Monday, July 12, 2010

The iPhone 4 antenna problem: An overreaction?

Earlier today, Consumer Reports Magazine reported that it gave the iPhone 4 its "Not Recommended" rating because of the problems with signal drop-off and lost calls when holding the phone so that both antennas are bridged together. Consumer Reports tested the iPhone 4 in its own facilities using its own cell tower simulator and other testing equipment. The problem has been duplicated by many other testers, so let's get a few points out of the way:
  1. The problem is real and affects anyone using an iPhone 4 in an area that doesn't have a strong AT&T signal.
  2. Even though the FCC doesn't require that cell phones be held during testing, Apple should have done its own tests well before the iPhone 4 shipped.
  3. The software fix proposed by Apple to "correct" the number of bars of signal strength that are displayed has nothing to do with the antenna problem. It won't fix the signal attenuation caused by holding the phone "the wrong way."
Apple screwed up badly and hasn't helped itself with its proposed fix. However, Consumer Reports also said that it fixed the problem with a strip of duct tape, and that leaving the antenna issue aside, the iPhone 4 is perhaps the best smart phone it's ever tested. So, if you can fix the problem with $0.01 worth of adhesive tape, it it really all that much of a problem?

In my opinion, there's been a massive overreaction to an overall minor problem. Consumer Reports wants Apple to give every iPhone 4 owner a free bumper, and Apple could surely come up with something a lot less expensive than the $29 bumpers that it's selling. (Recently-published testing showed that the $29 bumpers eliminate the antenna problem but provide no real protection for the phone, so something lighter and much cheaper should work as well.) The best thing that Apple can do is to announce a real fix, a timetable for implementation, and the process for requesting or distributing the fix.



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