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iPhone 4 Antenna Issue…Overblown or Toyotaesque?

If you’ve been anywhere near a newspaper, television or computer lately, you’ve probably heard about the antenna defect in the iPhone 4 that causes it to lose signal when held in the hand. Is this problem worthy of all the press it’s getting?

OWC Mike H.’s  take:

This has gotten way outta control. The antenna issue is real and exists, but it does not mean the phone is defective. Yes, if you’re in certain weak signal areas you can most easily replicate the issue by touching the black line on the left side and wait for the bars to reduce; sometimes you need to wait 30 seconds until the signal begins to drop.

Of course, some people actually hold the phone that way, but real-world usage by each iPhone 4 user obviously hasn’t yielded much concern. Otherwise, we’d be reading articles like “25% of iPhone 4s Purchased Returned”, but there are no reports of a heavy return rate; in fact, reports are quite the contrary.

Why? Because the iPhone 4, despite that single antenna issue, is the absolute best initial-selling ever smartphone on the market. All non-iPhones are, quite frankly, knockoffs in my book. The proof’s in the pudding; all other smartphones created are replicating the iPhone to get to where they’re at today—and many still don’t even beat the original iPhone. Walking a mile in the shoes of others teaches you a few things, and as anybody who’s skilled at debate knows, you need to actually try to understand where the other side is coming from. So in studying technology, I’m not interested in any one brand, I’m interested in the best product.

So Called Experts

The so called experts out there report that it couldn’t possibly be a software issue, it has to be hardware. Having followed Apple very closely since 1999, I know that Apple is a software king. Over the last decade, a dysfunctional iPod manual button and various Airport reception in laptops have been fixed by an Apple Software Update, and in the case of iPods, software updates fix what otherwise looked like a hardware failure.

Apple today released a software update that doesn’t fix the antenna issue entirely, but it changes the way the signal bar measurement is performed. Whether it will prevent the phone from dropping signal altogether; time and usage will tell. We’ll revisit this tomorrow.

Not Defective

It’s not like the glass is falling off the iPhone 4, or cracking with the greatest of ease. I think we all need to simmer down and see what Apple says tomorrow. I’d bet theres a fix of some type…be it software, free bumpers, a piece of tape, whatever. I don’t think Jobs & Co. would throw a press conference without a legitimate response. They know if they mess up the presser, the media hoopla surrounding this minor issue will just explode.

Personal Experience.

If I bridge the gap in the left bottom side, I can get my iPhone 4’s bars to drop off. I’ve used my iPhone 4 naked and with a case about 30% of the time. With either method, I’ve had zero dropped calls in real world usage. (Real world usage being that I paid no attention to how I held or used). It has worked perfectly for me, even with the issue. In fact, the antenna has been crazy good at picking up a signal and staying fast with the data even in locations with 2 bars of service.

Breathe… Inhale… Exhale…

The iPhone 4 is not 100% perfect… not much in the world could be held to that standard. The fact that the conversation is about a single issue speaks volumes to the quality of product Apple has been able to maintain. As an aside, the 3Gs is now a mere $99, too, and still a very high-quality iPhone in its own right.

Consumer Reports

How reputable can Consumer Reports be when their own “independent testing labs” made the iPhone 4 the #1 smartphone in their shootout, but didn’t find/know the issue until the media began reporting it heavily; their flip-flopping doesn’t add to their credibility, but it did get the “Consumer Reports” name in the press. If you follow the money, subscriptions and donations is how Consumer Reports stays afloat, so kudos to them for being able to take advantage of the issue to gain some quick PR.

Consumer Reports may need to call a their own press conference and do some damage control of their own as the comments on many a news article concerning them have been none to kind. I would have a completely different opinion if their initial review was to not recommend.

If the iPhone 4’s antenna concerns are enough of a major issue for you to not purchase one, please leave a comment and keep the conversation spirited but respectful.

OWC Grant’s Take:

Let’s say I’ve been in the tech industry with enough history to have met and talked with Steve when he was with NeXT, thrown Frisbees through Apple’s booth with great malicious glee at Boston AppleFest in the 80’s (for some principled reasons), watched the masses arriving from CES to see the first iPhone, and I don’t have an Apple logo anywhere on my body or personal possessions. You could say that I have a like/dislike relationship with the company as a singular entity.

