back to article Apple's iPhone 4 denial: insulting or ignorant?

Apple released a surreal missive on Friday morning that said the only thing wrong with the iPhone 4 is the way it calculates signal-strength bars. That letter is either an honest explanation or total bullshit — and it's high time that a competent, unbiased antenna-engineering team found out. On the face of it, Apple's letter …


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  1. Marky W

    a myriad thanks

    I know some dictionaries claim that 'a myriad retarded fanbois' is as correct as 'a myriad OF retarded fanbois', but frankly that's equine faeces. The second version is ugly and would have resulted in the deployment of red ink in my day.

    Good to see El Reg editorial standards remain above the fray. If my former english teacher hadn't been found floating face down in a Spanish swimming pool, I'm sure he'd have given a resounding thumbs up!! (true story)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      myriad minus one?

      "Good to see El Reg editorial standards remain above the fray."

      But then they throw it away with "the 1990s television phenomena The X-Files".

      "Media" and "data" are so regularly abused in this way that I suppose it's becoming standard usage and therefore arguably correct, but I don't think "phenomena" is ready to succumb just yet.

      1. Adam 10
        Jobs Horns

        Not to mention

        criterion (sing.), criteria (pl.)

        invite (verb), invitation (noun)

        one (indirect accusative), you (direct accusative)

        E.g. "The criterion for receiving an invitation to my pedants' party is that one is a pedant"

        NOT "The criteria for receiving an invite to my pedants' party is that you are a pedant".

    2. Anonymous Coward


      "If my former english teacher hadn't been found floating face down in a Spanish swimming pool"

      Ouch! Not trying to outdo you here but...

      My former Chemistry teacher was found decapitated at the side of a railway line :(

  2. Anonymous Coward

    I would like to point out

    that Anandtech also stated how the signal bar's were screwed up anyway.

    So Apple is fixing a problem, just not the problem people are currently moaning about.

    1. the bat
      Thumb Down

      Software Fix the Bars

      They are going to software fix the bars to coverup the issue

      1. Anonymous Coward

        @the bat

        No, they are going to fix one problem.

        If the other one exists truly, they'll have to deal with that one next.

  3. Chris Hatfield

    Jon Gruber's post on this

    is best.

    Jon Gruber is fucking outstanding at intepreting Apple.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Jon Gruber is a corporate shill - but without the corporate responsibility.

      1. Chris Hatfield

        Jon Gruber assasinates Apple, when necessary

        Yeah, he's pro-Apple, but he calls them out as twatty, when they behave in a twatty way.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Jon Gruber's post

      I don't know this blogger but reading that as a first article gave me the impression that he works for Apple's marketing department.

    3. technome
      Jobs Halo


      Gruber's openly pro Apple but he's no shill.

      His analysis in this case is spot on and, as a bonus, genuinely humorous.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not just the iPhone (and greatly exaggerated!)

      As "MLPrice" wrote on that page:

      "Same problem on Nokia E71:

      Same problem on HTC Droid:!

      Same problem on Nexus One:!

      Singling out Apple for a physics problem is like picking on Boeing because you experienced turbulence on a 767. All planes experience turbulence, and all mobile phone experience antenna attenuation. It's the nature of the beast.

      Screaming "DEFECT" simply means that you were unaware of the issue until Gizmodo turned it into part of their on going smear campaign against Apple. You've been mind controlled. That's no big deal, it happens to all of us.

      I've noticed the effect for years on 3G phones. In fact, I'd gotten used to placing some phones down on the table to make calls so I wouldn't block the signal."

      1. Adam 10
        Thumb Down


        I've now had 7 3G phones in the last 9 years (some personal, some corporate) and have never experienced this problem. I have never, ever resorted to placing a phone down on a surface just to make a call.

        These phones include 1-off LG, 4-off Nokia, 2-off HTC. Additionally, various family members and friends have also had a variety of phones (including earlier iPhones) and I've not heard any of them complain about this issue.

        You're analogy is flawed: the Apple problem is indeed a physics problem, but in the same way that getting electrocuted off bare mains cables is a physics problem. How do we prevent electrocution from mains cable? The exact same way we do with mobile phone antennae. The antennae should be appropriately insulated, perhaps by a thin coating of colourless plastic, in order to ensure a user doesn't bridge the antennae when using the phone as a phone.

  4. Chronos
    Jobs Halo

    Waves hand

    These are not the faults you're looking for.

    That halo, it's actually an antenna. It's just so lossy it glows...

  5. Anonymous Coward

    This is unbelievable

    So the iPhone has, since its launch, exaggerated the reported signal? So Apple is going to bring out a software update which will "correct" this issue and, presumably, report the same signal when you bridge the antennae with your hand as when you hold it "properly"?

    But what has that got to do with the actual *loss* of signal when you bridge the antennae - sometimes resulting in dropped calls - that's been widely reported? Surely no-one's going to be taken in by that? "We'll just say that we're *not* changing the goalposts; however, when you hold the phone 'wrongly', the goal mouth will still get smaller"!

    I love Apple products, but Apple and Jobs seem to be losing the plot over this one. This latest PR blunder is an act of monumental hubris that's now descended into farce.

    Apple needs to learn from Toyota's mistakes*. But then again, it was probably always going to happen some time. From what I've read on The Reg and elsewhere, Apple has a corporate culture that basically equates to a doctrine of papal infallibility, resulting in employees being too scared to disagree with the corporate message lest they lose their job. Think Different? Mmm...

    The iPhone 4 looks great: the camera(s), battery life, speed and apps all appeal to me. I can live without the freedom to install non-Apple approved apps; hell, I can even live without Flash. The one thing I can't live without is the ability to make phone calls reliably.

    So, I'll be sticking with my old iPhone 3G for the time being. If this isn't sorted soon, then I may jump ship to Android.


    An Exasperated Fanboi

    * Ironically, Toyota's US sales have actually increased significantly over the last 12 months. Maybe it's the case that when you finally 'fess up, put things right, and still create a generally good product, people will continue to buy it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No drops

      Mine hasn't dropped a single call yet. If you enjoy your 3G you'll love the 4. The speed of it and the screen are joy.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Sorry, but...

        I just got the Froyo update over the air this weekend. A background download of 45Mb, three minutes to install and reboot, and hey presto! A faster phone and better battery life. I can live without facetime* (tm) and my screen is excellent, thank you very much. The Nexus One is once again running a faster OS than the iPhone 4 and its multitasking doesn't completely suspend applications not running in the foreground. Suck on that, iPhone lovers!

        *Disclaimer: Facetime only works between iPhone 4 users where both users are in a WiFi hotspot and is subject to available bandwidth and your acceptance that:you will look like a complete knob-end, you may walk into a lamp post, you will no doubt find that whenever you actually want to use Facetime, your friends are not in a WiFi hotspot. Apple has generously provided a Facetime 'help line' to allow you to pose with your new iPhone 4 in public when you can't find anyone else to Facetime, this alone is the reason you owe us, bitch, and will immediately upgrade to the iPhone 5 in 12 months time without a thought to battery life or antenna issues. Not that it's an issue of course, you're holding it wrong, dammit.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          RE: Sorry, but...

          It's also susceptible to you installing whatever guff you like on it, spyware, malware, adware and all other sorts of guff.

