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Steve Jobs Survives Gizmodo, But Not MiFi

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Apple (s AAPL) 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 (s 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 (s 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!” (s VZ) — 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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77 Responses to “Steve Jobs Survives Gizmodo, But Not MiFi”

  1. There’s a delicious irony here.

    Apple would not be anywhere near the innovative company it is today without open standards, open software, and publicly-owned and regulated networks. Yet, they are the prime proponent in pushing the censorship-laden App Store, patent-minefield codecs like H.264, “standard” HTML5 demos written to only work in Safari, and ridiculous corporate secrecy policies that coerce blue-collar employees on the other side of the earth to commit suicide (just to name a few recent transgressions). For a company supposedly innovative and good at bringing people what they want, they have quite a knack for preventing innovation and denying people who want specific freedoms from having them.

    So, presumably, their “partner” AT&T said no to enabling video chat on their 3G network—nevermind that customers, now paying for each byte with AT&T’s new plans, should have the freedom to choose what those bytes are used for. Apple: how does it feel when someone says no to you and keeps you from innovating?

  2. The real question for me is, why didn’t Apple provide networks on different frequencies for media and demos? The MiFi interference problem is real, but in any event, if Apple would place a base station right in the table where Steve was doing the demo, its SNR would have been above what the iPhones were getting from the 570 other base stations out there, thus giving him a decent amount of bandwidth to perform the demo.

    Assuming the iPhone 4 has 5GHz available, Apple could have provided an encrypted network on 2.4GHz for the media & attendees, with visible SSID, and have an encrypted 5GHz network with hidden SSID and broadcast turned off just for demo devices. All three MiFi devices available today use 802.11b/g at 2.4GHz, so the interference caused by them on the 5GHz band was close to zero.

  3. Greg Ramsaran

    I fail to see how this is related to the additional “570 separate Wi-Fi base stations” there could potentially be 5,000 Wi-Fi base stations however Apple in all their wisdom failed to test this before the Keynote and should have thought about this before hand. Plus the Apple team should have their own closed wi-fi network system just for this purpose, duh!

  4. Skrapmot

    I’ve always like the fact that Steve demos on stage the actual device and OS in real time. I feel like he’s trying to appear more honest and less like he’s touting vaporwear. Many product demos I’ve gone too are with mockups or staged demos that are often too good to be true.
    As for the lack of good signal from the Iphone 4, it’s a miracle or luck to walk around a stage and stay connected in a crowded wifi space, compared to engadget or another blogger with the MiFi probably inches away from the laptop/netbook/ipad/iphone device.
    That said, I imagine that Steve will find a way to “hard wire” a proprietary internet line into the next device so as not to run into this problem (read embarrassment) again. I think it unlikely that they will or could ban internet devices from the conference.
    At last to respond the Ipad/Iphone wifi reception comments. In my experience, it does appears that different routers provide different results. We have 3 wifi routers in our home, 2 being apple airports, and 1 a Linksys with a 2 phone outlets. My wife’s and my blackberry’s UMA signal only seems to work well with the Apples routers (odd, even after trying a Netgear alternative the connection was spotty during calls), where as my Ipad, Macbook Pros, and Iphones work well with either, and my Dell work laptop only works consistent with the Linksys. The best reception I get from any device? My $350 acer one netbook, which is what I use in the backyard when drinking wine by the firepit.

  5. Apple itself anticipated this problem years ago when it lobbied for, and obtained, allocation of radio spectrum outside the 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands for low-power data communication (FCC Rule 15.321). This was in the Gil Amelio era. Apple never implemented that spectrum in products, but focused on standard Wi-Fi instead for the AirPort line.

  6. CocteauBoy

    Apple Products continue to have connectivity issues; this plagues not only my own Apple Products, but much of the forums is filled with issues related to it. I don’t know why there is a sense of mystery here. It’s something in the way Apple designs their devices. Even in my own home with WiFi, Apple can’t connect, or can’t stay connected, yet my PC Laptop and other devices connect just fine, and stay connected.

  7. getarealjob

    You are a scum. You disobeyed your hosts directives and helped sink the Apple show then you start with “The thing is” bull here on your “blog”. FU poser.

  8. cartman7110

    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 problem as most others pointed out was on 802.11/Wifi/Mifi (which are in the 2.4ghz/5.8ghz) not HSDPA or 3G Cellular Data channels.

  9. Don M

    This could have been avoided if the new iPhone 4 was able to connect to 802.11n in the 5GHz range, but unfortunately it only has a 2.4GHz radio. I was quite surprised by this since the iPad has a dual-band radio. 5GHz 802.11n has access to far more non-overlapping channels (around 20 vs 3 for 2.4GHz) reducing interference issues. I’m guessing the reason they went 2.4 only was because it was too hard to squeeze in the extra radio and antenna, but Steve is probably regretting that now!
    Oh, and for those who are asking why he didn’t use 3G instead of wifi – that’s because the new videoconferencing feature only works over wifi.

  10. Live in a high rise and you will understand the problem with WiFi and MiFi: spectrum saturation. 11 channels load up even if everyone is on a different network. Has nothing to do with 3,G Apple or ATT.

  11. Packetguy

    Gigamom is clueless on the actual problem, confusing cellular and WiFi. The issue isn’t Jobs asking people to turn off their abusive MiFis,or AT&T’s problematic network. It’s that devices like the MiFi are an incredibly stupid replacement for a one-foot USB cable, which is all these audience members were using it for. 802.11 does not support AP densities of more than three per 100′ radius under the best conditions. The WWDC had more like 50 per 100′.

