Home > iPhone > A Final Word about the iPhone 4 Antenna Issue

A Final Word about the iPhone 4 Antenna Issue

July 18th, 2010

When I was a college student, I remember a presentation given by a classmate. This person came from a wealthy family, and they were kind of tired of the assumption most people had about how snooty and self-important they were because of their wealth. The course was on language and its usage, and so this person centered on that aspect of it. They pointed out that a lot of the terms we think rich people use are in fact affectations from fiction. One example was the word chauffeur; wealthy people actually don’t use that term, they just say “driver,” and as it happened, her family didn’t have one. She had several examples of how language was used in general use to form a stereotype of that class of people. She wasn’t trying to say their life wasn’t posh, but rather that they weren’t as stuck up as people automatically assumed due to those stereotypes.

There’s a similar assumption made by people about Apple fans–that we think all Apple products are perfect, that Macs never crash, that Jobs can do no wrong. It’s a presumed conceit that kind of grates after a while. Apple fans know as well as, if not better than anyone else that Apple is prone to error and is a money-making company that often charges a premium–nor do we ever say differently. But because we do love most of the stuff Apple makes and–like any fan–we tend to say good things about the stuff we’re enthusiastic about. But when we do, the stereotype is applied and makes us a bit defensive and insecure–like we have to be careful about praising Apple gear when we think it’s good, just like a news agency nowadays has to be careful about saying anything good about a Democrat lest they be labeled “Liberal Media.”

If you read this blog, then you’ll know that I have my gripes about Apple, same as everyone else. I hate the mice Apple makes–never liked them, never use them. Their Mail app is subpar and since Eudora stopped being developed, there hasn’t been a fully decent email client for the OS. Lots of Apple apps seem needlessly bereft of features and options for the sake of simplicity (seriously, Jobs, just hide them where most people won’t see them and let the rest of us deal with the complexity). Macs and their apps indeed do crash, and my own pet peeve is memory management. I love Safari and can’t get that monkey off my back, but it’s use of RAM is terrible. And so on.

The iPhone is no exception. Every product has its flaws. Most phones have a weak spot in terms of reception. The iPhone 4’s is probably worse than most, considering its placement (other phones’ weak spots are usually in places less apt to be touched, like at the top of the device). But seriously, this particular flaw, while a flaw, just isn’t the huge deal it’s being made out to be. Seeing as how the iPhone 3G had similar issues that were eventually alleviated through software adjustments, I am pretty sure this one will also be improved upon to a certain degree, enough to make it livable even in the worst cases. But frankly, it’s something that probably only affects a few percent of users to a degree that would make it a deal-breaker. Probably 95% or more of us would never have noticed it at all without the media attention. I understand that the HTC Desire has battery life issues. But its fans love it anyway. Good for them. The few people who just can’t stand that will return the phone and get another. Same with the iPhone 4.

As for how it was handled during its development, it was most probably just another trade-off. A more elegant design means no easy swapping of batteries, for example–that’s a trade-off that the iPhone is famous for. Yes, it is a bummer we can’t swap out batteries, but it turns out most people live with it just fine, and those who can’t just get a different phone. Jobs was probably informed of the reception issue during development as well, and probably decided this was another trade-off: it will only affect a small number of people only in certain situations and can be gotten around in those cases with a different grip (if the problem crops up only occasionally) or by using a case (if you have the problem all the time). Just as with other trade-offs, most people will live with it just fine, and those who can’t will just get a different phone. Same as always.

Really, is there anything else to say about it than that?

Categories: iPhone Tags: by
  1. Troy
    July 18th, 2010 at 13:20 | #1

    “Lots of Apple apps seem needlessly bereft of features and options for the sake of simplicity”

    This might be to leave some of the ecosphere for third-party ISVs.

    As for Safari’s memory hogging, yes. My uptime is two weeks now and on this 1GB machine this single Safari window is taking up 250MB of RAM. WTF.

    On my main machine I can often close all the windows and still have it sit on 600MB or more.

    I used to run Netscape on a 20MB PowerMac.

  2. Troy
    July 18th, 2010 at 13:28 | #2

    ^ part of the problem with Safari’s memory issue is that there is an easy work-around — just quit & restart the app. In Apple’s system of bugtracking and fixing, issues with easy work around can never be P1 (priority 1) or P2 bugs, they’re P3 or lower, and generally always punted since the project planning is hesitant to add work that might cause more problems than it solves.

