iPhone Antenna Flaw: Apple Remains in Denial

News Analysis: Apple is continuing to face criticism from product reviewers and engineers about the poor performance of the iPhone 4's antenna. However, it appears that Apple is stubbornly determined to rely on spin to minimize the public perception of the problem rather than to deliver a real solution. Even Apple's mighty reputation will suffer for it.

I can only assume that life for Steve Jobs is getting worse by the day. At least it must be if he cares about the image of Apple as a provider of quality products, or if he cares about treating his customers openly and fairly. But it's also possible that he doesn't care at all as long as he's hailed for creating the coolest products on the planet. As long as it's cool, who cares if it works?

Of course, we don't know what Jobs is really thinking, although his public responses to the iPhone 4's antenna problem sound a lot more like spin than they sound like real concern. Reception problems? All phones have reception problems. Inconvenient placement for the antenna insulator? Hold it differently or spend another 30 bucks for a case. The list goes on, as P.J. Connolly points out in his blog entry.

The problem is that the list of Apple's excuses goes on and on. It must be software. You must be holding it wrong. It can't possibly burst into flames. I suspect the next spin attempt will be to suggest that the engineers at Consumer Reports don't know how to test phones (which is what the comments from the Apple fanbois are already saying). The fact is, however, that Apple screwed up and is loath to admit it.

When I examined the design of the iPhone 4's antenna, I pointed out at the time that the choice of a location for the plastic insulator between the two antennas that are formed by the outside metal band of the device was going to cause usability problems. The reason is easy enough to see if you understand how antennas work, whether they're attached to your smartphone or your car radio.

To work in the proper frequency range, an antenna must be a specific physical length. There are a lot of ways that this can be done, and there are ways that you can make an antenna appear to be a different length than its measurements might indicate, but it still comes down to one fact that's dictated by the physics of antennas-that is, if you change the length of the antenna, you will change the characteristics. If an antenna is tuned properly for one set of frequencies, and you make it longer or shorter, it won't work as well.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...