          Just for the record, I tested my iPhone and it doesn't suspend applications not running in the foreground. I did this by starting a webpage loading (one that was large in terms of data) and then flicking to another application. When I flicked back, the webpage had loaded. So FAIL there for repeating the guff that the other ignormai have fed to you.

          Suck on that baw-heid.

          "*Disclaimer [snip]"

          Not sure what that has to do with this article, you're obviously just off on an ill-tempered rant. Maybe not that different from Jobs himself!

          "you may walk into a lamp post"

          If you're walking down the street, there's little reason to use Facetime. Other people aren't interested in seeing the contents of your nose while you check for traffic and avoid lamp-posts!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        RE: No drops

        Of course, you must realise that post which show that this isn't really a problem (or is a limited problem) will either be ignored or voted down by those who like to touch themselves in delight (and then post all about it) whenever there is an anti-Apple article?

    2. Narg

      Toyota is still the same...

      Toyota still remains the same lying arrogant company they always have been. They've been sued in just about every country in the World for holding back safety fixes and reports. They will never change. Mark my words.

      Apple is only a close second to this. They spin the marketing to gain public favor so hard, it churns more than just heads. It churns bellies too. Bellies of those smart enough to see through the B.S.

      Both companies make good equipment, most of the time. But the World would be a far better place without their PR spin trying to save face everytime something tilts ever so slightly. That are blatant lies. Fail on epic porportions.

    3. mulder
      Jobs Halo


      as a former employee forced as a result of attempting to get a union in the cork callcenter i can totally agree.

      The cult of apple thinks its God

  6. LinkOfHyrule
    Jobs Horns

    Try telling Steve that

    "There's nothing Apple nor anyone else can do to get around physics, plain and simple. "

    Try telling Steve that. I bet he's scheming away right now in a giant underground bunker on ways of making the laws of physics more Apple like! Gravity? There's an app for that!

    1. Lance 3


      Steve would never be caught in a bunker.

      This is more like it:

      1. Annihilator


        New Futurama episode - I implore you to watch it

      2. Doug Glass

        Bunker: ...

        ... euphemism for basement.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      @Link who knows Steve personally

      Please, since you know him personally, can you arrange for me to meet him? I have some things I'd like to say to him and I'm sure the way you speak of him and his attitudes that you know him personally and well. That's great - I'd love to speak with him, as would a lot of people on this forum I'm sure.

      So, when can we expect to meet him?

  7. Sean Timarco Baggaley

    Why aren't Nokia, LG, Samsung, HTC, etc. not also being hounded?

    I've had EXACTLY the same damn "issues" with phones from ALL of the above.

    Where the hell were these bottom-feeding lawyers when my old (and, frankly, shite) HTC "TyTN II" phone insisted on dropping damned near every incoming call if anyone—or anything—got between it and my flat's front room window?

    How come my Nokia 2630 does EXACTLY the same signal-drop trick whenever I pick it up and hold it, yet nobody bats an eyelid?

    I've always assumed this was *normal behaviour* for mobiles. If it isn't, I've been conned at least seven bloody times in the past 10 years. (Including three from Nokia, and my one from HTC—who have the dubious distinction of making the only electronic device I have ever *actually* hurled at a wall in frustration at its terrible design. Immediately after which, I went out and bought my current Nokia 2630.)

    The HTC (and an abortive fling with a Sony-Ericsson P900) aside, I've had no serious complaints about any of my mobile phones over the years. My apparently flesh-phobic Nokia 2630 is only now starting to show signs of age, but has given me sterling service as a phone since 2008.

    So why is all this folderol flaring up now? So the signal dips a bit in areas with poor signal strength—so what? You were expecting some kind of magic, noiseless signal amplifier too?

    (And no, being able to see a cellphone mast from your window isn't proof of anything, as anyone who's ever owned a TV in certain parts of London can attest. Even though I could plainly see both the Croydon and Crystal Palace transmitters, it didn't make getting a decent picture for Channel 5 on Freeview any less a bloody chore.)

    And how in blazes is this *worse* than the incessant bloody *crashing* of HTC's TyTN II, which many users seem to think was perfectly acceptable behaviour for a phone costing a small fortune SIM-free?

    1. Arctic fox

      Why aren't Nokia, LG, Samsung, HTC, etc. not also being hounded? Simple.......

      .........they do not promote themselves the way Apple does. The type of promotion that virtually begs people to declare that the emperor is in fact clad in nothing but his birthday suit when something goes wrong. Especially if the emperor continues to insist that, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that he is fully and stylishly clothed and all his subjects have vision problems.

      1. Eponymous Howard

        "they do not promote themselves the way Apple does."

        Trans: their marketing is utter dogshit.

    2. blackworx
      Paris Hilton


      I can almost see the tears running down your face

    3. nsld
      Paris Hilton

      Why aren't Nokia, LG, Samsung, HTC, etc. not also being hounded? → #

      Probably becuase they didnt stick the antenna on the outside of a metal cased phone in a dumb place so consequently they still worked.

      7 phones, 10 years but one common denominator, as Steve said your gripping it wrong!

      Paris - she knows how to grip it

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      The reason is that there are all these Fandroids waiting in the wings to pounce on anything which shines Apple in a bad light. The reasons for their attitude, I don't care - they aren't justified in any way in their heinous and offensive attitudes, which is all about revelling in the misfortune of others, and decrying the idiocy of anyone that isn't 110% anti-Apple.

      That's the reason no one goes after Nokia and the other handset manufacturers who have the same problem.

      The irony is that Fandroids attack Apple fans and declare them to be sheep, yet they are the ones that allow themselves to influenced by sensationalist media writing articles with the sole purpose of selling more papers, which drives more advertising revenue. Who's the sheep? Well, I think that's obvious.

  8. Matthew Barker


    Apple's letter points out one thing that nobody seems to notice: you have 30 days to return it if you don't like the product.

    So, yellow journalism aside, there isn't really much of a story...except Jobs-hating has turned into a sport which is lucrative for "media outlets" who get money by adverts.

    Love or hate, it's all attention.

    1. Mme.Mynkoff

      Speak the truth to power, Brother!

      Yes, there's no story here at all Matthew Barker...

      Just that 2m people have bought a flawed product and Apple pretends the flaw isn't there.

      No story at all. Move along people, and let Brother Barker sing for you on your way out.

    2. Greg J Preece


      Aren't they charing a 10% restocking fee for returns?

      Just thought I'd mention that...

      1. Neill Mitchell

        Cannot charge a re stocking fee.

        It's against the law in the UK. Unless the unit has been engraved or customised.

    3. xyz Silver badge


      sod 30 of goods act... get them to fix or replace it and you can take up to 5 years to do so. Apple is acting like a dodgy 1970's second hand car salesman, whose latest polished turd stinks and is trying to tell you it's your nose that's in error....IMHO of course

  9. Loosewheel
    Paris Hilton


    The bigger the hype, the further they fall.

    Paris, because despite the hype surrounding her - she goes down frequently.

  10. DZ-Jay


    "Millions of dollars, a gathering legal storm, and the reputation of Apple, its executives, and its design and engineering teams hang in the balance."

    I don't think Jobs nor his engineers are losing any sleep over this.