  3. Luis
    July 18th, 2010 at 14:34 | #3

    I must admit to a bad habit of keeping lots of windows open, sometimes for days. I am bad at getting back to anything I bookmark, it just completely passes out of my scope of attention. And while I do have an extension that re-opens windows I had open when I quit, I generally don’t like doing that. But yeah, I guess I should.

    Still, I have found other problems as well–though maybe it’s not just a Mac issue (I just don’t use Windows enough to know if it’s a problem there as well). I tend to open lots of apps, sometimes 15 at a time. Especially if a few of them are memory hogs–Safari, Photoshop, and Parallels, for example–I find that even if I later quit everything, and even if I use an app like VM Tester to free up inactive memory, my machine still slows way down, and the only way I know to get it back to speed is by restarting.

    If you have a way to fix that, I definitely want to know!! 😀

  4. Kensensei
    July 19th, 2010 at 10:38 | #4

    I do not own any iphones (ver4 or otherwise). However, it seems to me the dropping out of signal when the hand covers the exterior antenna is a huge oversight in design. The iphone is, after all, a hand-held device.

    So you tell me, is it possible to hold the phone comfortably without covering the antenna as you chat?

    Jobs pointed out that the problem could be easily resolved by using a cover (a $30 item made from a 25-cent piece of plastic!) on the phone, and so I suppose the problem was downplayed as unimportant. [He has gone so far as to make those covers available for free to iphone4 users.]


    But this gesture still does not completely address the issue that some people would like to use their new iphones without a cover.

    If I had bought the iphone4 and then discovered this flaw later, I would be understandably disappointed. I agree with you, Luis, in that consumers should not exect too much from Apple. Yet, I don’t think it’s asking too much to expect the newer design have fewer problems/issues than the older design.

  5. Luis
    July 19th, 2010 at 10:59 | #5


    It fully depends on your experience. Most iPhone 4’s don’t show this issue at all; it seems to be more common with early releases of the phone than later sales, though that’s not a 100% indicator. After that, it only has a dropped-call effect if (a) you got an iPhone with this issue, (b) you don’t use a case, (c) you commonly experience low-signal areas, and (d) happen to naturally hold it so that the signal loss occurs.

    There is more than one issue with this phone that could cause dropped calls: the proximity sensor, the sensor on the face of the phone that senses when the device is held up to your face shuts off the screen so that contact with your face does not accidentally activate the “end call” button. Apple has recognized this and says it will get it fixed with the next update.

    If you want the phone and are concerned, I would say, don’t get it in the early adopter stage. The iPhone 4 is a new design, and new designs always have issues at first–people were noting this before the phone came out. The 3G had similar issues–dropped calls due to the way the phone was held–something a lot of people tend to forget. The issue was fixed and is no longer a problem.

    So, wait a few months and I’ll betcha that the dropped-calls issue (caused by iPhone design, that is, as opposed to AT&T) will not be so big an issue for anyone any more.

  6. Big Walley
    July 19th, 2010 at 18:08 | #6

    You are so liberal in your political views…yet you are also so very well balanced in your technical comments. Thanks for being so honest with your feelings. I’m a Windows tech but to a large degree love all things Apple.

  7. Todd
    July 19th, 2010 at 23:40 | #7

    I also dislike the standard Apple mouse. What do you find works well as a replacement?

  8. Luis
    July 20th, 2010 at 00:07 | #8

    Walley: Thanks.

    Todd: Any mouse that serves, really. I used to get Logitech mice when I needed them, but really most mice would serve OK. Just get one that has the right feel for you, and try not to spend too much.

    Though I do have a confession: I don’t use mice any more. It wasn’t even a conscious decision–at one point, I just realized that I hadn’t used a mouse for maybe half a year, and just didn’t need them any more. Oh, when I use a desktop computer, I have to, but I use laptops, the iPad, and iPhones most of the time, and hardly ever even notice which mouse I am using when I use a desktop. It’s like you never really notice the spoon you use to eat your breakfast cereal with–it’s just this generic tool that you take for granted now.

    Fact is, though, multitouch is just way too “here” for me to have any other preference. The transition came for me when the trackpad got so good that I just wanted to use it without even thinking. And while Apple is really bad at making mice (I mean, really, remember the hockey puck mouse that came with the first iMac? What were they thinking?), they have done a very good job with trackpads, especially the one they have now.

