My thoughts on "Antennagate"

Posted by NZgeek | Filed under

It's been a while since I posted (mostly thanks to a complete lack of my own computer at home… more about that another time), but this whole iPhone antenna debacle has got me a bit peeved.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few months, Apple's new iPhone 4 has a problem with signal reception. The issue lies with the fact that the phone uses series of metal areas around the phone as external antennae. When you close one of the gaps between these antennae (the one near the bottom of the left side of the phone), you get a marked signal decrease. It doesn’t take much to bridge this gap – a single finger will do the job nicely.

Apple denied the existence of this problem for weeks, until Consumer Reports in the US did some proper research and found that the problem did in fact exist. So Apple set up an emergency press conference to talk about the issue.

To give Apple some credit, Steve Jobs did come out and say that there was a problem, and even pointed to the problem area. He also said that all iPhone 4 customers would get a rubber "bumper" case to put around the phone, to insulate the problem area. However, things start getting a bit messy from here.

Rather than just leaving the problem at that, Jobs stated that all smart phones have a problem where you can kill reception by holding them the right way. To demonstrate this issue, he showed videos of several different phones from different manufacturers, and all of them had drops in signal strength when you cup the phone in your hand.

The big problem with this "revelation" is that it's not really an issue. It comes down to simple physics. The antennae in all of these phones are internal, so if you shield the body of the phone you'll get a drop in signal. The human hand acts nicely as a shield, so it's not exactly surprising that when you cup the phone you'll lose some of your signal.

Another problem is that while all phones showed fewer "bars" of signal, there's no defined standard of what "1 bar" of signal means. Going from 4 out of 5 bars of signal down to 2 might be a huge drop, or it might be fairly little. There's just no way to tell.

The only thing I can surmise from the press conference is that Mr. Jobs is madly trying to save face, and is not afraid to fling excrement at the other manufacturers in order to do so. As far as business tactics go, this is juvenile and hopefully the media sees it for exactly what it is. Viva la compétition!

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