  11. nemenator


    I have both a 4 & a 3G and they perform fine in low signal areas despite holding them incorrectly. But charging £25 for the official solution is a cheek when there is even prettier protection on ebay for £2.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    easy fix then.

    if (meatbag touching antenna) bardisplay += 3;

  13. Q8GEEK

    Metal frame thing

    According to <a href="">these guys</a>, the metal frame acts as some sort of antenna's ground while the antenna itself is place in the speaker module.

    I wonder if it's true...

    1. Q8GEEK

      Metal frame thing to fix it.

  14. snilsson

    Between a rock and a hard place

    I believe Rik's analysis of the failed antenna design is spot on.

    Apple is stuck at this point. Introducing physical changes in a product takes months. Also, they can't touch the radio at all; that would require a new time-consuming validation.

    Chances are that Apple only have two choices: pushing this product despite its defects or being without a new phone for X months, where X may be a large number.

    1. Doug Glass

      Uh Huh

      Pushing it out despite it flaws. Sounds like Apple's version of Vista-like thinking.

      1. Captain Save-a-ho

        That's really low you SOB

        And salute you for it, sir!

      2. Anonymous Coward


        It sounds more like Apple Snow Leopard thinking... How quickly people forget...

        P.S. Posted using my iPhone 4 with which I am quite happy

  15. JeffyPooh

    Ends insulated from each other for a reason

    The ends of antennas are extremely high impedance. The current at the tip is (obviously) very low, and the voltage is typically (relatively) high, thus the impedance is very high. Normally it doesn't matter because the tips of antennas are typically well out of reach. But to put the two ends close to each other where the finger can bridge them is unsmart.

    1. Doug Glass

      A Little Antenna Theory ..

      ... goes a long way. I think Apple just need to come out with a full wave vertically polarized dipole in a head gear apparatus and be done with it.

      1. Gulfie
        Thumb Up


        Simply apply a layer of laquer to the case thus providing a cheap and simple mechanism to insulate the antenna from the hand.

        Existing buyers could use a roll of sticky tape and go round the edge of the phone with it a couple of times - just fold the overlap down, it'll look really stylish!

    2. The First Dave


      Either your antennae knowledge is non-existent, or you are very, very bad at explaining your point, but since you say that the voltage at the ends of an antenna are very high I have to assume the former.

  16. bignothing

    The High Road

    Apple should have said " Yeah there appears to be an issue" and then offer 50 USD gift certifcates toward a bluetooth headset or get real swank and quickly produce "limited edtion" Apple bluetooth headsets available for those who cry

    1. Lance 3


      They would need to be A2DP at that and they would have to be white. I wonder how they wold get the dock connector to fit though. We all know that standards where you could buy something and they don't see any revenue never float at Apple.

  17. Annihilator


    My thoughts:

    * The iPhone 4 is definitely more susceptible to attenuation as demonstrated by Anantech - crippling so, I don't think so

    * Attenuation does indeed happen on every phone. On testing today, I've discovered that my old Sony Ericsson w800i experiences a drop of 20dB from being on the desk to picking up and holding "naturally", 25dB with a "death grip"

    * The bars are demonstrably skewed the wrong way - a 20dB drop would have a devastating effect on this

    Despite this coming across as defending Apple, I do believe that it is incredible that they've gone from denying all problems with it, to saying "ooh it's software" while not acknowledging that the aerial design is not the best idea they've ever had. It is rather insulting to say the least - but it's also PR spin.

  18. regviewer

    Apple grants New York company free bumpers!

    Out of 1.7 million consumers who bought the iPhone 4, only a few extremely special customers in New York were given free bumpers for their phones. Because they were located in an area where AT&T signals usually achieve 5 bars and in a spot where they can literally see a full line sight of the AT&T cellphone tower, the "grip of death" problem could still bring their signal from full strength to zero, zilch, nada! This is enough justification for Apple to give out free bumpers. So if you don't live near an AT&T cellphone tower, you're not special enough so don't expect to get free bumpers for your iPhone 4.

    Apple will only support and give free bumpers to extremely loyal iPhone 4 customers that are located next to AT&T cellphone towers; the rest of millions of iPhone 4 owners are not loyal enough and can go suck an egg or use it's shells with gorilla glue it to cover the bottom right corner of their phone!

    1. NightFox


      Wonderful post - WTF did you base it on though? Read any of the main Apple/iPhone forums and they're awash with people (both in the US and UK) who've managed to get free bumpers out of Apple.

  19. Mick F

    insulting or ignorant?

    I'll go with both.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Two years ago...

    Here's the first para from a CNet report two years ago:


    As previously noted, users continue to report poor 3G signal strength under iPhone OS 2.1. To be clear, iPhone OS 2.1 does not purport to actually boost signal strength. Instead, it provides "more accurate" signal strength display, which, in most cases, means more bars, but not necessarily better reception or ability to make/receive calls. However, it appears that "more accurate" may mean "unreasonably generous."

    So back then they made the signal display 'more accurate' and now they are making it 'more accurate' again. By iOS 5 it will be soooo accurate it will be untrue. Oh it's untrue already. Ooops,

  21. David McMahon
    Jobs Halo


    Erm this is Apple we are talking about?!?

    All their products are perfect! It don't really matter if not anyway lol

    Fanboi #395847

    1. Doug Glass

      Satan Is Perfect Too

      Whether you see that as a + or a - all depends on where you "stand".

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing to see here

    I couldn't give a toss tbh. Mine works fine. Not dropped a call with or without the bumper attached. I think it's an awesome device.

    That's not fan boy opinion, it's fact. If mine did what everyone is looning about, I'd send it back and buy something else.


  23. SteveTM

    Insulting or Ignorant...

    I'd say insulting. Hugely. Apple are treating its customers as if they are stupid. I love the functions of the iPhone, I love the Apps, and I love how it looks. But, from day one, even going back to the first iPhone in 2007, signal has never been its strong point. Back then, it was just about bearable and as a second phone I could live with it.

    However this latest device has a very obvious flaw. Its been documented on videos on Youtube and many users, including myself, have experienced the fault, which results in not just a drop in signal, but in some situations a complete loss of data, awful call quality, or a dropped call.

    Apple, in traditional arrogant style say, hey customers you are "holding it wrong", but if you are not happy we will "allow" you to return your device to get your money back., how generous. Still no apology for wasting our time due to your poor Quality Control process though and still no offer of a free bumper.

    Sorry Apple, but I cant be so precious with my phone I have to treat it like some fragile doll when I hold it, its just so very very uncool. What next...a white Apple iGlove for holding the phone? All a bit 80s Duran Duran isnt it??

    AND I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth. Its one thing for a manufacturer to release a product with a fault, none of us rational people think you are perfect, but its quite another to lie and treat your customers like something you stepped in.

    Goodbye Apple, hello Google Nexus One. At least I can hold that any way I like...

    1. Rupert Stubbs

      "Goodbye Apple, hello Nexus One. At least I can hold that any way I like..."

      Hah. Have you not Googled for Nexus 1 issues when handheld? It exhibits a very similar response to the iPhone 4:

      Could it be that your knee-jerk response is the insulting behaviour?

    2. Chad H.

      Nexus one?

      You have been reading the other stories on the site? - The Nexus One is the "Sir Robin" of phones - Its bravely running away. So "Successful" Google dont see a need to continue it.

  24. Furbian
    Jobs Horns

    Simple, don't buy until they fix it...

