Breaking Down the iPhone 4 Reception Issues


So it looks like the iPhone 4 reception saga continues. Early iPhone 4 users in the USA reported of imminent signal degradation when they held their iPhones in the bottom left hand corner. As more users get their hands on the iPhone 4, this issue is becoming extremely widespread.

Steve Jobs Responds to iPhone 4 Reception Issues

Have an issue with your iPhone 4? Feel helpless? What should you do? Email the Apple CEO, Steve Jobs! This is exactly what two iPhone 4 early adopters did. Here is one email transcript (via 9to5Mac):

Hi Steve,

So, um, just got my iPhone 4. Its lovely and all, but this ‘bridge the two antennae to kill your reception’ thing seems to be a bit serious. If I bridge them with my hand or with a piece of metal the bars slowly drop to ‘Searching…’ and then ‘No Service’.

Its kind of a worry. Is it possible this is a design flaw?


– Rory Sinclair

Steve Jobs’ reply:

Nope. Just don’t hold it that way.

Rory continued:

I texted someone from the phone and noticed reception dropping as I texted, down to ‘No Service’, so I emailed again:

Actually, its not calls that concern me, but i’ve just been writing a text and its very natural for me as a right-handed person to hold it that way, with the part of my hand at the base of my thumb covering the point the antennae meet, and it kills the reception each time.

I mean, pretty much as soon as i move my hand it comes back, but its pretty crazy… is this the reason Bumpers exist?

– Rory

Another one liner from Steve Jobs:

Just don’t hold it that way then.

Hmm.. I persevere:

Well, yeah, thats what i’ll do, but you have to admit thats a workaround, yeah? I mean, normally there aren’t limits to how you can hold a phone.
I seriously dig the phone, its totally amazing, but I think this is what many would call a design flaw.

– Rory

Jobs’ last reply:

Sure there are – every phone has these areas of sensitivity, depending on the location of the antenna. Some phones even ship with labels warning customers to not cover certain areas with their hands.

Here is another email sent from iPhone users Aram (via Engadget):

The reply from Steve Jobs? “Just avoid holding it in that way.”

Here’s an official response from Apple PR, that was sent to Engadget:
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.

Apple’s Response is Telling You to Mold to the iPhone 4, Not the Other Way Around

These responses are flabbergasting. iPhone 4 users are supposed to adopt other hand held positions to make up for the antenna’s location in the bottom of the phone? When I held my original iPhone and smothered the bottom antenna with my hand, I never ran into reception issues. Nor did I encounter problems with my iPhone 3G or 3GS. It looks like this new design might be flawed. But don’t you think Apple, with its infinite resources would do substantial testing of the iPhone 4? Maybe because they never had the iPhone 4 out in the open, and it was always tested in a case?

What I would like to see are the review from International iPhone 4 users in France, Germany, the UK, and Japan. If they can replicate these problems–then Apple will have one giant PR disaster to deal with.

What about the high profile press reviewers that examined the iPhone 4 for over a week? Did they run into this signal drop problem as well? I think it’s a combination of the pathetic AT&T network and the overall antenna design of the iPhone 4. Married together, it’s a dangerous relationship that is bound straight for divorce.

When the iPhone 4 comes to Canada (hopefully soon, right?), by that time this issue will be fixed–either by Apple, or the ‘superior’ cell coverage we experience in Canada.

What an Antenna Expert Thinks: Blame it on the FCC

John Gruber from Daring Fireball linked to a piece written by Spencer Webb, from AntennaSys, which does antenna design, integration, and consulting:

Just about every cell phone in current production has the antenna located at the bottom. This insures that the radiating portion of the antenna is furthest from the head. Apple was not the first to locate the antenna on the bottom, and certainly won’t be the last. The problem is that humans have their hands below their ears, so the most natural position for the hand is covering the antenna. This can’t be a good design decision, can it? How can we be stuck with this conundrum? It’s the FCC’s fault.

This is interesting. The antenna’s bottom placement is in accordance to FCC regulations to comply with maintaining consistently lower SAR (Specific Absorbtion Rate) ratings versus placement up top. In other words, it’s safest to have the antenna as further away from your head as possible.

How will Apple respond to the growing torrent of reception concerns? Should they offer discounted or complimentary Bumper cases? Start recalling iPhone 4s? Or should we all just start holding the iPhone 4 in a ‘different way’?

Here’s an image created and submitted to Reddit (thanks Chantelle!) in reply to Apple’s response:

[Engadget, 9to5Mac]


  • Jim

    apparently a little electrical tape helps. ugly yah, but better than a case if you’re not into that. Maybe some clear silicone can used in a more elegant way.

  • maybe its just more marketing for selling cases.. seeing how some genius thought glass on the back was a smart idea to 😛

    if a case it touching all this does it still loss service?

  • It's not the users' fault, it's not the FTC's fault. This is a design flaw.

    Maybe if that prototype hadn't been stolen, they could have tested it more thoroughly…

    So yeah, it's GIZMODO'S FAULT!!!

  • Methodx

    I guess it was a good thing Canada did not get the iPhone 4 on launch day. Let the Americans iron out all the kinks. Also, I think Jobs response was ridiculous. How can you avoid not touching the bottom left corner? I will NOT be getting the iPhone 4 if this is still a problem next month. As much as I want it, Im not supporting this lazy quality control.

  • i think someone should email that last image to Jobs.

