Archive for Antennas
Apple has been taking a lot of flack recently for reception problems with the iPhone 4—much of it for denying a problem that was immediately obvious to iPhone users. Steve Jobs’ reaction to being told about dropping calls when you hold the phone a certain way was reportedly, “Just avoid holding it in that way.”
“Doctor, my arm hurts when I move it like this.” “Well, don’t move it like that.”
Yesterday Apple finally acknowledged the problem and attributed it to a longstanding software error:
“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… 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… We will issue a free software update within a few weeks that incorporates the corrected formula.”
That explanation is complete b.s., and for reasons we’ll explain in a moment, Apple apparently knows it. Judging from the angry reaction in the blogosphere, tech savvy iPhone users who’ve experienced the problem aren’t buying it either.
Hire More Engineers, Not PR People!
The problem is the result of external antennas that wrap around the case—one for Bluetooth/Wi-Fi/GPS that goes down the left-hand side of the case and another for UMTS/GSM that wraps around the rest. The stainless steel antenna band lacks any insulation, which makes touching it a very bad idea.
The dramatic drop is signal levels occurs when you cup the phone in your hand in what’s now referred to as the Death Grip. Note in the photo above that the user’s hand is touching the lower left side of the iPhone, which where the two antennas terminate. Antennas are conductive devices, and so are people, especially people with sweaty palms. When you wrap your hand around the phone you connect both antennas, completely detuning them and providing a very effective ground path, your being essentially—with all due respect—a big bag of water.
It’s a miracle that any signal gets through, but some still does. Both Gizmodo, who inadvertently got a look at the first iPhone 4, and Anandtech have done excellent analyses of the iPhone’s reception problem, and there’s no doubt it’s the result of an uninsulated external antenna. Their results (table) show clearly that reception varies directly and dramatically depending on how you hold the phone. The higher penalty you pay compared to the iPhone 3GS, with its internal antenna, is equally dramatic.
Anandtech’s review is detailed, entertaining and highly recommended reading for anyone interested in antenna design—or who just enjoys a good detective story.
Meanwhile, while denying that it has an antenna problem, Apple has posted a job listing for “Antenna Engineer – iPad/iPhone”. Welcome to cognitive dissonance.
Until Apple can hire that engineer to fix their antenna problem, there’s a cheaper solution than the $29 rubber case they’re pushing as the solution: Livestrong wristbands that sell for $1 apiece.
Livestrong bands are available from Livestrong.org, a nonprofit foundation started by Lance Armstrong in 1997 to help people fight cancer. Proceeds from the sale of the yellow bands are used to fund its cancer survivor and support programs.
Wrap a snappy yellow Livestrong band around your iPhone 4 and you simultaneously solve your reception problem, make a fashion statement and help fight cancer. It doesn’t get better than that.