    I tried a 4G, it didn't wow me, when compared to my 3GS, yes I did look at the retina thingumy screen very carefully.

    Then I read all this stuff about reception problems, and thought, maybe next year, iOS 4 I'll go for, maybe it will be nice to have multitasking, but this idea of putting it in a case or putting some duct tape on it, nah. If Android had a less clunky UI....

    There's obviously a real problem there, and all this semantic jiggery pokery about signal bars and formulae can't cover for it. Maybe a good time to short Apple shares as they eventually get sued in the US and end up with a multi million dollar recall....

    1. Doug Glass

      Fools Rush In

      Always wait for rev. 1 of anything.

      1. Test Man


        This is revision 4.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not knowing anything about antenna design

    I'm a little confused how Apple's claim that recalibrating the display of bars to better show bad signals is going to solve my problem' namely that holding my iPhone 4 in my living room sends the signal from O2's usual 2 or 3 bars to 'No Service'. The previous iPhone had no problems making or receiving calls at home, this thing drops at least half of them.

    1. Doug Glass

      They're Not Fixing A Problem, ...

      ... they're changing the display. Since Apple's products are all perfect per The Sacred J, all they need do is have people see the truth.

  26. Hayden Clark Silver badge

    Caused by standard testing, plus Steve Jobs' curious ways

    All of the RF testng of the device will have been on the bench. Quite possibly on uncased models.

    It might even have been tested on a neat little stand, placed next to a cabbage, or a bucket of jelly, or some other way of simulating a human head. But the need to wire it up to the test system will mean that it was never checked in a real hand.

    But, wouldn't Steve notice? No, because I suspect he holds his iPhone by the tips of his fingers, a quarter of an inch from his head. That way, he doesn't get greasy marks on his beautiful phone, and everyone can see him using his iProduct.

    1. Benedict


      Do you know anything about mobile phone testing and the requirements for product certification? Clearly not, you make yourself look like a knob for spouting such crap.

      1. Hayden Clark Silver badge

        Nice, informative post there, one of the good ones....

        ... full of useful information.

        Instead of sounding off, why not type in a little of your extensive experience of mobile device testing and product certification, with particular emphasis on the methodologies for testing interaction with the human body mass and other environmental sheilds?

        Then, we'd perhaps understand how Apple's snafu might have occurred.

  27. Si 1

    I'd side with insulting...

    I've got an iPhone 4 and I'm very pleased with it, but Apple's claims just don't hold up when you look at Anandtech's review where they "hacked" the install of the iPhone 4 to display dBm instead of the signal strength bars. The dBms clearly dropped when the phone was held "the wrong way" and it would eventually result in a lost connection.

    If it was just a bars problem and not an aerial problem then surely the dBm reading should have only showed a marginal difference? A sudden plunge is hardly the sign of a software fault...

  28. Mike Shepherd

    Only the true Messiah denies that he is the Messiah!

    Why doesn't he just admit the truth. The fans will still love him.

  29. Pyers

    You can't escape physics

    I'll try to keep this really simple, it's been said before but here we go again concisely:

    Antenna efficiency can be compromised either by detuning or loss. Loss occurs when a 'lossy' object (such as a hand) comes between the transmitting antenna and the receiving antenna. This lossy object could be anywhere between these two, doesn't matter.

    An antenna works most efficiently when it 'resonates' on the frequency that it is designed to work on, with a voltage peak normally at the extremities of the antenna. Proximity of your body to the antenna, it doesn't have to touch but the closer the more marked the effect, prevents this resonance and voltage peak. This is known as 'detuning' and has the effect of reducing radiation from the antenna by a very large degree.

    All mobiles have to compromise aesthetics with technical function and in all cases the proximity of the body will cause a combination of detuning and loss, but, I fear, in the case of the latest iPhone the design allows the user to completely detune the antenna AND provide a lossy path to the receiving site, thus it is the worst of both worlds. A fundamental mistake which shows a total disregard of physics that CANNOT be corrected with software, so a bit of a fail I am afraid...

    1. Narg

      Lossy effect?

      Um, that "lossy effect" is called attenuation by the engineers...

      1. Doug Glass

        Sorry, No

        Attenuation is an expected lowering of signal strength because of a known parameter and is a physical attribute of that device. Let's say, for ease of calculation, a certain dual conductor windowed signal transmission wire (ladder line) attenuation is -3db per 100 feet. Remember, -3db cuts signal strength in half. Knowing that parameter, you can calculate loss of signal strength for any give length. For instance. If your rig sends 200 watts RF into a -3db rated ladder line that's 100 feet long you know your antenna's radiator is "seeing" 100 watts since half of 200 is 100. The signal is attenuated basically by the "resistance" of the copper wire; the wire actually warms up a bit because of this.

        "Lossy" is a condition whereby something is causing the antenna system to operate less well than it should. If that same ladder line is laying on the metal roof of your shack, or maybe has fallen on the wet ground, it will be "lossy". In effect signal will be bled off. But in this case, to get rid of the lossy condition, just get the ladder line off the metal roof and off the ground. That's why we have "stand offs" to keep certain types of line away from certain materials. The metal objects and the ground make the line lossy and the condition can be changed. Attenuation is a physical attribute and cannot be change by simple means. For copper wire you'd have to get into metalurgical changes in the R&D department.

        1. DZ-Jay

          Re: Sorry, no again

          Attenuation is the effect of lowering signal strength, whether by an expected factor or by a "lossy" condition. You are right, there is a difference between the the latter two, but the effect of both is, indeed, attenuation of the signal.

          There is a physical attribute of any material which will result in attenuation, and the magnitude of it can be reliably measured. Just like there is a physical attribute of matter which results in friction. You won't find a physicist claiming that "friction is a physical attribute of matter," but that matter does have a physical attribute, called the coefficient of friction, which results in a measurable magnitude of resistance.

          Likewise, "attenuation" is the physical effect of an attribute of a conductive material which measurably reduces signal strength.


    2. Doug Glass

      Antenna Theory

      Like I said, a little anntenna theory goes a long way. They may have really goofed and have the voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR or just SWR) greater than 1.5:1. If that's case, and the antenna is not resonant, and no software "fix" will solve the problem, it'll take a physical change. The same holds true for what you're saying. Maybe this is why Apple is currently seeking to employee three antenna engineers. You certainly don't need this level of engineering expertise to alter the signal strength display, but you do need the engineers to deal with inductive coupling problems of hand held devices.

      I still say just come out with a full wave vertical polarized dipole in a headgear arrangement and settle it all. Maybe an end fed vertical similar to through the glass you see on vehicles. Or maybe even revert to external antennas. You just can't beat a resonant stinger in free space.

  30. Arctic fox


    Interestingly enough I have very rarely seen (here at Reg anyway) people repeatedly logging on to defend MS whenever they have effed up something (and that has happened quite often!) whilst one, understandably enough, sees a s*** load of highly critical postings. Hardly suprising, people get angry - justifiably angry. However, when Apple f*** up one sees that a large number of people will defend them to the last ditch, regardless. Anyone got an explanation for this phenomenon?

    1. Rolf Howarth

      Re: Curious

      True, but the converse applies too. When Apple do something that every other company out there does all the time without comment, you also see a large number of people rushing in to loudly criticise them. For whatever reason, Apple evokes very strong feelings among people. People either love to love Apple or love to hate them.

