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iPhone 4 Antennagate Returns, Still a Non-Story

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You know when you see a story appear, but it isn’t a real story, and you know it isn’t a real story, but you also know it’s going to appear everywhere? Well, that’s how I felt today when I saw an article on The Inquirer titled “Apple fails to fix Iphone [sic] 4 antenna for Verizon.” The sub-title wittily added “Can’t keep a faulty design down.”

Article author Lawrence Latif opened with the following totally-not-inflammatory statement;

JUST HOW LONG does it take for Apple to fix an antenna? That is the question Verizon Iphone [sic] 4 users must be asking after finding that the problems that plagued the device at launch over six months ago still persist.

I’m still trying to remember what problems “plagued” the iPhone 4 (s aapl) back when it was launched. All I could think of were those interminable queues of eager customers snaking away from the Apple Store on London’s Oxford Street. Thousands of us, standing there for hours, not getting anywhere fast, burning gently in the summer sun. But our new iPhones? They were just fine. No plagues, as far as I can remember, not that day, or since.

However, my problem isn’t with biased (read “negative”) coverage of the iPhone (or even “Iphone”, if you prefer) but with the utter lack of critical thinking that fuels this sort of coverage, and the gossip that follows. First, let’s do an experiment. If you own a “shiny toy” of your own, go grab it and follow-along; we’re going to reproduce the infamous Death Grip!

The Grip of Death, in Three Easy Steps

STEP 1. Grip your iPhone in your left hand. No, grip it. No, really, really grip it. Smother its left-edge as much as you possibly can. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable that feels, just do it. I know — that’s a completely unnatural way to hold any phone, but look, this is just how it’s done, ok? Are you gripping/smothering the thing so hard you’re actually obscuring your view of the screen? Good. Move to Step Two.

STEP 2. Try loading a web page. Yeah, I know, it’s not so easy to tap the screen because of the impractical way you’re gripping the thing, but, please, in the name of scientific discovery, persevere!

STEP 3. Behold! If you’ve got your smother-hold just right, you may notice a slow-down when loading web pages. Congratulations — you’ve done it! You have proved that the iPhone 4 is obviously fatally flawed and we can all agree our honeymoon with Apple is well and truly over! Let’s ditch our iPhones for Blackberry (s rimm) and Android (s goog) devices instead!

Admittedly, I’m overstating things, but I’m trying to make a point here about how silly this whole non-story is. Here’s the deal: Absolutely every wireless device suffers some signal attenuation when smother-gripped by big, fleshy human hands. That’s pesky physics stubbornly obeying its own immutable laws, not, as some bloggers and tech press would prefer to believe, an egregious oversight by Jonny Ive and Apple’s engineers.

Interesting, But Insignificant

While demonstrating the Death Grip (or Death Hug, as people are referring to the Verizon (s vz) version) in a video is obviously great for clocking-up YouTube (s goog) views and exciting the tech blogosphere with a non-story, what really is whether this is an issue for ordinary people in everyday use.

So, how many people are truly suffering from the death grip in normal, non-crazy, smother-grip everyday use? So far — we don’t know. We may never know. What we do know is that the iPhone 4 is the best-selling iPhone ever, and has the lowest return rates of any model of iPhone produced so far.

Being able to significantly attenuate the iPhone radio signal in a lab or a YouTube video is academically interesting; but unless signal attenuation is causing real-world problems for ordinary people whenever they use their iPhone, it’ll remain academically, but not generally, interesting.

And then there’s that other teeny-tiny little matter of Apple’s iPhone R&D. Apple uses state-of-the-art testing facilities to ensure that new designs or configurations don’t fundamentally compromise normal functionality. None of this is cheap, by the way. Apple has never revealed how much the iPhone has cost them in R&D, but it’s safe to assume many millions of dollars have been spent to-date. Seems like an awful waste of money if the iPhone is truly so poorly designed it can’t function under normal circumstances, right? That’s the kind of resource mis-management that could get a CEO sacked.

