John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Apple: Your iPhone 4 Antenna Is Fine, and So Is Your Reception–But We’re Fixing Our Software Anyway

So, the iPhone 4’s antenna problem?

It’s not an antenna problem, really.

It’s a display problem.

So says Apple (AAPL) in the official statement it issued moments ago. The gist: The device’s wireless performance is the best the company has ever shipped, but there’s a software issue with the signal bar display and it will be fixed in a forthcoming update. Evidently, the formula iOS 4 uses to calculate the iPhone 4’s signal strength is inaccurate and sometimes reports more bars than it should. Apple is correcting this with a free software fix that will be issued in a few weeks.

“We are adopting AT&T’s recently recommended formula for calculating how many bars to display for a given signal strength,” the company explains. “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.”

Coming soon: Fewer bars in more places!

Interestingly, Apple makes no mention of the iPhone 4′s new antenna design and what role it plays in this issue. If it’s a software problem that causes the iPhone 4 to display more signal bars than it should, then why does holding the device differently resolve it?

Other points worth noting: Apple claims the problem has been present since the original iPhone. If that’s the case, then why did we really only begin to hear about it after the debut of iPhone 4? And why didn’t Apple use AT&T’s bar formula in the first place? Because its own formula made the iPhone appear to perform better? Is there no industry standard for computing bars across carriers and handset makers? Astonishing. Finally, why is a company as monomaniacally obsessed with detail dealing with an issue like this after a major product launch at all?

Letter from Apple Regarding iPhone 4

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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