Thoughts on “Antennagate”

by Nick Wood

Thoughts on “Antennagate”

by Nick Wood on July 20, 2010

Post image for Thoughts on “Antennagate”

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.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom

Fantastic article, infuriates me that the media consistently put hits above telling the public the truth. In fact the iPhone 4 is the only phone I have come across that gets any service in a number of well known known dead spots on my network around my hometown and at work. This more than counters any signal attenuation from my experience.

When all is said and done, the phone is of course not perfect. But in my opinion its by far the best phone on the market today and has far less problems than any other phone I know of.

   

Markus Cousin

Well said! Completely agreed!

   

ethan

don’t you think if they took the complaints with less ego that they could have solved the issue with bumpers and a few buy backs. I think the ego really sets apple up to take it on the chin.

a little humility – they were they ones advertising it as a design feature, to admit the design could cause some to have the issue would have gone a long way. At least what I think.

   

Tom

Spot on.

I think there is also some kind of expectation of Apple. People get annoyed when they don’t make something absolutely perfect. I’m always amazed when people go CRAZY when something Apple puts out doesn’t have feature x, whereas this other device does. Fine, then go buy it. Oh what’s that? You don’t want to buy it because the UI and build quality is crap?

People hold Apple to this impossible standard; they need to make the perfect UI, the perfect build quality and have every feature that you can possibly think of and that’s in every other similar device. Oh and it has to be priced the same as everything else.

I’m in Canada, so I’ll get the iPhone 4. Pretty sure our solid network won’t have any issues with bar-dropping, but we’ll see. Either way, I’ll deal with that one issue for an otherwise near-perfect phone.

   

Grimace

Posts like this are why people hate Apple and their followers, of which I am one. I love Apple, but the antenna issue has me really questioning that love.

Bottom line, the antenna problem is inexcusable. It is not like every other phone. There is a single point of failure that if you touch even lightly with one finger will cause the signal to drop significantly. This death grip business is crap, all it takes is touching the gap.

Your points are just another attempt to absolve Apple of taking responsibility. One, yes there are certainly more important things happening in the work, but that doesn’t give a company the right to screw people out of hundreds of dollars with a faulty phone design. Second, this is in your words the best phone ever made, so the fact that it has serious problems IS news. It is not link-baiting (of which you are guilty of too now). Third, it is a phone first and foremost. If it can’t perform when making calls, what good is it? Finally, the free bumper offer is only through Sept 30. Then what? It is not a long term fix. It only covers up the real problem.

   

Dan Perez

You are missing his point. He admitted that Apple made a mistake, it is just not that big a deal with repsect to all the other features the phone provides. You make it sound like if you accidently touch the “death zone” the call will drop (hint: it doesn’t). This affects a small subset of people who a) don’t use cases, and b) live in low signal areas.

Jobs said that they would re-evaluate the problem and see if they need to extend the bumper. What is implied is that by then there may be a process change in the manufacture of the iPhone, resulting in no longer needing to provide a free bumper.

Apple is not screwing anyone out of hundred of dollars. They offered free cases, and if that doens’t satisfy you, you can return your iPhone for a full refund. I fail to see where they are screwing anyone.

   

Alan Valek

This is such a non-issue, first off, who in the hell even holds a phone that way to talk?! I don’t know, personally I hold it by the sides. This whole issue is sooooo blown out of proportion, but does show the power of the media & consumers at the same time. I’ve had the bars actually go up sometimes using this so-called “gorilla grip.” This shit is bananas. The bigger problem I’ve faced is the proximity sensor issue, which will be fixed shortly. Everybody loves to hate and take you down when you’re on top, poor Apple.

   

Radd

Great piece, thank you.

So tired of the one-sided coverage of this issue from sources that should know better. It never ceases to amaze me how much “other” information was conveniently ignored through all this (like “magic spots” on other phones, not just whole hand coverage… or how “bars” don’t matter as much as “signal-to-noise ratio”) in favor of ranting about this one instance and feigning objectivity.

I’ve gotten more useful information on this topic from those that others would call “fanboys” to their faces while conveniently ignoring their facts, unable to refute them.

Objective tech reporting truly failed these last few weeks… but it has helped me clear out my RSS subscriptions.

   

Sam

Right on, I love the article !
Furthermore its one thing if a blogger’s livelihood depends on just feeding on hype and what a feast it was to finally sink the teeth into Apple … but it is another to take it apparently so personal despite:
1. not owning a iPhone and
2. not having experienced this so called “flaw” themselves and
3. not even having paid a few hundred of dollars in the first place and
4. holding on to the inalienable right to exert some kind of control over Apple and
5. now finally being manipulated to the point of questioning their tough love for Apple ???

