Blog Post

Apple’s White iPhone Delay a Chance for Antenna Redesign

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Like Henry Ford’s Model T, you can have the Apple iPhone 4 in any color you want, so long as it’s black. That’s the continued message as Apple (s aapl) today announced further delays for the white iPhone 4, citing manufacturing challenges. The company says the “more popular iPhone 4 black models” are not affected by those challenges, but availability for the white iPhone 4 is now expected “later this year.”

This isn’t the first delay of the white iPhone 4 model, however. Indeed, in the press conference held to discuss antenna issues last week, Steve Jobs himself said the white model would be shipping by the end of July — and now a week later the device is delayed again? Engadget suggests there are production challenges at play, saying:

Specifically, the factory’s still working out the perfect combination of paint thickness and opacity — the former to ensure the next sub-contractor has enough clearance for the digitizer overlay, and the latter for the absolute whiteness that Jony Ive and co. strive for.

The cynical side of me says this is BS. It could well be that Apple is trying to get the white color just right, but I’d expect that it would have worked out the manufacturing process to do so well in advance of the product launch. If anything, I suspect that Apple is tweaking the antenna design or finding some non-bumper solution to improve the device signal in areas of marginal coverage.

If I was a betting man, I’d guess that Apple’s white iPhone arrives fairly close to September 30. That’s the date when Apple’s free bumper case program currently expires. Which raises another question: Why does it expire on that date? One reason is that Apple likely feels no further obligation to address the “antennagate” issues beyond that, since customers at that point should arguably know full well about potential signal issues when holding the device a certain way.

Another reason could be that by September 30, Apple will have a minor antenna tweak for its iPhone. At last week’s press conference Jobs addressed the bumper case date, saying “Maybe we have a better idea. We will re-evaluate in September.” The black models already sold with a perceived problem are mitigated by the free bumpers. A new production run — say of white iPhones first, followed by black models later — gives Apple to time to make its magical product better, sans bumper.

That better idea Jobs referenced might be more than just a case. I expect that when the white iPhone arrives, it won’t just have the “perfect combination of paint thickness and opacity,” but will have less of an antenna issue too.

Related GigaOM Pro research (sub req’d):

Why Carriers Should Care About Customer Care

32 Responses to “Apple’s White iPhone Delay a Chance for Antenna Redesign”

  1. If they update White iPhone by design, they mean 2 things
    1) they are racist (black being imperfect/inferior)
    2) they have blown things out of proportion this time now, people who own black iPhone have to suffer


  2. Casper

    I really like the white one (or make that FOUR). I cannot believe Apple’s obsession with perfection is holding this phone up AGAIN !

    How much longer do I have to wait. I have money to spend now. Are you listening Steve ?

    I am seriously thinking about just getting another iPad (3G this time) and waiting for the updated iPhone4 on another career in January time frame.
    They better have the white ready next time ON TIME !

    BTW, all my friends prefer white also. :-)

  3. Are there seriously people that are still really holding out for a white phone? I thought that was just a generic excuse for non-early adopters to explain their decision to wait.

    • Fernando

      Well, there is at least one (me). I don’t like the black color on the iPhone, and have had the white since the 3G came out. I have to confess that given these delays, I have given consideration to just going ahead and getting a black one, but still won’t do it yet. Not an excuse, just a preference :-)

  4. Am I the only one who thinks Barack Obama has something to do with it, oh wait Glen Beck is with me on this one.

    p.s :more seriously, Apple is suffering from Display supply issues, it is natural considering they buy their displays from LG/Samsung, who are or will be soon of their chief competitors in smartphones and tablets, thanks to Galaxy and Optimus line of gadgets. The easiest way for LG/Samsung to sell their stuff is to let Apple advertise, be sold out and they sell their stuff with almost exactly the same features.

  5. Scott M

    If Apple spent two years building and testing this design like they say they did, I highly doubt that in two months they could do anything to the physical design in time. Even if they just tried to move the gap between the two antennas to the bottom of the phone where you are less likely to bridge the gap, that would mean a new manufacturing process and another lengthy testing and FCC approval process. Perhaps they will try and coat the metal band… But I wouldn’t bet on any physical modifications beyond that.