      1. Arctic fox


        What that means in practice is that people generally do not bother to defend MS, they simply begin to howl (quite right too!) when MS frakk up. I repeat, it is a strange contrast with the way some people react when Apple is critisised.

    2. DZ-Jay

      Re: Curious

      >> "Anyone got an explanation for this phenomenon?"

      Yes, it's not true. Read the posts, and count them: the overwhelming majority are just critical bashing. There may be a handful just stating "it works for me," which is hardly "defend[ing] them to the last ditch." Then there's a significant amount of those, like yours, who just like to remark things like "cue the fanbois," in spite of their absence.

      This is consistent with any other forum on which Apple products or actions are discussed.


      1. Arctic fox


        Read my post again and then try and answer it properly. What I actually said, not what you thought I wrote. I talked about what one normally sees when MS gets a (deserved!) bashing. The fact that Mac-people are willing to defend regardless is an observable fact. Very few, except the brain-dead, are willing to defend MS in that way.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          almost certainly some if not most of the rabidly anti-Apple comments one sees are knee-jerk reactions to the nauseating deference the fanbois flood whatever forum questions any aspect of this brand they've subsumed their self-images to.

          Same happens with Ubuntu, of course. And with Microsoft, except that the Microsoft stooges are mostly to be found responding on the Microsoft-hosted forums and a few nominally-independent Windows-only blogs (that sports at least one all-but-resident Microsoft shill MVP).

    3. Doug Glass

      Because ...

      .. The Sacred J has made himself "low hanging fruit". Whether they admit it, most people take a measure of satisfaction in seeing the self-proclaimed high and mighty layed low. Microsoft is s**t and we expect them to act like s**t so we've become accustomed to it. The Sacred J is usually right. But as my mate once asked me, "Had I rather be right or happy?". Apparently J has chosen to be right all the time and that generally makes you a target.

    4. snilsson

      Halo effect

      @Arctic fox

      The halo effect can explain much of this - the Wikipedia article on the subject even uses Apple as an example.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Both Apple and Microsoft have online shills, as do many other organisations today. I think that MS is just a little more careful with their deployment. Apple's problem is that they have traditionally viewed their customers as morons - the kind of people that have an aneurysm when faced with an error message, and those who like to define their very selves with consumer goods.

      That worked out fine until the ipod and iphone, which suddenly had mass appeal beyond their normal moron target demographic. They haven't yet realised they're dealing with a different crowd now though, hence the steady stream of highly insulting garbage they pump out, and the asinine, transparent overdeployment of shills to try to "manage" public perception when it all goes tits up.

  31. jake Silver badge

    Real world.

    Our ten year old Nokia 5185s work fine all over Sonoma Valley.

    Even in the so-called "dead zones".

    The iPhones that my wife bought into do not. She's back with the 5185.

    Do you want glitz that can't make a phone call, or do you want to make a call?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Jobs Halo

      A short reply from Steve

      Dont use it as a phone

      Not that big of a deal


      sent from my thought coupled iBorg 4 so I dont have to touch the god damn ariel.

  32. Generic_Web_Guy

    Holding out for iPhone 5

    Just hope it's not made of porcelain and usable only when delicately balanced on the pinkie

  33. Pyers

    Attenuation and mismatch

    Indeed it is called attenuation, and this happens when RF (radio frequency) signals pass through anything, even air has a small lossy effect relative to a vacuum. The body, as has been described by others, is mostly salty water, and therefore very lossy.

    It's worth adding something about the 'detuning' effect I mentioned above; when your body detunes the antenna it affects it in two ways, firstly it changes the resonant frequency of the antenna which can drastically reduce radiation efficiency and secondly it affects the 'return loss' (sometimes known as 'VSWR' or 'voltage standing wave ratio). This is the (impedance) match between the transmitter circuitry and the antenna, and a poor match (high VSWR or low return loss) actually causes the RF power to bounce off the antenna back towards the transmitter, this 'bounced' power will either be absorbed by the circuitry and/or bounce back to the antenna, only to bounce back and forth (like an echo between two flat surfaces), eventually dying out, but, importantly, never actually radiating from the antenna.

    To be fair to Apple, both of the effects I have mentioned (loss/attenuation and detuning) will be noticed in all mobile devices where the antenna is not in free space (closer than several wavelengths from the body or other lossy item). It's just that Apple have not made their lives easy by designing their antenna such that actual contact will cause the worst possible detuning by the body. Other manufacturers place their antennas behind an insulator (the case) and the detuning will be less, though still present when the hand is over or near it. The loss/attenuation effect will be similar to other phones.

    I have tried to not make this too technical, but if I don't use the correct technical terms it seems I get pulled up. For my sins RF has been my job for over 30 years, so apologies if I have been too geeky!

    1. snilsson

      How much is a 20 dB signal loss?

      Thanks for the excellent explanation of attenuation and detuning. A question. From the reports we'e seen so far it seems this phone loses at least 20 dB of signal strength when being held in a typical left hand grip. What are normal figures for a standard phone? How much would you lose if you disconnect the antenna altogether? Could you give us some comparisons?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        @How much is a 20 dB signal loss?

        a shitload

      2. adnim

        99 percent

        +3dB change is a 2x factor

        +6 dB change is a 4x factor

        –3B change is a 0.5x factor

        –6 dB change is a 0.25x factor

        –10 dB change is a 0.1x factor

        –15 dB change is a 0.03x factor

        –20 dB change is a 0.01x factor

        Source: (Warning PDF)

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Phone strength calculation nonsense

    How does it explain if the bars are calculated incorrectly and show too many bars, when located next to my BlackBerry on the same network, that the iPhone shows less bars than the BlackBerry ?

    I think Apple should be a bit more honest, rather than the FUD I believe we are being fed.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Jobs Horns


      Well, quite obviously RIM have an error in their bar calculation algorithm. Once Apple's new, more-accurate-than-any-other, bar calculation algorithm ships you'll be able to see exactly how shit your Blackberry *really* is!

      It has to be that, it's the only explanation that fits with The Truth According To Apple.

  35. John Fielder


    Apple gives the impression of only testing the looks of a product, not actually giving it to people to use. If they had, this problem would have turned up, unless they all had deformed hands or apple gave them cases to stop them getting fingerprints on the wonderful new hardware.

    No matter how good something looks, it still has to work.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      "No matter how good something looks, it still has to work."

      Somebody voted this down, Just goes to show how deluded some fanbois are.

    2. Horridbloke

      @John Fielder

      I think you've stumbled across the explanation. The found/stolen prototype that caused all that bother a few months back was in a different casing, disguised as something else. So the exposed antenna etc won't have been subjected to the full round of field-testing. Oh dear.

  36. Adam Williamson 1

    Sign o' the times?

    Anyone else around here remember when El Reg would have been the site which actually knew or employed someone smart enough to do the analysis, and would've printed it itself? Instead of just posting a piece effectively saying 'please, someone else, do journalism for us! It's too hard!'?


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Actually, journalism is when you write about other people doing stuff. What you want them to do is, like, science and stuff.

      1. Adam Williamson 1

        Clearly...'ve never heard of investigative journalism, then. Sometimes, in order to determine what stuff other people did or didn't do so you can subsequently write about it, you have to do stuff yourself.

