16 Comments

Summary:

Some iPhone 4 handsets appear to be suffering from signal degradation — but only when held in the left hand. Could Apple’s new stainless steel frame that doubles as an antenna be the culprit? Take our poll and let us know if you’ve seen this issue.

Unlike many other people, I passed up both the pre-orders and the lines to purchase an iPhone 4. Throughout the day, I felt a tug of remorse, but I’m quite happy with the Google Nexus One I use on a daily basis. But any sad thoughts were quelled after reading a number of accounts of the device losing its cellular signal when held in the left hand, which just so happens to be how I use my phone.

Based on videos and user comments on various sites, the issue appears to be directly related one of the newest design features of the iPhone 4 — the stainless steel frame that doubles as antennae for the phone’s radios. As I understand it, completing a circuit between the left side and the bottom side of the frame causes major signal degradation, but not on all units. Without an iPhone 4, I can’t test it, of course. Some people report that adding a rubber bumper, which Apple sells for $29, resolves the issue. But if this is indeed a problem, I’d call it a major design flaw.

Related content on GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Is an iPhone- and Android-Only World the Best We Can Do?

  1. Yes I’m having this issue. Hope a fix comes or my bumper case solved issue when arrives

    Share
  2. I went into apple store and replicates the reception problem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3IIGyfB3PI

    Share
  3. Kevin,
    Not sure you knew the latest news. Steve Jobs responded to a customer “Just avoid holding it in that way”.
    Way to go Steve Jobs, thanks for telling us how to hold the phone , the Apple way.

    This is going to cause “some headache” to Geniuses at the Apple stores. Poor guys have to explain one and his neighbor how to hold the phone in Apple way.

    Rest as we know is History. Apple now reinvented holding the phone.

    And BTW you are not missing any, that Nexus One is GUD.

    Share
  4. mine doesn’t show the ‘bars’ or reception issues even when i bridge the gap with my hand or hold it along the left/lower edges.

    it may just be that the capacitive effect of the human hand modifies the effective complex impedance and hence the electrical-length of the antenna. I doubt it is a ‘short’ across the metal gap. Apple’s bad luck that it modifies the antenna gain pattern in a weird way to reduce received RF energy.

    GSM 800-960 MHz band means wavelengths around 30cm and a quarter wave antenna length around 7-8cm (1800MHz band = 15cm, l/4=4cm) – kinda similar to the human hand so potentially messes up the pattern (mutual impedance – effectively the human hand is a ‘good’ GSM antenna in close proximity to the iPhone antenna where ‘close’ means a fraction of a wavelength) . Design simulations (with HP MDS tool for example) would have readily shown that… Maybe Apple did know all this and thats why they had talked about multi-colored rubber ‘bands’ at the June 7 launch which was kinda odd now that I think about that…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antenna_(radio) has a section on Ground Effect that could be another explanation (human hand supplies a dielectric ‘ground’ too close to the antenna…

    There are plenty of RF experts around the Bay Area — please chime in.

    Share
  5. Bridging the gap results in my 5 bars going down to 4 or maybe 3. I’ve yet to have it drop a call or anything though.

    Share
  6. My wife’s iPhone 4 (I’m waiting for white — SHUT UP, I THINK IT LOOKS COOL) consistently has fewer bars than my 3GS. But, this being Florida, it goes from 5 bars down to 2 or 3 — still usable. In SF, or NY, I’d be worried. In those cities, every bar is sacred, every bar is great. If if a bar is wasted, God gets quite irate.

    Share
  7. One thing I have noticed on my iPhone 4 is much better WiFi reception. I upgraded from the 3G, so I don’t know if it is better than the 3GS would have been.

    Share
  8. Don’t have, and don’t ever want to get an iPhone

    Share
  9. I’m starting to think that apple knew about this and was probably too late to make any changes, and decided to “fix” the issue by coming out with the Bumper. Remember Apple use to never make cases but now all of a sudden they do.

    Share
    1. That could be, Chase. My thought = Apple should supply every iPhone 4 with a free bumper instead of charging $29 for one.

      Share
  10. [...] 2, 2010, 6:24am PDT No Comments       Apple today released a statement on the widely reported iPhone 4 antenna issue, and plans to offer a software update within the next few weeks to address the problem. The [...]

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post