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

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.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor


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.

Editorial standards