  37. Dan Keating

    Bar Bar Black Sheep

    I disagree that people are just complaining about reception rather than vanishing bars. It seems the concern is more about the visual impact of not having full signal rather than call quality or drops. I know a few users - they all seem very pleased with it.

  38. D. M

    How could the Reg got so wrong?

    "The iPhone 4 is a physical thing, not an idea, not an opinion."

    Since when has Apple sold a "physical thing"? Every iD10t knows that they don't pay big $$$ for physical thing that they can use. They pay for an idea, an opinion and a feeling that they are richer/better because they follow GOD STEVE.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    I know several long-term Apple employees

    One of which has been with Apple since the early 1980's. They all say the same thing, "The way you tell Apple is lying to the public is that Steve's lips are moving."

    1. Piers

      And they still work there?

      ...after all this time? And they really think that? And they still work there? FFS!?!

  40. heyrick Silver badge

    It's not Apple's fault?

    Either it is the antenna, or it is the reporting (bars). Umm... Who designed the phone to have the antenna there? Who created the firmware with the signal strength bars?

    Face it, Apple. You're no Android. You're a closed shop... Your phone + your frmware = your fault.

  41. Jon Winter 1
    Jobs Halo

    Weird. My iPhone 4 has MUCH better reception

    I never used to be able to make or receive calls in my office at work with my 1G or 3GS iPhones. My iPhone 4 has dramatically better reception than either of my two previous iPhones, which means I can now use it as while at work. Hurrah for Apple but I do fear for my future productivity if I no longer have to put up with work's firewall...

    Try as I might I can't seem to get the death grip to work either. I feel very left out of all the whining...

    1. K Price

      Jabscreen 4 (*) - a cure for insanity!

      The definition of insanity is to repeat the same process and expect different results. Your first iPhone can't make calls, so you buy another one which can't make calls, so you buy a third one expecting something different... and finally IT WORKS!!

      (*) See Charlie Brooker in today's Guardian

  42. Lewis Mettler 1

    idiots ID themselves

    Clearly iPhone 4 has a serious problem.

    Just watch as consumers try to redesign the damn thing by wearing gloves, wrapping the iPhone in duct tape, cellophone tape or rubber bumbers. Now that is some real style.

    Changing the bars displayed is pure fraud. Of course, it may be that the display has been wrong all the time but claiming that it somehow is going to prevent dropped calls is fraudulent.

    Apple needs to be sued for being idiots and fools. And for lying to consumers.

    Hopefully many consumers will just switch to Android and stop buying crap from idiots.

    At least with Android the various models offer some choice of hardware. And somebody will actually do the necessary R&D to put up a phone that works.

    Not an app for that.

  43. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Can't it be both?

    Can't Apple be both insutling AND ignorant? I think they are both.

    Anyway, regarding bars -- the chart on iPhone indicates 5 bars down to -91 dBm, 4 to -101, 3 to -103, 2 to -107, and 1 to -113.

    This is a little high -- but, my current phone shows 5 to -75, 4 to -85, 3 to -90, 2 to -95, 1 to -100 (and it shows 0 bars below that.). "No comment" on AT&T (if I don't have anything nice to say, I won't say anything at all..), I have Verizon. My bars are quite uninformative, in rural areas, I show 0 to 1 bars a lot with PERFECT voice quality and good data speeds -- I would prefer a calibration like IPhones actually, I only get service problems at about -110 anyway. This is more or less as it should be, AT&T is just trying to cover for weaknesses of AT&T's network (they way they calibrate it you need a STRONG signal to avoid garbling and breakups.)

  44. snilsson

    Interview with (real) antenna expert

    Here is an interesting interview (in Danish) with Gert Frølund Pedersen, one of the world's foremost experts in mobile antenna design:

    A few highlights:

    -Is this the worst antenna on the market?

    I'm certain of that.


    Surely the problems can be fixed. When the antenna is this bad, it doesn't take much to make it a little bit better. Moving the components around, however, does not solve the problem. It takes a change in the design, and that is not a simple thing.


    But it seems grotesque, that you now can buy a holder for $30, to help add distance to the antenna. We researchers are laughing, but Apple is making money.

  45. Robert Sneddon


    What surprises me is that the active parts of the antenna system on the i4 can be touched at all. Nearly every antenna I've ever seen used in portable radio gear, mobile phones etc. has been insulated in some manner -- either like the classic "rubber duck" helical antenna or as in most modern slab-like mobile phones it is hidden within a plastic casing.

    It's worth noting that skin contact will also degrade the transmission signal levels, meaning the phone will increase its power output to remain in contact with the cell tower and so reduce the battery's endurance.

  46. General Pance

    How dare you challenge Apple

    Our lawyers will be shutting you down shortly.

  47. Anonymous Coward

    cell bear

    what's the problem ?what happened to all you creative types buying apple kit!

    just make yourself a cell bear

    OC to be really cool..... You could replace cell bear with a real apple every day

    and for those bad boys sent to the corner to reflect on their corner case problems there's always

    the to name but two wonderful things creative types like You can do

  48. ich

    poor signal, dropped calls...

    The IPhone 4 is so REVOLUTIONARY it shouldn't be used as a phone...

  49. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Arctic fox

    The issue originally was caused by an Apple group known as the Evengelist started by Guy Kawasaki back in the 80's, which basically ran a daily list of review or anything negative about Apple, and then wound up fanboi fanatics to go and flame the author/ignore the truth/overload real issues with fanboi claims to drown out the truth. Pretty much a method for corporate brainwashing to enable them to force good reviews and bury anything negative.

    Over the year's it's moved on to now being groups who just rabidly follow those being whiped into a storm by Apple, or just rabid blind fanatics who like to follow like sheep. It's now also brought into the issue of "cool" where "cool" is who can be the biggest sheep, and thinking is just evil. It's a similar issue you find in primary schools when you ask them about football teams and find 90% all suppor Man Utd...the sheep factor and not wanting to be an individual and think for themselves.

    Anonymous as I used to be one of these rabid fanboi's and a member of these loony tune Apple fanatic groups up till I did the mistake of saying "hang on, that's a really fecked up idea".

    1. Smokey Joe


      Upvoted because the Man Utd. analogy is a pretty damned good one :-)

      (Man U. fans who live outside a 40 mile radius of Old Trafford need not apply...)

  50. Wang N Staines


    Maybe this issue is related to the fact why Apple wanted the FCC to with delayed the publishing of some documents relating to the iPhone4.

  51. Bobrob

    This would seem a more honest solution to the problem

    At least it works

  52. Jim Preis

    Send the check to...?

    Who do I send my check to? Apple, The Reg or the Reg Readers? This is by FAR more entertaining than cable TV, streaming video, writing marginal code and it comes close to internet porn, no pun intended.

    I GOT IT!!! The ultimate mashup: Apple engineers in little dorm rooms (Faraday cages perhaps?) with webcams where I could - as a voyeur - watch them squirm while trying to respond to reason and refute Newton's laws. Yeah. I'd toss a few quid at that subscription.

  53. Electric Panda

    Did they release the wrong product?

    One could wonder if somebody got their wires crossed and that Apple have accidentally released this year's iPod touch three months early :P

    After all, it looks like an iPhone and can't seem to make calls :D

  54. Anonymous Coward

    I can't believe...