Get a life !
… or like Steve Jobs finally replied to a bozo’s email (paraphrasing):
“What great thing did you create lately ?”

   

Steve

“Move your finger and go back to worrying about something important, like the oil-spill that has literally destroyed the entire Gulf of Mexico.”

You’re kidding right? Over the past half decade literally hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians (women and children) have been massacred in Darfur by brutal warlords. What has Smoking Apples been doing in the meantime? Gabbing on and on about their deep affection for all things Apple. By your logic any time a greater problem occurs we should ignore the other frustrations in life yet you yourself do not even actually do this. The antennae issue IS front page news. Apple has built an elitist brand and they act quite secretive. That will cause people to put focus on their flaws whether it’s justified or not.

The iPhone costs thousands of dollars on an annual basis in carrier fees. It’s hard earned money that most folks don’t have in between the seat cushions of their couch. Sorry, but something that expensive should be able to be held in any way without dropping significant signal strength. I’ve never owned a phone in the past that suffered from this issue to this extent. The problem is very real for a lot of people even in good coverage areas. I agree that it’s been overblown to an extent but you wrote this article as if you were Steve Jobs, Nick. You’ve really fallen off the deep end on this one. I get the point of what you’re trying to say in this article but… holy smokes.

   

Phil Olin

This is being blown out of proportion. Where my parents live has limited and depending on the season, no cellular coverage, yet I can still get service with my iPhone 4, even in the “deathgrip.” In fact, I’ve dropped my iPhone more than it has dropped service, and I’ve only dropped it a few times.

   

Doug McConnell

The reason it got blown out of proportion is that Apple was arrogant about it – much the same as this post. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to set yourself up as the design gurus of all design gurus you need to remember antenna design too. Saying ‘all smartphones are the same’ but then charging up the wazoo because yours is ‘the best phone ever’ doesn’t make sense. Obviously it’s not the best phone ever since ‘all phones have the same problem’.

   

Alan Valek

Facts are facts and other phones have done this for years — and still do. Some even have it in the manuals that nobody bothers to read that state if you hold the phone a certain way you will get “attenuation.” It’s funny how people GLOSS straight over the other phones that have the SAME issues. Typical hater mindset.

   

Tom McIn

Very good article. That sucking sound as all the crappy bloggers repeat each others rumors and poor jokes is tiring. Finally, an article that presents all the accurate facts.
As for Steve Jobs initial comments, I can see where someone, having spent a long time at a high level of emotional involvement trying to create the best product he and his staff can, would get a little testy at complainers.
The so called “death grip” would be better named the “monkey grip” to describe the people who only have the finger dexterity to hold their phones one way, don’t have the ability to adjust and chatter incessantly.

   

Mr. Boddit

I agree that, compared to the true horrors that are about in the world today, this is a non-issue. But that is precisely why the mainstream media are riding this hobby horse. It’s a convenient distraction from the news they should be (but are no longer allowed to be) reporting.

Having said that, this is a legitimate issue in the context of a consumer product (a minor aspect of life, to be sure), and for two reasons:
1. It’s called the i-PHONE, not the i-multimedia device. Presumably its first priority is to be a good phone, and to a lot of people — maybe not you, but to others — it’s failing in its primary function, regardless of who is at fault (Apple or AT&T). And all the “fact” are not “out of the way,” actually, judging by the response from the other phone makers who were dinged by Jobs.
2. The way this has been handled by Apple/Steve Jobs has been infuriatingly arrogant, condescending, and in some respects dishonest.

As it stands, Apple/Steve Jobs has managed to basically blow everyone off with a bit of RDF and a free bumper. Can you blame people for keeping this alive, at least on the blogs? (The mainstream media, on the other hand, really should move on to things that are affecting our lives in substantive ways.)

   

Milind Alvares

The common opinion is that the iPhone doesn’t work as a phone. It has been said so many times, that many believe it doesn’t work as a phone at all. Which is in fact far far far from the truth. I don’t own an iPhone 4, nor have I used one, but most of those I know have not ‘suffered’ from this problem. Some have not seen any signal drop by gripping it in any and every way possible, while others have seen it drop bars with just so much as a thumb across the ‘weak spot’. It’s a real technical phenomenon, but it doesn’t have to affect your usage unless you choose to make it your top priority.

It’s like the scratch on your car that didn’t bother you until someone pointed it out. Now people know about this, they find it affecting them too. Every time you hold the iPhone, you’re worried the bars will drop. Every time you see the bars drop you feel there’s a disturbance in your call. Whereas if no one complained you would probably just blame the call quality on the spotty area you’re talking from, as you would on another phone — which is probably the reason for this happening.