    And with the recent news (with photos) that Apple is planning on introducing a slate which will effectively be a trackpad for desktops, I won’t imagine giving the mouse a second thought after that.

  9. July 20th, 2010 at 04:55 | #9

    A couple of points… nearly every phone out these days actually has a bottom antenna. Why? Because if it’s at the top, it’s closer to the head, and then the head and brain get more radiation.

    True story.

    I honestly think that Apple is trying too hard to make it sound as though “everyone else has this problem, too”. Well, no, not exactly.

    As pointed out in this guy’s blog…
    the iPhone DOES have some very real issues with the antenna placement compared with other smart phones.

    The main reason this IS an issue, though, is that to most of the general public, the iPhone is first and foremost a PHONE. Hell, it’s the name of the damn thing. People expect to be able to make phone calls with it. They are getting rid of their landlines and need their phone to, well, be a phone.

    Yeah, all the OTHER stuff that the iPhone can do are pretty cool. In fact, it’s awesome. But it’s still a phone, and needs to work as such.

    And that’s why this issue has had legs.

    Plus, Apple fanboys are insufferably arrogant about the superiority of their favorite products sometimes. Except you, Luis. :)

    I’ll say this much about the iPhone antenna issue… I got the bumper case almost immediately on getting my phone, and it’s perfect. It’s perfect for what I want a case for, and it also apparently helps with the reception issues, because I haven’t had any more dropped calls with the iPhone 4 than I had with the iPhone 3G, or the first-generation iPhone, or with any other cellular phone I’ve ever had.

  10. Luis
    July 20th, 2010 at 08:23 | #10

    …And, what do you know, just today the news comes out that the FCC has approved what is believed to be the desktop trackpad.

    Paul: yeah, the case is not such a big deal if you can find the right one. I never had a case before–tried a silicone-rubber one, and hated it. Made it catch on the cloth in my pocket way too much. But, unassociated with antenna issues, I got one for the iPhone 4, mostly because I was nervous about dropping it and breaking the glass. The Tunewear case is great for that–hardly adds anything to the thickness of the device, is soft but also smooth enough not to catch on pockets. It just happens to help with reception at the same time.

  11. Kensensei
    July 21st, 2010 at 10:10 | #11

    Hi Luis,

    Yeah, I guess it’s just a glitch in the first release of iphone4 (and only in some of the phones as you mentioned).

    I guess I will keep my little Nokia for now as it serves my purposes. I like the iphone for its versatility, but cannot stand AT&T [just a personal issue, mind you.] So I will wait for an iphone [minus the afore mentioned glitches] that works on another network.

  12. Geoff K
    July 21st, 2010 at 13:17 | #12

    The thing that annoys me about Apple is their “We know best”, “One size fits all” mentality. Steve Jobs doesn’t like big phones or physical keyboards, so the iPhone has to have a small (but sharp) screen and a lousy onscreen keyboard. On a Mac you have a choice of blue or grey for Window border colors–if you like green or brown or another color, well, Apple knows best. And they are so focused on “elegant” design that functionality is clearly not their first priority. You can make an attractive, elegant phone with a battery that can be changed. But Apple has to go the extra yard and sacrifice a removable battery for extra style. The whole antenna debacle is style over function. It reminds me of ’50’s car design, when swoopy body styles were more important than handling, mileage and safety.

    The fact is, the iPhone 4 was a major screw-up in terms of dropping calls, the proximity sensor and the overall fragile design. Apple has a long history of bad products (Apple III, Newton, Mac Cube, etc.) and this is one of them. The sooner they replace it, the better.

    You may enjoy a masochistic relationship with Apple (“They hurt me but I Love them”), but you aren’t doing them any favors by making excuses for them. They deserve to get called out like any other company when they botch it up.

    I wouldn’t recommend the iPhone 4 to anyone right now, at least until all of the outstanding issues are cleaned up. I’m not the only one. Besides Consumer Reports, PC World has also withdrawn their recommendation recently. They’re also printing horror stories like this one: http://www.pcworld.com/article/201232/iphone_4_hell_a_personal_tale_of_iphone_4_woes.html Frankly, I don’t even think it’s the best smartphone available anymore. Android has moved the game along, both in hardware and software.

    By the way, I get about a day’s full usage out of my HTC Desire. I’m sure you’ve heard stories, just as I’ve read anecdotal reports of battery problems with iPhone 4’s. On the other hand, the big screen and 4G in the HTC Evo really does seem to hit the battery hard in that device.

Comments are closed.