    ...people are still buying Jobs' overpriced, overhyped shite? There's one born every nanosecond, it seems.

  55. Drew Green

    "ugly bags.."

    Star Trek Next Generation comment. An alien species referred to Humans as "ugly bags of mostly water.."

    It's not an Anandtech specific comment..

  56. Femtoman

    It's all about Antenna Engineering and Physics

    This isn't a software problem ( integration time of the signal strength measurements - RSSI) in my humble opinion but a hardware problem associated with an unusual approach to realising the antenna. There are several radios in any phone - 2G, 3G, Wi Fi, GPS & Bluetooth - operating at different frequencies and the challenge is to optimise the receive and transmit performance of the antenna system without having to have say a pull out antenna - remember those on the early analogue units ! Optimisation takes account of the way the unit will be used - will it be used on a belt ( such as a pager) or in the hand & pocket/bag as with a phone.

    Antenna systems are therefore carefully engineered components whose designs are tuned for best performance.

    The human body - being a lump of salty water - will when brought near an antenna affect its' performance and therefore the antenna engineer has even more challenges to take this into account whether we are left handed or right handed. But they have all managed it pretty well up to now.

    If you then - in a first - as far as I am aware - allow the antenna system to come directly into contact with a hand - and even more alarming allow the antenna feed point ( that part on the bottom left with the plastic seperation ) to be touched then it will de-tune the antenna and the signal will go down. No amount of software fiddling will change that - it's an antenna design problem in my humble opinion.

    The solution requires a rethink of the antenna system design - so that perhaps form is not triumphing over function. Which may I realise be a problem in itself. What a nonsense to have to stick tape/blue tack/nail polish or even a rubber wrap around on your brand new 'leading edge' phone. As has been said it would be fairly easy for a test house to do a full test on the RF performance with and without a human ( or test equivalent ) to put this matter to bed for once and for all. I do agree with the chap who said it is basic physics - sadly that means there isn't an app to fix this ........

  57. Hans 1

    some random title


    Totally agree. I get no issues at all ... the only issue with the iPhone I have is battery life, or lack thereof. But that is a tradeoff I am willing to accept; it's a great phone.

    External antennas are not ideal, true and finding the "weird spot" where you can short the antennas is great, not really newsworthy, methinks. I think the location is not ideal, it would have been better center bottom (either side where you have the connector). I have a case to protect my iphone which would solve this problem, if I had an iphone 4.

    Note that I have unlimited calls to all numbers in France (mobile and landlines) and use it extensively for making calls (in the evening). I live in a town in French Provence, not really the best coverage you could get ... I think it is just the mobile networks that suck ...

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      So the fact that ....

      an expensive popular phone has a design fault is not newsworthy in a tech rag like the reg? Besides, it is the denial that the fault exists, and the lame excuses made which are the main news here.

  58. William saywell

    If a phone cover spoils the style...

    Put the cover on your hand. A cheap latex glove should do the trick!

  59. richard 69

    apple treat customers like shit? they always have..

    errr this really is old news, apple have always treated their customers like shite.

    i'm a mac user for 15 years and they couldn't give a fuck about me. apple are like the hot girl at school that treated you like shite but you couldn't stop looking at her and following her around......get over's so funny to see all these new apple customers waking up to reality...

    do you think they'll fix the iphone? do you think they give a rats arse? was every phone shop sold out of iphones this weekend?

    (answers: no, no, yes)

  60. VulcanV5

    It's just a thing.

    Well it's hardly a surprise that Jobsworth & Co are so defensive that evasion and obfuscation have become par for the course. Their company has invested huge amounts of money in this phone-thingie.

    No surprise, either, that those whose lives are unfulfilled if they can't parade their acquisition of this phone-thingie are similarly defensive. After all, they've spent huge amounts of money on the damn things too.

    All of us with fourteen quid PAYG Nokias would extend our sympathies but it's too much bother.

  61. max allan

    What about transmissions?

    Bearing in mind all the hullaballoo about phone transmission causing brain tumours and the like, does the contact directly from the iPhone antenna to bits of flesh cause any problems???

    Are we now being directly connected to the brain tumour inducing nightmare that is the mobile phone?

  62. dsdetective

    This could be big!?

    So I finally managed to get my hands on an iPhone 4 today, having managed to cram into an O2 store on the Strand past the fairly large crowd (yes still) waiting to get their hands on the 2 or 3 they had back in stock.

    They had 3 iPhone 4's on display clamps... All 3 of them had large yellow blotches on the left, and to a lesser extent, the right of the display. These were sort of visible all of the time, but where very apparent on a white background such as the Safari browser. Two of them also had black marking in the middle, almost like the circuit board was visible through the display - it looked like a smudge at first but clearly wasn't...

    OMG I thought. Three in the shop and the displays on all of them were already broken? I looked at the crowds queuing up and wondered if anyone else had noticed or even cared. I looked to see if an o2 person was there that I could ask to see if this was common. They were all too busy though. Lots of people ordering, so why bother answering questions?

    So, I thought I'd test the hype (which I honestly believed it was) and with my thumb only, covered the gap between the bottom left corner and the side. 5 bars, 4 bars, 3 bars, 2 bars, 1 bar.

    OMG I thought. So, if Apple are to believed, either the phone only ever picks up 1 bar in the middle of London (the 5 bars being a display illusion), or it loses 4 bars because you pick it up. Again, I looked around at all the people queuing. They hadn't even bothered to try out the phone, they weren't interested. Had everyone gone mad?!

    But then I remembered that I had almost bought one the day they came out without trying first. It's an iPhone, the others were awesome, this must be better.

    So is it good or bad for Apple that loads of people will buy them regardless? I'm worried that it may be VERY BAD, because if the screens all screw up that quickly, and the reception is really that bad, then I doubt those people will be crowding the o2 stores for an iPhone 5...

  63. Richard Vivash

    Problem? Yes. Cover up? Maybe.

    From what I read in the Anandtech review it seems that the bars are so heavily weighted towards one end that a small signal drop will display as a massive loss in 'bars'.

    The scale goes from -113 to -51, so it has a range of 62 units. The problem is that bar 5 is range -91 to -51 (40 units) and bars 1-4 are range -113 to -91 (22 units). This means that if you currently have a signal of -90 (only just 5 bars) and you drop 20dB (roughly what is lost when using the 'death grip'), you may have lost around 1/3 of the possible signal, but the bars will show a drop from 5 bars to 1 bar (bar 1 is range -113 to -107). You would have a signal of -111dB which as Anandtech points out, is actually usable on the iPhone 4.

    The problem is that the iPhone 4 is more susceptible to signal attenuation than most phones (as pointed out by Anandtech), so when you couple this with the weird 'bars' scale the problem appears far worse than it is.

    Yes, there is a genuine problem with the iPhone 4 that at first glance could be easily fixed with a coating over the antenna. A lot of people online are complaining about dropped calls, which is a big issue, however I also think that a lot of people are making noise about lost 'bars', which may not be as bad as it seems.