  6. I don’t know if in such a short time span Apple can actually make technical changes to its antennae. I’d expect the development cycle (drawing board to retail stores) to be much longer than the two months – I doubt they are unpacking pieces already produced.
    Also, I don’t agree that the September fiscal year end is the cause of delays – it’s more important to boost profits this year than to prevent writedowns if you ask me.
    In any case though – who wants a white iPhone? :)

  7. Gazoobee

    Kevin, your literary skills are plummeting fast. When I first found this site it was over one of your stories which I thought was excellent (although I can’t remember which it was now), but the last two of yours I’ve read (like this one) are pure garbage.

    Your title should at least have a question mark for starters instead of boldly saying that this is some kind of conspiracy. This is a charge for which you not only have no proof, you also have nothing to even imply that this might be the case. This “story” is apparently built entirely on your own paranoia and dislike. It’s essentially just a rather thin opinion piece that you are presenting (via the title) as fact. The title is important because that’s what’s linked to around the web. If you did that on purpose for hits, then you should be ashamed and you certainly shouldn’t be writing on a site like this (try Gizmodo), but if you didn’t is just shows how incompetent you are as a journalist.

    The “story” itself is just a lot of whining, again, based on pretty much nothing at all. I thought Giga-Om was one of the “serious” sites that cares about what they publish. Apparently not.

    • First up, I appreciate the feedback and constructive criticism.

      Second: this is obviously an opinion piece – not an “according to unnamed sources and people familiar with the matter, Apple is definitely lying about the delay so they can fix the antenna” piece. And the headline isn’t a question: it’s a statement. ;)

      I don’t have any paranoia nor dislike for the product at all. I’m simply trying to connect the dots through analysis. Does that mean my analysis is right? Absolutely not. Am I connecting dots that aren’t really connected? Perhaps. We’ll have to see if Apple takes any additional action with its antenna design before we know. But I don’t see any statements here that are presented as factual — simply my interpretation of the facts, which could (and clearly do) vary from yours.

      In any case, as I said, I appreciate the feedback as I take it very seriously. For that, I thank you.

  8. Nice segue into YET ANOTHER story about the iPhone 4’s alleged antenna problems. Why can’t you people give this up? The only useful information in this whole post was that the white iPhone is delayed again. Could it be that Apple is telling the truth? It’s annoying that you can’t just give this up! I’ll say again… No matter what Apple says or does, people will still complain.

  9. I’m following this antennagate since the beginning but apart from the madness arose because of this problem, I still don’t understand if the percentage of dropped calls is higher than the previous iphone or not.

    It seems that everybody is crazy to see the bars dropping but what about the real performance of the phone during the calls?

    Can anybody tell me more about it?
    Thanks in advance.

  10. Kevin, what do you think of the speculation that the delay is related to the T-Mobile rumor? Do you think the white iPhone 4 will appear on another carrier? Or are people coming up with the equation that 2+2=5? I doubt another carrier is in the mix this year, but stranger things have happened.

    • It’s possibly related, but hard to say, obviously. iPhone on another carrier is a matter of who and when, not if, and it would be easier for iPhone to be on another GSM carrier. In fact, I jokingly tweeted two days ago: “Wouldn’t it be interesting if T-Mobile’s upcoming HSPA+ handset is actually a flavor of iPhone 4? Just sayin’.” ;)

  11. It would be “easy” for apple to simply coat the exposed Antenna with some not conductive material that would effectively eliminate the antenna bridging issue, but would still be susceptible to your hand blocking / absorbing general signals. This would make the iPhone better but still have the same problem that “all other smartphones” have.
    It will be interesting if Apple can come up with a solution that actually fixes the problem – they could do some sort of diversity antenna system but will be difficult as there is so little space in the iPhone.
    The iPhone Antenna is better (when not blocked) than an internal Antenna, don’t know why they did not do a diversity system from the start.

    • Crusader

      Well most vocal IP4 supporters on MR claim that they have no reception/dropped bars issues no matter how they hold it or even touching the gap. Are they lying or just lucky?

  12. Tim Breen

    Don’t forget, Apple’s fiscal year ends at the end of September. The reason the September 30th date was picked could be as simple as keeping any write-downs to a single fiscal year.

  13. This post reflects a not-entirely-thorough understanding of Apple and its priorities. Issues with the opacity, consistency, and hue of the white case are precisely things for which Apple would hold a release or cancel a product outright. Just look at the historical descriptions of how much time was spent selecting the correct beige color for the original Macintosh or the fruit colors for the first iMacs. My guess would be they won’t ship until they can guarantee the color matches the white of the iPod/iPhone docks on every unit produced.