But when I started reading articles titled, “Is Apple The New Toyota?”, my blood began to boil. While I contemplated this morning how many pundits would come up with the same unique thought while learning of Apple’s “unheard of” (said in a dramatic voice) Friday date press conference, I vowed that I never would utter it.

To pose such a question publicly is to lose sight of some simple truths:

  1. The iPhone 4 signal bars and/or dropped calls don’t present a dangerous situation.
  2. It’s the first generation, new design of a technical device, not a re-sheet metaled shell of last year’s model.

Unless you’ve worked in the consumer electronics industry, you are simply delusional if you think every product by every company (even those as great and powerful as Apple) is going to be perfect right from the jump. I’ve seen some of the best engineers in the world miss some simple operating environment conditions that, after further review, seemed like “duh!”

I hate to burst the bubble of infallibility that some have cloaked them in, but Apple, just like every other organization on this planet, is made up of internal and external people and processes. None of which—regardless of Steve’s fanatical attention to detail—can be made 100% perfect. Apple didn’t “hide” anything… except maybe for their embarrassment.

Let’s see what they say tomorrow before piling on with the disparaging comments and comparisons to other firms. And I’ll close my thoughts with a reminder perhaps of why some of us from days past started to respect Apple:

(from Pirates of Silicon Valley)

Steve realizes he has been outdone by Bill Gates and confronts him…

Jobs: Bill, you know we’re better!

Gates: Steve…don’t you understand? That doesn’t matter….

While a fictional interaction, deep down you know it could have very well occurred… and that at least Apple tries to be better. At the end of the day, isn’t that effort in trying to be the best something we should admire and not disparage?

Rocket Yard Contributor
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  • Pudding…. correct…. I used the common reiterative of the original text that’s been common usage for quite some time. The intent of the comment was intact thought. Kudos to pointing it out…. sharp!

  • The proof is not in the pudding. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Sorry, but this is one of the misuses of language that really annoys the pedant in me! :)


  • I’ve only experienced occasional issues in low signal areas with my iPhone 4. I’n my eyes, the situation has been completely overblown.

    Updated to 4.0.1 this morning, and have not noticed much of a difference other then the bars placement being slightly different.

    Still wouldn’t trade my iPhone 4 for ANY other Smartphone out there!

    And hey, I’ll take a free bumper!

  • Science shows that the iPhone 4 reception can be disrupted by how you hold the phone, similar to other phones on the market.


    In my regular use I have found the iPhone 4 to get better AT&T voice/data and WiFi signal strength when compared to previous iPhone models.

    I can pick up nearly double the WiFi connections from the exact same spot on my iPhone 4 vs the 1st Gen iPhone.

    So how can I complain? I can’t. The iPhone 4 is the best iPhone to date IMHO.


  • You, sir, have hit the spot. The best article I’ve read on the matter. I have no doubt that there are people out there for whom the issue is rightfully a deal-breaker, but you know what they say: A picture is worth a thousand words, and the picture in question here is the reality that not many people are returning their phones, no matter what words you use to magnify the issue.

    What’s more annoying though, is that everyone seems to think they know what Apple as a company should do about the problem. Give me a break. If it were that easy, you, the self-proclaimed critic, would be too busy running your own business to whine about a phone that you can return whenever you want, or talking about boycotting Apple for not giving you the respect you deserve, or gloat at Apple for finally getting themselves into trouble.

  • The Toyota thing was overblown. If you didn’t step on the wrong dedal you had no problem. But the media loves this sort of stuff.

  • OWC Grant & Mike-
    You’ve stated just about everything I wanted to say, and in a balanced tone. Thank you. Let’s see what tomorrow’s conference reveals. I have faith in Apple; they’re head-and-shoulders above most other firms their size. I’m proud of their success.
    I’m also ordering two iPhone 4s for my family tonight.

    • Wow…thanks to all for your kind words. Keeps us inspired to creating posts that capture your attention and resonate with you on a more human level.

  • Exactly 2,090% overblown… Where are all the complaining customers? Surely with 2.5 million sold, there would be a few.

    But oddly it appears everyone that is complaining about the iPhone 4 is a disgruntled Android user or has a psychotic beef to pick with successful companies.

    Where are the iPhone 4 customer complaints? I can’t seem to find any…