will reduce its reception by 1 or more bars. This is true of iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, as well as many Droid, Nokia and RIM phones. But some users have reported that iPhone 4 can drop 4 or 5 bars when tightly held in a way which covers the black strip in the lower left corner of the metal band. This is a far bigger drop than normal, and as a result some have accused the iPhone 4 of having a faulty antenna design.

At the same time, we continue to read articles and receive hundreds of emails from users saying that iPhone 4 reception is better than the iPhone 3GS. They are delighted. This matches our own experience and testing. What can explain all of this?

We have discovered the cause of this dramatic drop in bars, and it is both simple and surprising.

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.

To fix this, we are adopting AT&T’s recently recommended formula for calculating how many bars to display for a given signal strength. 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.

We will issue a free software update within a few weeks that incorporates the corrected formula. Since this mistake has been present since the original iPhone, this software update will also be available for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G.

We have gone back to our labs and retested everything, and the results are the same— the iPhone 4’s wireless performance is the best we have ever shipped. For the vast majority of users who have not been troubled by this issue, this software update will only make your bars more accurate. For those who have had concerns, we apologize for any anxiety we may have caused.

As a reminder, if you are not fully satisfied, you can return your undamaged iPhone to any Apple Retail Store or the online Apple Store within 30 days of purchase for a full refund.

We hope you love the iPhone 4 as much as we do.

Thank you for your patience and support.


(Emphasis added)

I'm not sure if I buy this explanation. Why? well, first off, I've received several reports of actual signal degradation during calls because of this issue, so the effect goes beyond this just being a bars issue. Another thing here is that Apple seems to be shifting the blame from the iPhone (and the way you hold it) and instead shifting the blame onto AT&T - taking the approach that the signal was bad in the first place, it was just the algorithm that made it seem good in the first place.

I guess we'll have to wait and see what people think of the software update when it arrives.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Mobility

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  • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

    This is absurd. Whenever I hold my phone the wrong way (which I almost always do by default) I'll go from full bars with great data and voice reception to no reception and a message saying that I'm not longer connected to the internet. What a load of crap from Apple. They have been good product designers in the past but I hope they get burned this time just because of their stubbornness to admit a problem. I mean, how on earth do they think the rest of the world will react to this? We're not idiots.
    • "We're not idiots"

      Yeah you are if you bought an iPhone or anything Apple.
      • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

        @tbensen@... I bought an iPhone, are calling ME stupid? Ya know my iPhone 3G works and has worked fine for the 2 year time I've owned it - reception has been great (Much better than my work BB with VZW) and up until this last iOS update it ran quickly. I can tell it's getting a bit long in the tooth though but that does not make me or anyone else who bought the iPhone stupid. Your post however, makes you out to be nothing more than some asshat troll in search of a bridge.
      • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm


        I'm not a troll.

        I'm stating my opinion about my disdain for everything Apple and the cult following of those koolaid drinking whack jobs.
      • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

        Said like a true hater! Oh well their will always be people like you around to find faults in anything good anyone does. It's just a shame you are still on this earth. Maybe if more of you would go away then the rest of this world that really would like to state an opinion without some Troll...yes you are a Troll because you just post on an article about a company you already hate. Why read it at all? I'm sure you are a person that bought a Droid just so you could say you dont own an iphone huh?! Sad little life you have. Oh well....I love my iphone, am not in love with Apple, but give them credit for changing the face of mobile phones! If for nothing else, you my trolly friend better recognize that since they are responsible for a Droid coming out as well! And as much as Droid doesnt want to be an iphone they sure copied enough features of the iphone. So long...have a great day and hopefully you get some more fiber in your diet.
      • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

        @tbensen@... Isn't that a little harsh? I've used Apple computers and found them to be excellent quality machines. I don't buy them because I prefer to build my own computers, rather than let someone else decide what components my computer will have. But for those who prefer store-bought computers, Apple appears to usually be an intelligent choice.
      • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

        @tbensen@... It sure is funny that you think anybody that buys an iPhone or anything Apple is an idiot. Granted you are welcome to your opinion but vocalizing it simply shows everyone else here what a pathetic, immature, small minded person you are. I myself have never been able to wrap my brain around how somebody can have so little in their life that they hate a company or even people for their choices. What exactly did Apple do to you? I have no love for Apple but do love my iPhone. I have had numerous smartphones over the year but nothing ever come close to how great the iPhone is, for me. That doesn't mean it's the right choice for everyone and I certainly are not going to lower myself to hating somebody because they decided to go another direction.
    • "Hello... 911.... I Have...

      buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz... An Emergency, and an iPhone 4.....
      Oh damn, I know I shoulda had that new upgraded algorithm download !!!! That would have guaranteed that I could keep 911 on the line long enought to get help...