I don’t speak out of experience; I haven’t used nor seen an iPhone 4. I yearn to, but it’ll be a while. The technical problem is real, that the weak spot is placed badly or maybe too prominent — our fingers usually tend to subconsciously find these features. Maybe they’ll change the design slightly in the next revision. But till then, I do believe — judging by the reports — that it’s not by any measure as big an issue as it’s made out to be. And if you’re still unsatisfied, you can still return it for no loss.

Most of all, be glad you can hold an iPhone 4 different than have no iPhone 4 to hold at all.

   

matthias

ROCK ON! :-)
I’m eagerly waiting for the release in Belgium!

   

Nick

a phone that doesn’t work when held a certain way??..i am glad i never wasted my money on one..i suppose it would be in bad form to mention how many dual g5 towers died a premature death due to bad motherboard design or failed cpus?

   

MacGuy

You guys are awesome, this is the kind of article that I have been waiting for… Too much of my RSS feeds have neglected to realize the trivial importance of this problem. Like Steve Jobs said, just hold it a different way. This is not a matter of arrogance or fanboyism, it’s a response to the irrational and immature tantrums that the media has been throwing at Apple.

   

Lalit

I agree, we have found our own unique way of solving this issue, linked for your reference.

   

Nick Wood

So I’d just like to follow up on this article (not going to pick fights here). I’d like to thank those that feel the same way as me for showing support; I knew I wasn’t the only one that felt this way. Apple clearly cares about their phones and the way that their customers use them, but this probably registered as a non-issue with them because, let’s face it, it IS a non-issue. I’ve yet to drop a call, and the only thing about the death-grip that I notice is that bars drop, yet I can still use the thing for all of its intended purposes. The idea that iPhone 4 is “a phone that doesn’t work when held a certain way” is just blowing this out of the water.

   

Chris Masterson

Great article. It reflects exactly how I feel and I like how it responds to pretty much everything people (and the media, manily) have said. Even though this problem is real, it’s definitely not what the media puts it to be. Apple has no elegant way to fix the problem and they are (and have been) making the best phones on the market.

   

Vinay Chavan

Very well said…. This is the basic thing with every release of Apple products… people try to find problems in the products simply because Apple is so good at product quality!! People who don’t even understand how antenna works even they are adding some articles on net to gain net traffic. If you want to get famous, talk about famous…if you don’t know what to talk just talk something bad about famous!!

   

kizedek

“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.”

Another obvious reason for this is, once again, to manipulate the stock price. Suddenly, all the analysts are coming right back out and saying how wonderful Apple is and how this really no big deal after all. Seems like they just wanted the usual drop in stock price and predictable gain after, as usual, another great quarterly conference call.

   

smakus

I live in a coverage area that nets me about 3 bars at any given time. The phone works pretty well for the most part, however if I happen to accidentally *TOUCH* the borderline that separates the two antennas (creating a bridge, which leads to interference), my signal drops two bars within a matter of seconds, and the call will drop. Perhaps my skin is more conductive than others, but whatever it is, it happens. It clearly happens to *many* users, otherwise this problem would not have surfaced.

No other phone I’ve ever used had a problem like this. To claim otherwise is ignorance, prejudice, or the simple fact that you live in an area with great coverage, so the attenuation doesn’t affect you. Regardless, it’s a REAL problem, and one that Apple is (thankfully) finally addressing, even if it is in the tone of annoyed arrogance – which to many, is the source of the rabid anger surrounding this issue.

   

Zerocool

Milind, you are a retard. Don’t even have an iPhone, and you defend it blindly. Apple screwed up, plain and simple. This phone drops calls by touching it. Wake up, douche bags.

   

Arnout

Nick, I don’t comment often on websites, but I just love your post. It really is a first-world, materialistic, luxury problem. Thanks for putting your thought on the web.

   

achikochi

iPhone haters or not, the phone drop call. The iphone 4 is currently the best device.

   

Yosh

There must be variation in the quality of iP4′s to account for the wide difference in experience. My iP4 drops the call every time within about 20 seconds if I bridge the antenna. Fortunately, the bumper mostly fixes this. However, I get more dropped calls with my iP4 than my old iPhone by a long shot. I never had dropped calls at home with my old iPhone, but almost always get them now. My wife has my old iPhone and she has no dropped call problem at home so it can’t be the AT&T network.

   

cjred

antennagate is overated…i don’t even have this issue in my iphone 4

   

Yosh

That’s my point CJRED. I think the performance discrepancies between users are dependent on variations in the phone or some other set of variables. Clearly, for some users such as me, the performance is unquestionably worse than the older iPhone 3G.

   

John

There are many more problems with the iphone 4. Antenna, white balance problems, back cammera not working, and other problems that are not addressed. Also I don’t want a case on my iphone. Why should I have to cover up my $200 iphone that I pay $70 a month for.

   

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