    It is clear that Apple views antennagate as a non-issue (regardless of what other people think) and as such has no reason to delay a product just for that. Besides, what sense would it make to hold the white iPhone for a fix while continuing to sell the black one as is? If there is already going to be a mid-cycle production transition on the black model, what benefit is gained by avoiding it on the white?

    Based on tweets I’ve seen today, many more people are angered by the further delays for a white iPhone than the antenna issue ever caused (since so few people actually were bothered by it). Apple has no reason to delay the product simply to squeeze in an antenna fix.

    • True, Apple’s penchant for design and form perfection has history, but I think they have an opportunity here as well. As they address any potential color match issues with the white device, they can (if they choose to) look at some type of antenna modification for new production runs. Essentially the white model delay gives them time to do that if they feel the need. And what they learn from that time / production run can then be used for future builds of the black model.

  14. Cranky Californian

    I am sure the Cupertino engineers have multiple solutions in their vast toolbox to mitigate this pesky issue with the world’s most advanced mobile antenna system. You have to remember that this is the most sensitive antenna ever put in a cell phone, no other phone comes close. This may be hard to believe but after they enhance the antenna it may actually improve its reception which is almost an unthinkable engineering feat in its own right. Rest assured that they will improve the white and black four by applying new super advanced RF engineering methods heretofore never seen by mankind. Folks they don’t teach this in engineering school. Apple engineers are the experts. Eventually these new techniques will be allowed to trickle down to the ordinary smart phones made by lesser companies in a few years with the blessing of Steve of course. Apple will not be rude and keep this much-desired RF tech from other makers (for appropriate nominal fee of course). Apple will be open to sharing as usual. Relax everybody and watch the best get even better, its all good.

    • Holy crap! totaly blinded super fanboy above.
      Lets just keep in mind that it was those “Apple Experts” as you put it that let this problem slide right under there nose in the first plase. Jeez.
      As far as the “white” phone issue goes…my cynical side says its just a marketing ploy. This method is used by many companies to cause hype and thus sell more product.

      • Andrew Macdonald

        I get the feeling his entire comment was meant in a sarcastic way, not a ‘blinded super fanboy’ kinda way.

        Atleast, that’s how I read it.

      • chrisdpratt

        Well, first, if you paid attention at all to Apple’s press conference, the “Apple Experts” didn’t let anything “slide right under their nose”. They knew about the potential issues completely. That was the whole point of divulging Apple’s previously-secret $100 million antennae testing facility. The iPhone 4 was tested there for 2 full years with every range of conceivable test. Apple knew everything.

        So, why did they start shipping anyways? Just as Steve Jobs said, Apple didn’t think it was going to be a problem, because (and listen closely) it’s a problem inherent in modern antenna design. Every single phone has one or more weak spots that, when block, will degrade signal strength. Period. Your body absorbs radio frequencies. This is common knowledge and the reason why the FCC has compliance rules for just how much radio can be pumped out of a mobile device into your head.

        In normal day to day use, “antennagate” is simply not an issue for the vast majority of iPhone 4 owners. Sure, they might be able to reproduce it if they try, but it doesn’t have any effect on normal usage. This is backed up by returns and support calls to Apple and AT&T’s own data, such as call drops.

        Apple isn’t holding back the white iPhone to make antenna modifications because in their own words, it’s an industry issue, and one that hasn’t yet been solved. Jobs said Apple would love to be the first to fix it once and for all, but that’s not happening in the time span of a month. Jobs also said they are going to end the free cases in September and “re-evaluate”. That’s just normal business strategy. If free cases shuts everyone up, then Apple may keep doing that to keep the peace.

  15. I agree with you part-way. Apple clearly intends to work on a way to fix the signal issue without making the phone any “uglier,” and September 30th is basically the earliest that Steve could imagine getting a change made and implemented into the phone. He left the date open to change since I expect him to continue offering the free bumpers until there’s a better fix, and I think it suggests that they don’t currently have anything.

    However, I don’t see the white iPhone delay as being an antenna-related. To my first point, he obviously doesn’t have a set date to implement any kind of fix on the black model, likely because they don’t have one yet. If they thought September was the earliest time they could get a fix implemented, AND they were going to wait for that fix before bringing out the white version, why would they give a timeline of July for that version of the phone if they knew it was likely going to take longer.

    This is all speculation so it might not matter, but I think that if I were a betting man, I’d put the money on Engadget’s theory before yours (and that is rare, you guys are amazing).