When users first began complaining about the iPhone 4’s reception issues-namely, that touching the device’s exterior antenna rim seemed to kill its signal-Apple’s initial response was succinct: Hold the phone differently, or buy a bumper for it.
“Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas,” Apple wrote in a June 25 statement. “If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of the many available cases.”
But the idea of purchasing a $29 bumper through Apple, after shelling out either $199 or $299 for the iPhone 4 with a two-year plan, did not seem to compute with many users, who continued to complain on a variety of message forums. Perhaps in response to this, Apple issued another missive-this one insisting that the iPhone’s issues were software-related, not hardware.
“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,” Apple wrote in a July 2 statement posted on its corporate Website. “Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays two more bars than it should for a given signal strength.” In the company’s offered example, this means an iPhone is liable to display four bars’ worth of signal strength when it should be displaying as few as two bars.
The company promised a software fix within the next few weeks. But will a patch solve the initial antenna issue?
The answer could very well be “No.”
Tech blogs such as Gizmodo have been calling AppleCare this week, and were apparently told that the software patch will not rectify any underlying antenna troubles-but it will display any resulting reception dips with more accuracy. “We called AppleCare three times today to confirm it,” Gizmodo Editor Jesus Diaz wrote in a July 6 post.
In an inevitable twist of events, the iPhone 4’s supposed antenna issues has generated lawsuits. In combination with supply problems and a meltdown of Apple’s and AT&T’s ordering systems on the iPhone 4’s first day of presale availability, some analysts are wondering whether Apple’s brand has been tarnished.
“While the channel supply issues might not impact total iPhone sales for the entire year, what is happening now certainly has done some damage to the Apple brand,” Tina Teng, an analyst with iSuppli, wrote in a June 29 research note. “Consumers, questioning Apple’s supply chain management capability, have started looking for alternate devices. In particular, customers [are] not satisfied with Apple’s response to the antenna issue causing poor reception and dropped calls.”
Despite that, iSuppli predicts that iPhone 4 shipments in 2010 will total 21.7 million units, or 51 percent of total iPhone shipments for the year.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of iSuppli’s analyst. The analyst’s name is Tina Teng.