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Summary:

Apple CEO Steve Jobs takes tremendous pride in his public performances, and it pays off. His product presentations are usually seamless and even hypnotic. But today at WWDC, one glitch almost took Jobs down: too many Wi-Fi networks due to attendees packing their own.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs takes tremendous pride in his public performances, and it pays off. His product presentations are usually seamless and even hypnotic. Even today at WWDC, when faced with a crowd that already knew much of what he was going to say before he said it thanks to Gizmodo, which got ahold of an iPhone 4 prototype that was left in a bar, Jobs was able to highlight still-secret features like a high-resolution screen in a way that left his trademark effect of a crowd desperately desiring his new product.

But one glitch almost took Jobs down. He couldn’t connect his live iPhone demo to the network using Wi-Fi because there were so many Wi-Fi networks in the room. Jobs blamed his audience, saying his tech team detected 570 separate Wi-Fi base stations. Those include MiFi cards and Sprint’s new EVO 4G phone, which can create shareable Wi-Fi hotspots based on mobile Internet. There wasn’t a Plan B, it seemed, so Jobs resorted to telling people to put their laptops down on the floor and police each other. Apple employees started circulating through the audience asking anyone who was using a computer to turn off the Wi-Fi and stop using their machines.

The real problem, it seemed, wasn’t attendees connecting to the open Wi-Fi network, but bringing their own networks as backup — something that has become a necessity, especially for bloggers and reporters, as the Wi-Fi at conferences including Apple’s is almost always slow, crappy or nonexistent. (I’ll admit I had both a MiFi and an EVO 4G on me, though the latter was being saved for backup.)

“I think bloggers have a right to blog, but if you want to see the demos, we’re not going to be able to do it,” said Jobs from the stage.

The thing is, access problems from mobile devices are a point of weakness for Apple. AT&T, the iPhone’s network of choice, has notoriously bad U.S. 3G coverage, and probably 95 percent of people in the room had iPhones. As soon as Jobs started having network problems, the crowd (that had given him a standing ovation just for coming on stage) seemed to feel the thrill of poetic justice.

When Jobs ran into error messages and slow-loading pages from his demo phone, he called out “Scott,” to Scott Forstall, the company’s senior VP of iOS Software, “you got any suggestions?” Multiple audience members shouted back in response “Verizon!” — referring to the network that often has more reliable coverage, especially here in San Francisco. Jobs took the bait, breaking the fourth wall to reply, “We’re actually on Wi-Fi here.”

Jobs didn’t let the subject go, either, even after the presentation got back on track, taking every opportunity to complain about the Wi-Fi. It wasn’t clear exactly what the actual Wi-Fi issue was, but it seemed that his demo iPhone may have had trouble staying connected to the Wi-Fi network it was supposed to be attached to given there were so many other options around. (If anyone can better diagnose the problem let me know.)

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  1. 500+ WiFi access points (with different SSID) beaconing and trying to grab rather limited spectrum is not going to end well. In my experience with office buildings, after a dozen or two in close proximity, you start having drastic drops in the bandwidth available, unless you very carefully monitor the channel usage. Scale that to 500, and it’s a disaster. It’s not an Apple issue, but an issue with unlicensed spectrum and how various devices behave within it.

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    1. OK, fair point, but here’s a question that I’m not sure any of the bloggers have asked:

      “Did anyone else have any problems with the WiFi?”

      Seriously, Engadget managed a consistent stream as did several other outlets so is the problem an Apple issue or was it more widespread?

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      1. I didn’t have a problem with the Wi-Fi. I turned off my MiFi when they asked and was able to keep blogging from the open signal.

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      2. cartman7110 Tuesday, June 8, 2010

        here’s the reason why Engadget did not had problems nor interrupted the demo –

        “11:06AM Thanks 3G card!

        11:05AM Guess what — we’re not doing that.

        11:05AM He’s asking people to set their laptops on the floor.”

        The interferrance was on 802.11/Wifi/Mifi not HSDPA or 3G Cellular Data.

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  2. With only X number of WiFi channels to go around (12 or 14 I think it is), those frequencies are gonna get pretty clogged and bogged down.

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  3. [...] via Steve Jobs Survives Gizmodo, But Not MiFi. [...]

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  4. [...] dare to say?) “마이크로소프트 삘 난다”라는 느낌이 들었다. 실제로, wi-fi 연결 상태가 안 좋아 잡스의 데모 중에 여러번 끊기면서 진행이 어려운…. 어디선가 많이 들어본… 그리고 기능과 기술을 강조한다. “어떤 [...]

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  5. If so many devices were sharing the wifi, why didn’t they just switch the phones to AT&T’s 3G network?

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    1. 3G would have been slower, offering a sub-optimal demo. And with so many iPhones and iPads in the audience, 3G would have been as messed up as WiFi, if not more so.