    Are Apple maliciously trying to cover up the problem, or do they genuinely believe the issue is signal display and not strength? Personally I think it's a little of both. I'm sure they are aware that their antenna design is more susceptible to signal attenuation than most other phones, however I think they have made a rod for their own back with the dumb scale they used to display signal strength. I also think that with the more sensitive baseband hardware in the iPhone 4 (again, as attested by Anandtech) Apple may well believe that the phone can still outperform others in real world usage, even with lower signal numbers.

    Perhaps the software update will weed out all those complaining about bars dropping rather than calls dropping. Although I'm sure they will just moan that they used to have a 5 bar signal when sat in Starbucks and now only have 4.

    It will be interesting to see how Apple responds after this update is released and after someone undertakes some serious research into the issue. I will reserve my judgement of the company until then, although they are going to have to tread carefully. Personally I feel they should recall and replace with a version that has a coated antenna. Costly yes, but probably less pricey than the hit to their credibility for not doing it.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      One third of the range...

      ...but 20 dB is 99% of the signal. You don't appear to have much grasp of logarithmic scales.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Richard Vivash

        Well, yes...

        I do understand logarithmic scales and I understand that +3dB is equivalent to a factor of two increase in signal. In my original comment I said I believe there is a problem that needs to be addressed. I'll admit using the range the way I did is misleading, but let's face it, we don't know what's going on in the new, more sensitive baseband hardware, so a direct calculation based on a dB logarithmic scale may be as misleading as my use of the range. The iPhone 4 seems to make better use of a -113dB signal than other phones, and I'd imagine that this improved signal handling will not be as marked (or needed) at -51dB. So what effect should this have on the bars displayed? Should bars be based on real world usefulness, or strictly the signal dB, even though some phones will work better than others at low signal levels?

        If you read the Anandtech analysis you'll see that the problem is that the scale used to display signal bars is so skewed towards the top end that it amplifies any loss in signal drastically. Look here ( for a neat little graph that shows the Anandtech data. Even given the logarithmic nature of the dB scale, that's a very big skew at the top end. I admit I'm not an RF engineer, but I've read around the subject, and people who are far more knowledgable than me seem to agree that the scale is a bit off. I'm sure that the new scale Apple implements will still not be linear, but I'm sure it won't be so broad at the 5 bar end.

        Also read the Guardian piece here ( which points out that a signal of -80dB is displayed as 5 bars on the iPhone 4, but only 2 bars on a BlackBerry.

        Yes, a 19.8dBm attenuation when held in a certain way is very big, and bigger than most (if not all) other smartphones. Yes, it's a problem that needs sorting. But the crappy signal scale makes it look far worse than it is, for some people.

  64. Mark Serlin

    The bridging thing

    Has nobody tried a bit of clear nail varnish?

    1. The Beer Monster

      Clear nail varnish

      Plays havoc with my cuticles...

      Oh, on the phone?

  65. PatC
    Paris Hilton

    Wot? Nothing about ..

    "We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see" (

    Losing signal bars? Apple's answer: make the bars bigger.

    The Job-ees* really will eat any bovine excreta ..

    Paris coz the whole press release was clearly drafted by similarly gifted intellectuals

    * My preferred collective noun for fanbois, given it's Scottish dropping overtones

  66. graciaesia

    Hiding from scandal

    Apple is clearly hiding to avoid scandal.

    The launch of the new Iphone was expected by the entire world, thousands of people have been queuing to have it and now that it has been released, people feel disappointed.

    The media are as dismayed as we are :

  67. Toothpick

    Will this "update"..

    ..cure the screen? The one I saw had so many white blobs on it, I thought is was iWallpaper.

    Mine's the coat with a pocketful of £10 PAYGs

  68. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    El Tit

    It works fine for making calls. I'm not interested in how many bars are being displayed. Not had a problem yet.

    The proximity sensor is a bag of shite, however. I doubt anyone has actually had a dropped call. They probably just hung up with their cheek.

  69. cordwainer 1

    Look, I'm not defending Apple...

    But my Samsung candy-bar phone, which has metal all around the edge, loses bars, and has reception problems/static/breakup as well, if my hands are sweating, and I'm gripping the phone in my palm tightly. Every phone I've ever had has reacted badly to the same thing - my hands get sweaty, the phone starts to slip as a result, I squeeze the phone tighter, and I can see AND hear the reception get worse.

    On the advice of a friend, I bought a $2.00 rubber back for the phone that also covers the edges. What I thought was only sweaty hands turns out to have been some condensation as well (warm hands, cold phone edge), the phone doesn't slip when my hands are damp anymore, and my reception and call quality are fine now.

    So while I'm not qualified to say Apple is in the right, I can at least say it's not just iPhones that have problems when conductive surfaces are blocked by damp skin.

    For what it's worth: I could never wear a watch either. In the 60s, growing up, I'd put on my little wind-up, and and eventually, inevitably, it would stop. I'd take it off for a would start ticking again. I'd wear it for a while...dead watch. Let it rest a day or watch.

    But eventually every one of my watches would fail permanently. Try as I might, I could never get a single one to run again. (I don't count the one I took apart, at age 8, thinking I might repair it. When I removed the back, something went "sproing" and a tiny part launched itself into oblivion. I contemplated asking my parents for help, but fortunately my sense of self-preservation kicked in, at which point I calmly snapped the back cover into place, put the watch in a drawer, and sauntered off humming nonchalantly.)

    I can offer no explanation for the watch weirdness. I can, however, state quite confidently that watch repair and shag carpets are a less than optimal combination.



    1. Jim Coleman
      Thumb Up

      Watch problems? should get a Rolex Submariner. The case is a single piece of 904L steel (called an "oyster" case), which is impervious to saltwater corrosion, and the watch is waterproof to 1000ft. It has a perpetual winder so no need to wind it up, the natural motion of your wrist keeps it wound. Heck, even the display window is made of white sapphire, the only thing tougher is diamond. Highly recommended. You can sweat as much as you like, this watch won't mind one jot.

      Oh and Apple suck.

  70. John Armstrong-Millar
    Big Brother

    We need a new word for this

    Jobspeak. It seem thats Steve is trying to extend his famous reality distortion field to cover the whole planet.

  71. Zero0001

    Former Apple Reseller - the physics of their market place

    Across 10 years I sold hundreds of thousands of pounds of Apple equipment to a variety of markets. During that time I never once met with apple in the UK beyond the usual ra ra sessions of hey here's a new product now go out and sell it to your user base and make us all some money.

    At the end of 10 years when I eventually met the channel manager for all us authorized reseller I said nearly 10 years and I haven't seen you once.

    He replied "I've got over 200 reseller I cant be expected to meet all of them."

    I told him "I have over 200 customers and I've carried your box through the door of all of them!"

    Now as a reseller we were fundamentally power users, Fanboys with a screw driver! We cried when they dropped Newton like trekkies in tears at the demise of a good character.

    For me this is the true physics of the Apple Market Place. A forgiving fan base that colludes with the marketing engine of a company and who like druggies prepared to forgive their dealers anything. I saw this in my customers who bought duff apple product and I see it now in the speeches and excuses of all those faithful iphone users out there.

    Apple's strength has never been their product its the people that use and DON'T use them. Its cool to hate Microsoft and love apple.

    The market is king not the product, basically iPhone is just another mp3 player with a phone and a camera. The Register is great for waking us up to the weaknesses and strengths of a product but the products are dictated by the users in the marketplace and its us users who need to evolve.

    Start an intervention - spread links like these

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