  • Joker Eh

    Iread this somewhere else yesterday about steve's response. Man if that was him and they said it was all I have to say is, WOW!.

    If you look at pictures of the keynote you will steve holding the phone the way that everyone holds it and it covers the attenna.

    Now I think you have to ask why when there were Wifi issues during the keynote, did he not change to using the 3G network? I wondered it, it would have been the first thing I would have done. Do you know why, because he was he was holding it it would not work and he didn't want to demo it with a stupid bumper case on it.

    You know I am really suprised and shocked at his response. Hold it different. Give me a break. Next he is going to tell us don't hold it at all.

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  • Craz

    I was upset when the iPhone wasn't going to be released on June 24th, now I'm releaved. It gives Apple a month to fix this or I'll be getting an Android. The iPhone 4 is nice and all but what use is a phone without reception?

  • It's amazing that a company's response to a potential design flaw is to not acknowledge the issue and look into it… but to adapt to the flaw. That's both poor PR and poor design. You have to now wonder why Apple so heavily touted the new bumper case for it.

    There are cases where waiting for a new product in Canada while it's released into the US first is a good thing, and this just proved it. I was planning on getting a iSkin for my iPhone 4 anyway… this just reinforces my decision.

    Also wonder what kind of radiation the new iPhone 4 is going to produce with this new antenna design.

    Kinda sucks there may be limitations to what otherwise looks to be a great product.

  • Wuju

    I will put an skin for the phone as well, I do hope the skin maker will also add a strip so we can wrap the edges, in particular the problem area.

  • Delta_T

    I think the antenna problem is a serious one indeed. An not easy to solve with a software update, being hardware related. I am betting on a faulty production run, where the antenna wasn't properly coated or something.
    Zagg invisiable shield has a great business opportunity here: jut make a small strip that fits around the metal edge of the phone so users can't short the circuit anymore.
    Mr. Jobs's answers are unforgivable if they were true, but do you onestly believe that this is his email address and he actually answers them himself? Come on, this address probably get bombarded by tnes of thousand of emails a day. His iPhone would probaby be downloading messages all day and would be useless as a phone.
    They probably have a team in Cupertino sifting through these and answering some of them or forwarding them to Steve's real (confidential) address if necessary.
    Also, these email conversations could well be made up. I do believe Engadget had a little issue with Apple not so long ago.

  • Networx

    Good thing I pretty much always use a bluetooth headset. I can't remember the last time I held the phone up to make a call. However, this issue will be a problem if it interferes with doing data stuff like Facebook or text messaging. Hopefully putting the full Invisible Shield from Zagg on the iPhone4 will help with the problem. I was only going to get the front and back cover but now I think I'll go with the side pieces too. Anyone tested to see if the IS fixes the problem yet?

  • It's only an issue when your skin connects the two antennae. Having any case will fix the issue.

  • Hedinn

    I think people are just freaking out for nothing. It's been reported that 3G and 3GS have the same issue and so does Nexus One. I've just checked my Nokia 5800 and it also loses the signal if I hold it in a certain way.
    Besides, IMO not that many people are using iPhones completed “naked” with no case at all. Since having a case on resolves the issue completely, it's a non-issue for me.

  • mackman6151

    I wonder if Gary Powell had reception issues too?…maybe he got so fed up with it that he said to himself “screw this!” and just left it at the bar LOL

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  • Steve

    I see now, so Jobs expects everyone to hang the iphone with a thread before we use the phone?
    Just so fxxking stupid, he, is simply blame on everything else.
    It is not their fault since everyone has been doing it that way… how professional…

  • Ralph

    I like the iPhone 4, in terms of design, functions and speed it is perfect. However, down to the earth this is still a phone and my ultimate goal is to make phone calls with it. If the only way to solve this antenna issue is to hold it another way then this is a design's flaw. Even though this is a minor problem to the phone, it is still big enough for me to not buy this device. Come on apple i know you can do better than this, because i am starting to drift away from the iPhone 4 to the Galaxy S or Nexus One/Desire if this problem continues.

  • you do prove a point, id think in the year or two they had to make this someone would have held it like this and noticed…

  • jakegunther


  • after all of these complains i have a doubt to buy the new iPhone. after all there is nothing exciting about new iPhone compare to iphone 3gs. i barely use the camera on my phone or even shoot video or even the screen, i dont find it crazy cool, how recognizable is it going to be between iPhone 3gs and iPhone 4 when you hold the 3.5″ screen . my next purchase might be HTC phone that runs android. Apple cannot catchup with Google . unless they announce a crazy OS that has pretty much what android offers

  • pssadm

    Why wouldn't they just plastic coat the antenna to prevent this from happening? I think they should call Microsoft. I'm sure Bill has a couple of ideas of where you can put it.

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  • Concerned

    You can clearly see people in every current iphone 4 ad (on Apple website) as well as Mr Jobs himself during his keynote introduction of the iphone 4 holding the phone 'the wrong way'!!!! How is Apple getting away w/ this hypocrisy? Don't get me wrong, I love my iphone 4 (I bought 2), but now I'm wondering whether I'm frying my brains – maybe it's already too late 🙂 Every post I read about SAR ratings recommends not using the phone when the reception is very low (as when you hold it the wrong way) and states that these ratings are only for the phone – the ratings would be much worse if wi-fi and bluetooth are enabled. My question is this: what would the SAR rating of the iphone 4 be when held 'the wrong way' while wi-fi is enabled?? I bet it would be beyond what the FCC allows!