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  6. I like that new phone, very Zune HD like !

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    1. Troll much?

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  7. This is pretty simple physics. WiFi operates in fairly narrow bandwidths around 2.4GHz and 5GHz (depending on flavor). With 500+ active WiFi networks in the room, those narrow channels would have been overfilled by a long shot. Even with a very close base station and receiver, you’d have massive signal interference.

    Perhaps a solution in the future is a wired iPhone, though that would require some significant hardware tricks to pull that off and the results would not be fairly representative of a WiFi experience.

    About the only thing they could really do is frisk everyone coming into the hall and ban people with WiFi devices. But that’s just crazy.

    The REAL SOLUTION is to provide the event as a live video and audio feed to the world. Then bloggers and reporters would not have to be physically in attendance to get the news. We would need live blogs – we could all just watch.

    Perhaps this flubbed demo will be a catalyst for getting Apple to provide the event as a live stream.

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    1. Meant to say “We WOULDN”T need live blogs” above. Whoops!

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      1. I like that idea, but I think they bank on the viral-icity (sorry, couldn’t come up with an appropriate alternative) of blogging. It’d be an interesting statistic to see…how many viewers of live keynote versus live blog-streams…not to mention the streams are “free” whereas live keynote could cost lots of money in terms of servers, and something WORSE could go wrong (like it just stopping).

        It’s a bitter sweet issue…and ultimately, this was the first negative review I’ve read of the situation. I think most people who are objective or Apple fans give Jobs some cushion, and the people who want to point out Apple’s few flaws to use a red herring to draw people away from their products are going to troll and complain about something. It’s the nature of failing. :)

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        1. There is tremendous demand for a video live stream (not that it would cancel out the value of text updates). For a long time, the single-highest number of simultaneous streams on a bunch of live video services was from illicit Steve Jobs keynote videos (e.g. from Qik on a cell phone). It was funny, each time you asked a company about its peak usage, they’d mention a recent Jobs speech. I’m sure that has changed as live video has grown, but regardless a live WWDC stream would be a blockbuster.

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  8. Okay. uhm what about iphone FLASH!!?!?

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    1. Drop the iPhone flash crap. It isn’t going to happen deal with it!

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  9. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. iPhones, iPads, and iMacs are notoriously bad at finding a Wi-Fi network and staying properly attached when other options are available. Kinda reminds you of college boys in the sorority house.

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    1. Really, never had a problem at all so they can’t be that notorious.

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    2. The signal strength on my iPad could be a little more reassuring, but I have never had problems finding wifi networks with any of my Apple products, and my Black Macbook is truly amazing because the polycarbonate case does not block signals like the aluminum cases.

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    3. @ photogoofer Monday, June 7, 2010

      I’ve never had a problem getting a wifi signal with either my iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. As a matter of fact, I always carried my personal MacBook as a backup because my Dell (company supplied) was notorious for not logging onto wireless access. Must be a Windows thing…

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      1. TWiT Commander Monday, June 7, 2010

        There’s something about wifi. I have two exactly same Toshiba laptops running Windows 7. One will connect to my Time Capsule without complaints. The other one refuses to connect. Always times out. May be it’s a chip issue – undetected defects in specific batches.

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      2. I’m coming over to your place, then. My iPad drops connections like they’re bad habits.

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    4. That’s pure BS….I use the Imac, Ipad, Iphone and none of them have issues staying connected to my network….If you’re going to make stuff up go ahead but it just makes you look stupid…

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    5. wow, really? i have a 2009 macbook pro and its ability to stay connected on wifi is somewhere between subpar and at best nothing special. why is some portion of the apple base so cult-like and fanatical – attacking anyone who makes a negative comment?

      it’s funny and sort of sad to see people so attached to a corporate entity. i guess it’s not any different or less rational than grown men cheering for a sports team like it really matters.

      all good, i generally like my mac.

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      1. Hey back off guy! Only one person was somewhat personal or attacking in their reaction. All the others gave a reasonable response stating a lack of issue with the WiFi situations.

        Don’t over generalise. I might also point out that it was the number one nerd that badly generalised by stating that all Apple products are NOTORIOUSLY bad at connecting. So I think you should direct your caring reponse elsewhere.

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    6. That’s total BS… I have no issues and don’t know anyone that does!

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      1. I have a Macbook Pro and iPhone (both work issued) and a personal Win XP laptop that is 7 years old. At home the Macbook can barely keep up the connection on for more than 10 min. Though the iPhone and Win XP laptop sitting right next the Mac never drops connection.
        If you search for Mac wifi problems you will see many complaints about it.

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      2. more Wi-Fi problems here… extra frustrating on my 2007 macbook

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  10. [...] glitch Steve Jobs had towards the end of his demo, where he was unable to demonstrate some features because of too many wifi networks in the room. It’s an interesting technical challenge, though one without a great solution. You’d [...]

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