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Summary:

Acknowledging Gizmodo’s capture of an iPhone 4 in the wild, Steve made a point of singling out the gaps between the stainless steel bands to which there had been much speculation across the blogosphere as to their function.

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At WWDC, Steve Jobs all but begged the audience to take as close of a look as possible at the little notches separating the stainless steel bands that surround the newly announced iPhone 4. Acknowledging Gizmodo’s capture of an iPhone 4 in the wild, Steve made a point of singling out the gaps between the stainless steel bands to which there had been much speculation across the blogosphere as to their function.

“It turns out, this is part of some brilliant engineering,” Steve tells the world at WWDC, “which actually uses the stainless steel band as part of the antenna system.” Little did Steve know that he was asking the world to take special notice of what was soon to become a much bigger issue that no one at that time could have possibly imagined.

So how could one of the world’s top engineering companies have missed such a prevalent usability issue like the now infamous ‘grip of death’? By also being one of the worlds most secretive companies. It may just be a matter that the secrecy at all costs finally took its toll on Apple. It is very likely that since most smart phones today try to mimic the iPhone that no one would have noticed the new iPhone 4 form factor from Apple during its pre-release field testing. But for extra measure, it is even more likely that they were all issued cases that helped conceal the identity of the phone even further. One can only imagine the feeling that all field engineers at Apple had on that fateful Monday morning in April as they all frantically ran looking for their field test unit. The question is, what happened next?

Was field testing cut short? Was it interrupted at all? Were the cases used throughout field testing what prevented engineers from discovering the antenna issue that now haunts Apple? It is very likely that something happened and that field testing was impacted in some way due to the media frenzy that ensued from April all the way up to the announcement at WWDC. Although engineers were likely not able to reproduce the same death grip on the test units that consumers can all too readily reproduce today, they all likely had their own implementation of a death grip on the phones throughout the remainder of the testing activities that led up to the June release. The most plausible scenario would be that the use of cases to help conceal the identity of the new iPhone prevented data from reaching Apple as to the ill effects of handling the phone in certain positions.

When it comes to conducting field tests, perhaps someone should have told Apple, “just don’t test it that way.”

  1. Yep, if Apple wasn’t so unnecessarily secretive, they would have nipped this problem in the bud. But with all of their engineers going around with stupid “disguise cases” on their iPhone 4’s to make them all look like iPhone 3’s, no engineer in the field was ever actually TOUCHING the iPhone 4 to begin with. Ridiculous. Seems like Apple is losing sight of the big picture here. Just about ever major product release from Apple has some major bug in it, and it’s all because they’re soooo secretive about everything.

    1. Whats ridiculous is kids like you assuming that is how it was tested. Even more ridiculous is your silly statement that every major Apple release has had some “major bug”.

  2. No, this doesn’t fly. Before the phone even came out, numerous engineers were speculating about whether putting the antenna on the outside was a good idea, as touching it could cause problems.

    Are you telling me that the engineers at Apple are dumber than all those others who thought about it being a possible problem? Are you suggesting that Apple, who hires the best talent in the world, hired a bunch of engineers who didn’t think about the fact that touching the antenna could be a problem? I assure you they thought about it, and tested it.

    Unfortunately, that is actually worse, because it points to the idea that Apple knew it was an issue. Maybe it was too far along in the process to change it. I don’t know.

    1. I had no intention to tarnish the skills or knowledge of Apple Engineers. What I meant to point out was that sometimes the prioritization of company core values can be contradictory. Depending on which ideal you set above the other, consequences will ensue. The article is purely speculative as to a probable root cause based solely on external observations.

  3. The description of what happened during pre-release field testing sounds very believable, and if it’s actually true I’d consider it an innocent error on Apple’s part. What’s not so innocent is the way they’ve handled the issue since the phone got into customers’ hands. If Apple’s thinking was that they need do nothing because the sales were so strong, that’s not cool; and telling their customers not to use the product the way many of them want to use it is worse still. I’m basically an Apple fanboi but I’m not happy about this situation.

