John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Apple on iPhone 4 Reception Problems: Grip Different

Does the design of the iPhone 4’s antenna contribute to lower signal reception? No more so than any other antenna design, says Apple (AAPL).

Responding to complaints about weakening signal strength when the iPhone 4 is held in a particular way, the company said such issues are common to all cell phones. Its suggested solution for those experiencing the problem: Hold it a different way–specifically, in a way in which your hand doesn’t simultaneously cover the two antennas built into the steel band that encircles the phone’s exterior. Evidently the flesh of the hand can act as a conductive agent between the two antennas causing signal degradation.

“Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas,” Apple spokesperson Nat Harrison explained. “This is a fact of life for every wireless phone.”

And that is true. The Droid Incredible reportedly suffers from a similar issue. As do the HTC EVO, the Nexus One, the iPhone 3G and certain BlackBerrys (see image and videos below).

So, yes, a fact of life–particularly given FCC requirements that mandate that the radiating portion of a cell phone’s antenna be kept as far as possible from the user’s head. So why haven’t we heard complaints like this about “every wireless phone”? Why hasn’t RIM issued instructions for a proper BlackBerry handhold? That’s not clear.

Perhaps it’s the result of the iPhone launch spectacle and the media attention and scrutiny that accompanies it. But perhaps it is a design issue as well. After all, the iPhone 4’s integrated antenna is new and CEO Steve Jobs did tout it at WWDC as “really cool engineering.” And Apple’s advice to those encountering the problem is simply to hold the phone differently. Said Harrison, “If you ever experience this on your Phone 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.”

Given that simple solution, why didn’t Apple simply adjust the position of the antennas in the first place?

That said, note that Harrison says “if you ever experience this,” suggesting that the issue is an occasional or limited one. For what it’s worth, that appears to be the case with my unit. Despite my best efforts, I can’t reproduce the problem on it.

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”