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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.


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