  4. If the engineers did not want anyone to see what the new phone looked like, and so wrapped it in a case at all times, it is possible that no one ever bothered to perform this bizarre grip test because my understanding is that you need to hold it in a very specific way, and that anyone who has a case on their iphone does not have this problem.

    I have no use for an iPhone, but I’ve seen a couple around town over the past week or so and every person had some kind of case, and so do not have problems. One lady I work with at a volunteer group was more interested in showing me her firework videos and pictures on the screen, and was not even aware of the reception problem. Our signal is so spotty, and only EDGE, that phone owners are happy to get something round here.

  5. What I find a bit fishy is that Apple suddenly decide to sell cases with this fourth generation of iPhones. Why? Have they ever bothered in the past? Not really.

    It could well be that Apple got an inkling of this antenna problem after millions of units/iPhone shells had been manufactured in China. What to do with those? It’s just possible Apple decided to go ahead with the iPhone 4 release and throw the cases in for $25 a piece when the antenna issue becomes known.

    1. Thats the real question. I think Apple knew about this and decided it wasn’t an issue which was a miscalculation on their part. Yet my iPhone 4 does not have this issue and nobody I know has one with this issue. The only reason some people are making a big deal of it is they want to try to knock Apple off it’s perch. Which isn’t going to happen.

      1. I am a huge Apple Fanboy. I love and own everything they make. Steve Jobs is my hero. I stood in line for the first iPhone and every iPhone since. In this past year alone I have purchased an iPad, an iPhone 4, and a new iMac. I think I have every iPod model ever made. With all that in front of us, let me say this: I own an iPhone 4 and the issue is very real and it is horrible. Im glad you don’t have this issue with your phone, but it so frustrating. The problem now seems solved with the $30 bumper I purchased, but I don’t like cases, and I really don’t want to use this bumper, but I have to to use the phone. The problem is horrible. Apple’s press release about calculation issue is bunk. I completely lose service!!!! I think steve jobs is great, but we will find out what he is truly made of when he steps to the plate tomorrow. If he is the greatest CEO (which i think he is) he sill make this right.

    2. It’s possible this….
      It’s possible that….
      It’s possible the other thing….

      err
      It’s possible you’re a fool. Why speculate from a position of ignorance? Do you like to be busy saying nothing?

  6. Took what toll on Apple? In the blogosphere? Nobody cares. They are selling every iPhone 4 they can make. This will pass.

    1. It is way beyond the blogosphere now. Even David Letterman is taking pot shots. The technical issue is not nearly as big as the public relations issue at this point.

  7. Steve W, Indialantic FL Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    It isn’t the antenna flaw that is haunting Apple. Gizmodo is haunting Apple.

    Gizmodo “broke” the antenna story to demonstrate to Apple what happens when a lowly corporation attacks the all powerful free press (i.e. Gizmodo).

    When this story dies down, there will be another one. Anti-trust, anyone?

  8. Outstanding post!

  9. Darwin,
    We dont want to knock Apple off it’s perch!
    We just want a phone that will work. I am telling you it was really tough as I loved it in every other way. But I could not use it at my house without dropping calls.
    I am really bummed as I am the biggest fangirl in town.

    1. Right there with you, except for the girl part. I too can reproduce the issue if i hold the iPhone just the right way. But on the other hand, I am not one that goes around with my iPhone in the raw so to speak. I have bumpers currently, and will likely be replacing them with a case once there are several iPhone 4 cases to choose from. For me right now, it is a non-issue, and I have no intention of turning back to my old 3G.

    2. Hamranhansenhansen Laura Drew Friday, July 16, 2010

      I can’t use my iPhone 3GS at work but I don’t blame the iPhone 4’s antenna.

  10. I don’t care about all the hysteria. My iphone 4 works great and i love it

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