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Apple Posts Letter Regarding iPhone 4 Reception Problems

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This morning Apple released a statement focusing on the reception issues of the iPhone 4. The company notes that the problem is a software issue relating to how the number of visible signal strength bars are being calculated.

In other words, the issue of the iPhone 4 signal drop when the device is held in the lower left corner is the result of the iPhone 4 reporting too many bars when not being held.

To fix the issue, Apple will be sending out a software update “within a few weeks” that will adjust how the signal strength bars are calculated and displayed. More specifically, Apple indicates that it will adopt the AT&T formula to more accurately display actual signal strength (I find this ironic considering how poor AT&T signal is across the USA and not just for iPhone devices).

Further, the upcoming  update will increase the size of the smaller bars (1, 2, and 3) to make them easier to see. This update will also be available for the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS, which are also apparently affected by miscalculated signal strength indicators (though I have never seen the problem on either my 3G or 3GS).

After reading the letter, I do not feel any better about the iPhone 4 reception problems. I have a difficult time believing a software update that will alter the way the iPhone 4 signal strength bars are being displayed will fix anything. It seems more like a patch or a method to hide the fact that the hardware is causing a the major degradation in signal strength.

What do you think?

For reference, the Apple iPhone 4 letter is reproduced below:

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.

Apple

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  • Ron

    I welcome the change in displaying the signal strength (the new approach does seem to give a better indication of signal strength). However, it doesn't change the fact that I experience a real drop when holding my iPhone 4 in the same way as I held the 3GS. I haven't tried a bumper yet (as they are not in stock anywhere), but there clearly is a real hardware issue with the iPhone 4 external antenna. If I put my iPhone on my desk, I get download speeds of 1.5mb/s according to the speedtest app. If I hold it in my hand the way I like to hold it, the speedtest app won't even run.

    I still love the phone and I won't return it and I don't want my old 3GS, but I am disappointed that I am going to have to put it in a case in order to use it. It really is a beautiful piece of hardware and feels very nice in the hands.

  • Randy

    Sorry, but this explanation/fix from Apple doesn't wash. Basically, they're saying it's not an actual problem, just the perception of a problem due to inaccurate signal strength indicators.

    As Ron previously mentioned, it's not just the number of bars, it is an actual drop in signal strength. I've seen numerous videos of owners doing a speed test prior to and after holding the iPhone 4 in the un-recommended position. The difference is staggering. From full, expected speed to next to nothing. This is clearly not simply a graphic problem.

    Apple should not forget, there are users outside the US who don't suffer AT&T's crappy service. I've seen several UK videos showcasing the same problem.

    I'd have far more respect for Apple if they simply admitted, “my bad” and did something real to fix it, instead of insisting it isn't a real problem.

  • Chrome262

    It might make sense. if the software is trying to post more bars then it can actively show, it might be not dealing well with the sudden change, and not update quickly enough. If putting your hand in a location actually increases the signal, then the software could be failing and just drop the connection. Now if you are in a bad location, say somewhere where calls do usually drop, and bars are reflected accurately, then if your hand does enhance signal, with this update you should see it increasing. This is just the logic they are proposing, if your hand does increase signal then it should all be good, but if its really a hardware fault then it will drop your calls more often, because now it will be reporting even lower values and the call software will drop, not because it really has no signal but it things it does.

  • Dave

    Ignorance is bliss.

  • Chrome262

    It does fix the problem, its just in time for the Canadian launch.

  • MR

    What a bunch of BS. Have all the higher-ups at Apple been replaced with lobotomized idiots?

    Why Apple's iPhone 4 Update Won't Fix Your Reception Problem:
    gizmodo.com/5577812/why-apples-iphone-4-update-wont-fix-your-reception-problem

  • Ralph

    I dont really know about this update…it seems more of a cover up then just fixing the real problem. However i guess we can all hope that this update REALLY fixes the problem…or else they are just creating more problem for themselves.

  • Bdobson

    I agree, the fix may not help but I'm really not inclined to believe or even visit Gizmodo anymore.

  • I think we should give them a chance and see if the update solves the problem. Although, like most, I think it's highly unlikely. We'll have to wait and see.

    I have had problems with not getting a connection to Fido on my 3GS when I come out of the subwa and also when on the GO train here in Ontario. I always thought that is was Fido, but now I have to wonder…

  • Chrome262

    But how, i mean if it really is a hardware issue, then what can they do, but solve it in the next version launch. sure they could give free bumpers to everyone, and that would work but its not solving the fundamental issue. Software is their only recourse. but i am worried that its going to make it worse. the att standard sucks for one, and as i mentioned earlier it could just make the phone think there is less of a signal than there really is, dropping a call. Programs usually run on the basis ” if then” so if it uses one software to determine if a signal is there it will then run the other program. So even if the signal is there if it thinks its gone, it will drop the call. This could result in the a reverse problem (thats if your hand increases the signal as they claim) where you have to hold it to get the better signal.