    If the clueless MiFiers (and other cellular personal hotspot users) simply USB-tethered their hotspots the problem would have never occurred. It’s scary that so-called “developers” couldn’t predict this problem and sensibly head it off.

    “MiFi Jamming” is a usability killer in many Starbucks now, where a dozen or more thoughtless users smear the room with unnecessary interfering 802.11 radiation, jamming access for everyone trying to use Starbucks’ wireless. All for want of a one-foot cable that ships with the cellular modem! Idiots all.

    The thing is, the 802.11 standards committee predicted this problem FIVE YEARS ago. MiFi is just the first wave a self-defeating wireless decablers, wielded by clueless users that ignore spectrum realities, potentially destroying WiFi as a useful technology.

      • Packetguy


        I think you’re still missing the point. Here’s where you went astray:

        “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.)”

        You said people brought their personal MiFis as backups, but that’s clearly not the case: they brought them as their primary Internet connections. The WiFi failure was solely due to people using WiFi to bridge those few inches from their pockets to their notebooks rather than plugging their MiFis directly into their laptops.

        That’s what you did too, isn’t it? Why didn’t you use a USB cable to connect to your MiFi? I’ll tell you why: convenience! It’s just easier to use WiFi than breaking out that cable. You’re not an engineer, however, so it’s somewhat forgivable that you don’t understand the disaster of 300 MiFi users doing that in the same room.

        But most of the rest of the audience were ENGINEERS for crying out loud! They knew, or should have known. They were just being idiots, and Jobs was totally justified in his rebuke to them. Which was amazingly restrained, in my opinion.

        And the Conference WiFi was perfectly fine. Nothing wrong with it at all, as you discovered yourself once the idiots shut down their MiFi miasma.

      • Packetguy

        Or just tell people in groups where WiFi is already provided to use the provided WiFi or their MiFi USB cables, thank you. The general public at Starbucks need to be educated. Engineers, however, need a swift kick in the butt for being clueless.

  12. Bill S.

    I think the real problem here is the technical ignorance of the people reporting on the “problem”. Technology has gotten far ahead of the comprehension of the average “journalist”. Perhaps that’s unavoidable.

    • RealityCheck

      Finally someone with a comment that contains insight.

      So what iphones do not have flash, maybe occasionally your internet signal will be lost, or, oh no it couldn’t connect to a wifi signal with 500+ other connections in one room. Get over it, having an iPhone is a privilege. You act like perfect technology is a right as a human being. You are retarded and have lost your connection with the world around you.

  13. Next year they could simply put Jobs and a WiFi router both in a Faraday cage. It would also have the side benefit of making him more Oz-like: “Pay no attention to the man behind the mesh of conductive material…”

  14. Monitor

    “The thing is, access problems from mobile devices are a point of weakness for Apple. ”
    What kind of crap statement is this? How often do you encounter 570 WiFi base stations in one room or other small area? Why are so prejudiced against Apple and Steve Jobs to make such an untrue demeaning comment? What is so poetic about your nasty attitude toward all things Apple? Why do you hate beauty and the pursuit of perfection and success? Why do you apparently love ugly and malfunction and a proud passionate person hit with vicissitude that is no fault of theirs. You are a mean moron. That is what I think.

  15. there was a similar problem at Google I/O (the same stage and conference center) but with bluetTooth.

    if I was him, I would of just joined one of the many networks. but if I was the tech on site, I would of run a WiFi router right at the front of the stage where he would of been walking around.

    • I was there too. To his credit, Jobs was able to weave his way back into the presentation much more quickly than the Google TV people, who flustered about for what seemed like 20 minutes or so trying to get it to work.

  16. I had a similar problem at work. I run an Apple airport base station from my desktop to give my Macbook and other wifi toys access. Our system administrator asked me to turn down the output so that only worked in my office because the signal I was broadcasting was interfering with the universities antennas and preventing them from working properly.

  17. A very simple solution would be to tether the demo iPhones to a wired computer. He’s not demoing WiFi so no need to actually use it. He could simply state before the demos that he’s wired up for full disclosure

  18. PXLated

    Others have explained the actual problem well.

    Do you really think Verizon would handle 500 phones plus backup MiFi in the same room (or vicinity) any better than AT&T. I can go 10 miles from my metro home and can’t get Verizon 3G so I think you Verizon lovers are smoking dope.

    • TWiT Commander

      You may be right. May be America is not ready for the iPhone. Every other country/network with the iPhone is doing just fine, thank you very much.

      Seriously, what’s the big deal? Have you heard from anywhere in the world of continuous network suckage like AT&T is having, and that Verizon will have as you prognosticate?

  19. Apple should develop a compact, MagSafe-like connector for ethernet, open-source it and help to set it as the new standard. Then conferences like these could be wired with an easy-to-connect/disconnect system. It’d also be a good idea for MiFi devices when there’s no need for wireless.

  20. 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.

    • 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.

    • @ photogoofer

      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…

      • TWiT Commander

        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.

    • Steve

      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…

    • thestory

      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.

      • Bernie

        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.

      • Jagadish

        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.

  21. 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.

      • 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. :)

        • 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.

  22. 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.

    • Mark A

      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?

      • cartman7110

        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.