Apple on iPhone 4 Antenna: It's the Bars, Silly

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Pay no attention to those reports of iPhone 4 reception problems, Apple says. If you see a steep drop in bars when cupping the phone in your hand, the signal bars are just playing a trick on you.

Apple released a statement Friday blaming iPhone software for the way signal bars are displayed. The formula is "totally wrong," Apple said, possibly showing lots of bars even in areas of weak signal strength. In other words, when you think the iPhone 4 is losing lots of reception, it's because the reception was never there in the first place. Apple will release a software update within a few weeks, available for all iPhone models, that more accurately relates bars to signal strength.

Since the iPhone 4's launch last week, many users have found that covering the metal frame around the sides of the phone, specifically in the lower left hand corner where the antenna is exposed, causes the number of displayed signal bars to drop dramatically. Apple responded by telling people to hold the phone differently or buy a bumper case that prevents skin from interfering with the antenna.

Apple avoids those recommendations in its latest statement, instead calling the iPhone 4's reception problem a perception problem. But is that the right answer?

The iPhone 4 may have the best overall voice reception of any iPhone -- I've heard this anecdotally from friends and in reviews on the Web -- but at least a few tests have raised concerns over data speeds when the phone is held in certain ways, and in certain areas, and Apple hasn't addressed them.

Last week, PC World editor Mark Sullivan tested the iPhone 4 around San Francisco and found dramatic speed drops in four out of five locations. Latency shot upward by thousands of milliseconds in a few locations, and both download and upload speeds were affected. Gizmodo reader Chris Sheehan


Richard Gaywood, who has a Ph.D. in wireless networking, also tested data speeds. In an area with strong signal strength, Gaywood found no problems, but in an area with a weak signal, average throughput dropped down to nearly nothing when he gripped the phone with a bare hand.

In fairness, none of these tests included other phones for comparison, and signal loss has been reported in other phones including Google's Nexus One. But a thorough test by Anandtech, which measured actual signal strength instead of bars, found that the iPhone 4's signal dropped far more than the Nexus One and the iPhone 3GS when gripped in a bare hand.

Do the data tests -- measured in bits, not bars -- mean that the iPhone 4 is defective, as several class action lawsuits claim? That's for a judge to decide. But unless Apple addresses them, it's still disingenuous to dismiss the issue as a simple display glitch.

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