  • I agree with you re: just telling the truth. Gosh DH is going to have field day with this, he hates Apple (and MS), and will be bugging me about this until thy kingdom come :(. LOL!

  • It sounds like fixing the antenna issue would be rather simple: insulate the part of it where they meet so that human skin doesn't connect the two. All that would need would be a bit of plastic I suspect, and you probably wouldn't even have to change the design; just add it to the manufacturing process and *bang*… issue solved.

  • But the core problem is not that your hand is increasing the strength, but *decreasing* the signal strength by bridging the the antennas on the phone and mucking up the signal. Sure, reporting signal strength more accurately is good but it's not going to fix what looks more to be a design flaw rather than a software issue.

  • n!MA

    I don't care about the bars. If the 4g is as good as 3g, it must actually work everywhere that a 3g is working.

  • mackman6151

    from an IT standpoint it makes no sense. but you never know. give it time and see 🙂 what i would like however is a damn update to fix the memory hogging issues of iOS4 on 3G devices! I got an iPhone against WinMo because of this issue now apple is slowly becomming like microshaft lol….i guess its true what they say “the apple doesn't fall far from the tree” 🙁

  • Gimby_1

    Seems like we have iDenial!
    Recall and fix the problem so the iPhone can work as a “phone”
    You would think that would have been function #1 of the i”phone”

  • xKaMikAx

    Complete utter crap to hide a design flaw Apple. Considering people don't “have too many bars displayed” with a bumper on their iPhone 4.

  • roadcarver

    Hold on to your 3G and 3GS folks!

  • Noahattic

    cannot believe this.. HOW DUMB DOES APPLE THINK WE ARE?

    instead of hearing all this BS, i would like to hear ” we will fix our stupid design flaw in our 2nd major release”.. keep covering up their asses just makes me push off my plan to get one.

    they better hurry up to fix this. cuz with the amazing wp7 and android 3.0 coming out, iphone4 is gonna be my last try given to them.

  • Half_Pint

    Wow, this is right up there with Microsoft solving the Xbox Red Ring of Death issue by removing the red ring.

  • techg

    I like your blog,Totally interesting also extraordinary blog on the iPhone cases.Give more pictures related to this topic.Thanks for sharing this.

  • Ari

    Sorry but the explanation does wash. It would explain why people on AT&T experienced dropped calls even when they thought that they had a few bars of service. Yeah, people on the UK carrier with the worst 3G coverage had problems. Guess what? People on the 3G/3GS also had problems on that carrier but those have a different antenna design.

    I think this explains the rash of dropped calls and why people in other markets cannot reproduce the issue o their new iPhone 4.

  • Ari

    Joost, there is no doubt that if you actually hold the phone that way, you will experience even greater antenna signal degrade. Most people don't hold their phone from the bottom like that (death grip) because other phones with integrated antennas including the 3G/3GS and several Nokia and HTC handsets will experience a lower signal and even dropped calls.

    But even if you do hold it from the bottom, you are not going to see an issue if you are in an area with strong towers all around you. I bet that i would not have a problem with an iPhone 4 up here in Canada.

  • Xaroc

    I think it's actually a software issue as apple said. If it were hardware I'm sure apple would be asking those with issues to bring it to the genius bar or something for a repair or replacement.
    I personally have not experienced this problem but others on 3G and 3GS have reported similar problems, which would point to software again. Unless your going to say that the update screwed the hardware of those iPhones too.
    I could be wrong, but those are my thoughts on the situation.

  • rorypiper

    It's funny that we don't hear about the other millions of iPhone 4's (there must be over 2 million sold, by now) that are completely fine. In talking to the few people that I know, who have the iPhone 4 (not on AT&T), and have had no trouble at. Some of them have improved signal strength, as Apple has reported. In fact they have gone out of their way to try and recreate this signal issue, by covering that black line to try and short out the signal, and they could not do it. No loss of signal. Not one bar dropped.

    In my opinion, if this was a software issue, it would be affecting ALL iPhones on iOS4.

    Then again, it was Gray Powell, the guy who lost his iPhone 4 prototype, who help design the current baseband. :p

  • Adrian G Chen

    does anyone realize all these antenna issues are coming from the US. My friend in Canada is has no problems and I have not heard any complaints from friends in Europe or Japan. My conclusion is a problem with AT&T. they suck

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  • Vbare

    From an engineering perspective it's simple – touching the 2 antennae with your finger creates one “larger” antenna with an attenuator (and a noise generator) in the middle, hence causing all sorts of reception problems. Apple SHOULD HAVE coated the metal plates with some kind of insulator to prevent this sort of issue. This is RF engineering 101, I have no idea how they didn't see it…

  • Dave

    One Bad Apple from Apple. I seen the new Phone.. It's drop Call crazy, same location same provider RIMS works Better

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