      @loizil, I also hope that apple gets burned, but I'm not going to trust that the US Govt. will ever do what's necessary, so it's up to the people...
      • Well said


        and well done. ;)
      • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

        @Steve@... It's always up to the people, and that's a good thing, for anyone who doesn't want Mommy Government managing their entire lives. I've never owned an iPhone because I don't love AT&T, but owning an iPhone isn't stupid, it's a valid lifestyle choice.
    • Not just a reception issue, but rather a perception issue plaguing Apple


      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. Hubris, plain and simple.

      Here is a great "jab at Jobs" and at other infamous CEOs article if anyone is interested:
    • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

      Agree. Apple needs to seriously be taken to task for this. its become a trend for new apple products. And if it all goes unpunished, it will continue for future apple products.
      • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

        @kaiviti2 We Windows users have spent years grousing about the fact that Microsoft tends to release expensive products too soon and without adequate testing, and then fix the bugs later with a service pack. Looks to me like, as Microsoft has become less cavalier, Apple has become more "Classic Microsoft." That's not a good thing, and users of Apple products can correct it by buying non-Apple products for a few years, until Apple gets the message and reforms.

        Or you can just wait for the Government to do something. Yeah, like it did with Microsoft. Right. So, stop buying Apple for a while, and when Apple gets the message and starts sending out customer satisfaction surveys, tell them what you don't like. I'm betting they will listen, and reform.
    • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm


      Valid lifestyle choice?

      Duuuuude. Seriously..

      In the great words of Charlie Brooker:

      "If you truly believe you need to pick a mobile phone that "says something" about your personality, don't bother. You don't have a personality. A mental illness, maybe - but not a personality."

      It's not a lifestyle choice to get a phone, nor is it a personality choice, unless.. You.. You're not an Apple freak are you?
  • BS! Sounds like they're just trying to avoid a recall.

    There is real dramatic signal loss. The come in an return it in 30 days isn't even a special offer, you can always do that.

    Very weak of apple to hope many people will suffer in silence, perhaps not trying to use it outside a very strong home area for the first 30 days. If you want your iphone to work when you travel, or to be able to sell it to someone else when you want to upgrade you'll need to get it fixed first.

    Apple should do a full recall and either fix or replace the hw problem. Anything less is trying to get away from the problem they created as cheaply as possible and they have billions in the bank that fixing this for real wouldnt even dent.
    Johnny Vegas
    • And it got them sued

      @Johnny Vegas: It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but I think that Apple may be forced into a recall. They already have one class-action suit pending against them, and if they don't resolve it, there can always be others.
      Rob Oakes
    • How?

      This is disaster already for Apple. But if it's a design issue with the hardware the problem isn't going to go away with their fix (i.e. they'll still have to recall).<br><br>If the problem is as identified a recall won't help.<br><br>Having this go on for a minimum "couple of weeks" is bewildering. I think its optimistic to believe this conversation will end then as well. A real test for Apple.
      Richard Flude
    • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

      @Johnny Vegas You're absolutely right--Apple should fix this. Unfortunately, not going to happen. The 1Phone 4 is a huge financial success. Companies tend to reform when their products' defects start hurting their profits, because customers go elsewhere. There are excellent alternative choices for every product Apple makes. Buy those alternatives for a few months, or if necessary for a few years. Apple will then start sending out surveys, like Microsoft did, to find out why it's losing market share. Fill out those surveys, accurately and in great detail. Apple will, by then, be ready to listen and to give its customers top-quality products AND top-quality tech support for them--because you will have left Apple with only two alternatives: reform, or go belly-up.
  • More bars in more places

    Now we know why AT&T has more bars in more places: they recommend algorithms that show more. Kinda takes the stuffing out of their motto when there's not a standard method for displaying signal strength on cell phones.
    • RE: Apple; It's not the antenna, it's the algorithm

      @jasonp@... Hey! Read the article. It says we (Apple) overstated it, and the fix is to use the AT&T recommended formula. I happen to LOVE my iPhone4. Put a sleeve around it, and the thing works great most of the time. It's not perfect and neither is AT&T, but when you can show me a better solution, I'll buy it. BTW... I have UNLIMITED DATA for $30/mo. because I had it with the HTCs. I DO think I should be able to tether for free, as I had that too, but what the heck! Don't really need to tether... the phone does almost everything I need/want to do that doesn't require WiFi. Probably ending my Vz wireless modem and net book account as a result.