Apple Can't Wish Away iPhone 4 Antenna Woes

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Apple's iPhone 4 antenna problems
Apple continues to play the fool by denying the iPhone 4 has antenna problems, even as new reports paint an unflattering picture.

A purported internal memo to AppleCare representatives, published by Boy Genius Report, illustrates a "deny 'till you die" attitude at Apple headquarters. The document tells customer service to stress how the iPhone 4 has better reception than any previous iPhone, that all phones lose signal strength when you cover the antenna (so don't), and there's no way you're getting a free case.

All those claims are true, but they don't tell the whole story.

On Wednesday, Anandtech published an iPhone 4 review that includes extensive testing of the antenna. The reviewer hacked the phone so it would give a numerical readout of signal strength, and tested the signal in six locations around Tucson, Ariz., holding it in a variety of positions. He also tested the iPhone 3GS and HTC's Nexus One for good measure. (Click to enlarge)

Indeed, the iPhone 4 did show greater signal attenuation compared to the other phones unless a bumper case was attached. Even when held naturally, the iPhone 4's signal dropped more than other phones when they were cupped tightly in the hand.

But -- and this is a big "but" -- Anandtech proved Apple correct that the iPhone 4 gets a better signal overall. The reviewer could didn't experience dropped calls during an entire day of use in one-bar territory, cupping the phone tightly without a case, and found success in places where the iPhone 3GS failed. Still, he said the signal drop remains an issue and should have been addressed with insulative coating.

The review did not discuss effects on data, but PC World's Mark Sullivan conducted informal tests around San Francisco, and in four out of five locations, he found significant drops in speed when holding the iPhone 4 in his left hand.

My feeling is that for many customers, the benefits of iPhone 4's improved signal quality will outweigh the drop in signal strength when holding the phone in a certain way. But to deny that there's any issue at all is disingenuous -- not that candor has ever been Apple's strong suit.

Which brings us to one last bit of news: On June 23, Apple posted three job ads, all seeking candidates who can "design antennas suitable for wireless handheld devices with excellent radiation performance." It could be just a coincidence, but a poorly timed one if so.

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