So — what’s more probable? That, despite all their top-flight engineers, antenna experts and exhaustive testing and quality assurance procedures, Apple still creates and sells a fatally flawed phone incapable of maintaining a signal in normal use or that this whole Antennagate issue is (and always has been) little more than tabloid nonsense and breathless blogo-gossip?

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22 Responses to “iPhone 4 Antennagate Returns, Still a Non-Story”

  1. …make no mistake it is an ISSUE. The reason this is not spreading just yet is that it has yet to gain momentum, and Apple knows this. If you take the phone into the Apple Store and drop it on the desk and explain the problem, they mumble something about the dropped calls being a “network/carrier problem”, then very graciously replace the phone with a brand new one, all within 3 minutes. SOLUTION #1 GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE. Second is the fact that most people use the iPhone for its data services and apps, and default to txt and email for communication so tolerate the bad antenna because of the great UI and form factor. SOLUTION #2 PHONE USAGE ON SMARTPHONE IS ON DECLINE. Finally after the first “return” to the Genius Bar, Apple fanatics are too lazy to return again and look for work-arounds. The device is too damn sexy to replace with a BB that can actually hold a call, and people are too tied to their iPhone apps. SOLUTION #3 CONSUMER APATHY.

  2. Interesting viewpoint, but after owning every version of the iPhone since inception, I can tell you this customer’s iPhone 4 antenna is so bad that at least 80% of calls made or received are dropped at least once. This is regardless of whether the phone is held in my hand, placed in a pocket, or gingerly set on a window sill within full view of the sky.

    My standard greeting has now become..”Hey this is Michael, if I lose you, call me back on Skype”

  3. Don’t dismiss it as a non issue just because it’s not a issue for you. clearly, it is an issue for some

    That being said, if it’s an issue for you…. take back your phone or put a case on it.

  4. Good article. Didn’t mention the fact that IF the supposed problem does actually exist in some form, if you have a Bumper or any type of case on the phone, any problem is gone in the first place. Based on what I have seen, I would venture that 99% of people put a case on their iPhone, no matter what version it is. The thing is made of glass you know, and I don’t care what kind of “Gorilla Glass” or whatever, that is not good when you drop your phone on concrete. Same thing for any type of phone, Android, Blackberry or whatever. The billion dollar case industry alone makes “antennagate” moot.

    • “IF the supposed problem does actually exist in some form” – Haha, yeah, translation: “You guys are all just idiots, but I’ll humor you anyway…”.

      True about the bumper case, and I saw one yesterday it’s actually pretty nice, and I think Apple had a good solution, to just give them away, for a while. But then they stopped giving them away. To me that’s a pure marketing decision: give the cases away long enough to make the bad press go away, and then stop because 1) you make more money that way and 2) you’re trying to avoid the perception that the phone is flawed and cases are a necessity. In the end they handled it pretty well from a marketing point of view, obviously because there are so many people that think the problem is an illusion, but IMO they failed on the level of “just deliver the best product”.

      • OK, and if the “problem” is as bad as you obviously think it is, just where are the millions of unsatisfied iPhone4 users that like you, are so angry that the phone is unusable? Hmmm, where? Are they storming Apple Stores? Best Buy? AT&T? Wal Mart? Just where are they? From this TOTAL lack of response from the millions and millions of people who are happily using their iPhone4, I must infer that the iPhone4 IS usable and does NOT suffer from a fatal defect/design flaw.

      • @Glenn:
        Don’t be ridiculous, of course they don’t riot, they simply don’t buy the phone. Or they put a case on it. And to me a case is a decent soln, what I have a problem with is the fact that Apple stopped giving the cases away.

        From the responses of people on this forum I’d say there definitely isn’t a TOTAL lack of response. So I guess what it boils down to is how many people does it need to affect before people care? If it only affects a minority, screw ’em, ay?

  5. Laughing_Boy48

    I still think that anyone that invests in an iPhone should get a protective case for it just to protect it from the rigors of constant use. That will also eliminate every trace of the hug of death or whatever they’re calling it.

    This Antennagate 2.0 will have the same effect on iPhone 4 sales as Antennagate 1.0 did. Absolutely no effect at all.

