Thoughts on “Antennagate”

by Nick Wood

Thoughts on “Antennagate”

by Nick Wood on July 20, 2010

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There sure have been a lot of words going around about this iPhone antenna problem, referred to by some as “Antennagate,” and now it’s only fair that we weigh in. It’s been on national news here in the United States, taking up 30 minute blocks of air time on networks such as CNN and Fox News. It’s a big damn deal. And it shouldn’t be.

I’d be very surprised if anyone reading here at SA didn’t know all about the situation, or have an opinion on it, and I’d even be surprised if any of you haven’t had to explain what’s happening to a coworker or a family member. But here it is in short: The iPhone 4’s external antenna design has the potential to drop data upload and download if you hold it in a very specific, yet also very common way. This also has the potential to cause the device to drop calls (What? Yeah no, it’s also a phone. No, seriously).

A few different fixes and bits of information have come down the line regarding this issue. When people started noticing this problem soon after the device was released, it was the butt of a lot of jokes. “Loses bars if you hold it, gets lost in bars if you don’t” was a pretty popular one. But then it soon became apparent that this issue wasn’t going away, and probably wasn’t software related.  People began to complain, bigger groups started to take notice, and it eventually made it to the news. Apple had to say something, so they came out with a lighthearted statement saying that the formula used to calculate how many bars you had was actually wrong all along, and that you were seeing more than were actually available. They said a soon-to-come software update would not only fix this formula, but also show bars on screen that looked physically bigger.

This first response was not taken well at all. Some people saw it as Apple removing the software-sugarcoat on AT&T’s bad network, others saw the bigger bars as a fake move to make it seem like you had better coverage. All in all, this was probably a bad move for Apple, though they stood by it, even through their Friday press conference. People saw the move as just a stunt, and seemed almost like a slap in the face for their users, saying that the problem isn’t a problem and doesn’t exist anyway. Hold it differently.

Right about here was when the whole situation became radically overblown. This is when we started seeing huge news reports regarding the situation, Senators writing letters to Apple demanding that the company fix the phone, and, perhaps most notably, Consumer Reports putting a do-not-buy rating on this, their highest rated smartphone ever.

Last Friday, July 16 2010, Apple held a short press conference that started with Apple saying, literally, “We’re not perfect.” Steve Jobs demonstrated that lots of phone have this problem, but not as easily demonstrated due to one thing or another. He showed off a few pictures of Apple’s top-of-the-line testing facilities, showing that Apple does, in fact, test all of their products before shipping. But perhaps best for consumers, Apple offered free cases to iPhone 4 owners through September 30th at the very least. The inclusion of a free case helps the issue, because it breaks contact between the antenna and the hand, causing the antenna to stay unobstructed. Free bumpers from Apple and a few other cases from third parties will be available for free this week.

So now that all the facts are out of the way, It becomes apparent that I need to lay out why this issue has caused me so much damn stress over the last few weeks.  First of all, this situation is the very definition of a first world problem. So your luxury smartphone—literally, the best that money can buy—has a minor problem if you hold it a certain way. Okay then.  Move your finger and go back to worrying about something important, like the oil-spill that has literally destroyed the entire Gulf of Mexico. Seriously? This is front page, half-hour-block-of-television important? Excuse me, but go fuck yourself. You don’t have to own this phone.  Oh what, you would rather use the iPhone 4 than any other device? Then shut up about the antenna and continue to go about your every day life. This is, without a doubt, the most infuriating thing about the whole “Antennagate” situation.

Secondly, the reason that people are doing this is so blindingly evident that it hurts not to say it. This, my friends, is link-baiting at its finest.  Every time someone posts something about the antenna online, especially if it’s a high-profile company or blog, their traffic has to simply triple. Apple releases an amazing new product, people take notice in about a week, post anything about it to get page views. This happens every single time something comes out of Cupertino. The post from Consumer Reports is especially insidious, because of the fact that it’s their highest-rated smartphone. Ever.

Thirdly, and this comes down more to personal fanboyish opinion, but a part of me believes that this phone is not only the best phone in the market, but almost the perfect phone. It’s fast, it’s beautiful, it’s thin, the screen is amazing, it’s got easy video-calling, it has a fantastic camera, and the design of the OS is literally top notch. Besides a few very small software-based (read: fixable) issues, this phone is the pinnacle of mobile phones. So what’s wrong with it?  There has to be something wrong with it. Besides the fact that there’s an Apple logo on the back, the only issue is the same issue that all mobile phones have, but this time it’s slightly more pronounced, and only affects certain iPhones, in low coverage areas, when held a certain way. We’ve seen so many reports of people — SA’s Brandon in Japan for instance — who have had absolutely no issues with bar dropping.

Finally, Apple has offered free cases to you.  A case that would cost around $20 to $30 is now going to be free to you.  It’ll protect your phone, and it’ll cause you to never drop signal again. It’s free. It’s yours. It fixes the problem, though perhaps not the best of solutions. This is the best they could do, and even then it’s better than any other company this large would be willing to offer in this situation.

[tweetmeme]Take it from me, an iPhone 4 owner and skeptic: The fact this phone has an antenna that occasionally drops data has not affected my usage of the phone in any way. I haven’t dropped a call, I’ve always got internet service, and it always works. Sure, the bars visibly drop, but I’m not alone in saying that this phone just plain works, and that’s why there’s an Apple logo on the back of this gorgeous, functional device.

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