Apple officials say reception problems customers have been reporting when using the iPhone 4 have nothing to do with the smartphone's antenna design, but rather are because its signal strength wasn't so good to begin with.
In a statement on Apple's Website July 2, Apple spokespeople said company officials were "surprised when we read reports of reception problems, and we immediately began investigating them." What they discovered was that the problems have nothing to do with antenna design, but with how the signal strength is represented on the device.
"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," the Apple statement said. It continued:
""Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don't know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.""
A focus on the lack of signal strength likely won't sit well with partner AT&T, which has repeatedly emphasized the work it has done-and money it has spent-to improve its service.
In June, AT&T acquired wireless assets from Verizon Wirelessfor approximately $2.35 billion, and announced that it plans to invest $18 billion to $19 billion in its network in 2010. The company will spend $2 billion more this year on its wireless network and wire-line backhaul investments than it did in 2009. Additionally, AT&T increased the robustness of its service in four boroughs of population-dense New York City, which has proved to be its most challenging service area.
Apple's discovery, however, may help it dispute lawsuits that have been filed-one in San Francisco against Apple, and another in Maryland against both Apple and AT&T-alleging that Apple was aware of the antenna issue and so has perpetrated "a massive fraud."
In light of its findings, Apple said, it's adopting a new AT&T formula for correlating bars with signal strength and "will issue a free software update within a few weeks that incorporates the corrected formula."
Since the faulty formula is also at work in iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G handsets, the software will be available to them as well.
Despite its discovery, Apple still insisted that "the iPhone 4's wireless performance is the best we have ever shipped." Still not happy? Apple went on to remind customers that if they don't like the iPhone 4, they can always return an undamaged device "within 30 days of purchase for a full refund."
News of Apple's reception issues hasn't escaped AT&T competitor Verizon Wireless, which has been quite successful at poking the duo's weak spots-for example, Verizon's holiday-timed Island of Misfit Toys ad that AT&T asked a court to make Verizon stop airing. That effort was unsuccessful.
As InformationWeek pointed out July 1, Verizon, at the bottom of an ad for the Motorola Droid X running in The New York Times, was again having some fun, adding: "And most importantly, it comes with a double antenna design. The kind that allows you to hold the phone any way you like and use it just about anywhere to make crystal clear calls."
Even Nokia, in a post on its Conversations blog, got in on the act, illustrating the various positions-"the balance," "the cup," "thumb and finger"-one can use while enjoying a Nokia phone.
"Of course, feel free to ignore all of the above because, realistically, you're free to hold your Nokia device any way you like. And you won't suffer any signal loss," the Nokia post concluded. "Cool, huh?"