  6. just wanted to preface my comment with the following info: I own a Mac (thus I am not a mac hater, just a fan of the best technology for me) and have owned both a blackberry storm and htc eris (a year each). I have never had a problem with dropped calls (maybe cause I am on verizon) or death grip with either of these two devices. Now I don’t have any claims on the death grip for the iphone since I have never owned one, but I just cannot see how some many people would make a point of mentioning this (reviewers) if there was no merit to it. And obviously there is so merit since a few people have posted as much.

    • To drive page views. The web has become all about page views and the advertising dollars they bring in and the pressure to get page views will drive bloggers to write almost anything. Sort of like the idiot on ZDNet writing about “iPhone Fragmentation” the other day because he heard about a nav app that had to release a “special version” for the Verizon iPhone. Not bothering to get any facts, he totally missed the fact that the “special” version was because the original version did it’s billing for usage through AT&T.

  7. I own a 3GS and an iPhone 4. I live in a rural area and I never get 5 bars. The 3GS often shows no service when I and traveling in my area whereas the iPhone has 1-2 bars and I am able to make a call and use data. As far as my experience has been the iPhone 4 is way better at getting a signal.
    As far as the death grip if I really believed it existed after 10’s of millions of 4’s had been sold I wouldn’t have bought one.
    Yes first thing I did when I got it was try the death grip in my low signal area and guess what it was a non-issue.

  8. Wow, you guys sure are trying hard to bury your heads in the sand.

    @Liam Cassidy: I don’t need the ‘grip of death’ to reproduce the issue. I hold it naturally in my left hand while waiting for a site to load, and bingo, slows to a crawl. It *never* fails for me.

    @got2trythis: it may be a non-issue for *you*. Yippee for you, Mr. Not-my-problem.

    @redwall_hp: I hold my phone in the left all the time, because I’m right handed and tap with my right hand! I guess I’m just a weirdo.

    You’re all entitled to your personal opinions, I really don’t care what you all think about it, but you really make yourselves look silly strutting up and down like the buffoon who loudly proclaims ‘facts’ that I personally know not to be true.

  9. I had 2 iphones, one a 3g and one 4. I could hold the older phone normally and make a call.
    I could hold the iphone 4 normally and could not make a call.
    It is not media nonsense.
    I took the phone back.

  10. If you live in an area with less than 5 bars of coverage (such as where I live, in the suburbs of a major Southeastern city), merely holding the phone gently in your left hand will cause it to drop from 3 bars, to 2, to 1 bar, then finally to nothing and the dreaded “Searching” message.

    That’s not “death-gripping,” it’s just gently cradling the phone in my left hand, as I tend to do whenever I’m interacting with the screen. Since I am right handed, I prefer to use my right index finger to tap on the glass.

    The only way to holding my phone in my left hand and avoid bridging the two antennae is to create a tripod with my fingers where the phone gently rests on my pinky and ring finger, while my index finger and thumb keep it from falling over. This grip is far less comfortable, and far more likely for the phone to get knocked out of my hands in a crowded room.

    Users of the phone in areas with abundant cell coverage (such as San Francisco) are less likely to see this issue, but those of us who live in the flyover states can easily replicate this issue under normal, every day conditions, not the convoluted steps Liam outlines in the article above.

  11. airmanchairman

    I was expecting this tomfoolery, as this phenomenon is a well-known and and documented aspect of cellular communications in general.

    However, it basically represents the only possible way that any aspersions can be cast on the runaway success that is the iPhone 4 and, given the inability of Apple to ramp up production any higher to meet the monstrous demand worldwide, amounts to zero point zero zero one of sweet FA in significance…

  12. got2trythis

    This is so stupid. This is again a none issue. I have not yet dropped a call due to this what is called problem. I have dropped plenty using AT&T period while the phone sat on the table untouched. I have the unlocked version and have traveled almost everywhere and used many other carriers. The only carrier that consistently dropped my calls is AT&T in NYC. If it was not that I have to travel overseas because of work on a regular basis, I would have moved to Verizon. Luckily, I am only in NYC for a week and I can tolerate the shitty service of AT&T. Again, this problem is very hard to produce on other carrier with decent coverage without completely smothering your phone with both hands and make it unusable.