Want to know the must-have item for owners of the new iPhone 4? A bit of duct tape — or a dab of nail polish.
The reason: despite Steve Jobs’s describing the positioning of the antennae which pick up the mobile signal on the outside of the phone, rather than the inside, as “brilliant engineering”, a number of users have discovered that if it is held from the bottom, the signal strength drops off dramatically — because their skin changes the electrical properties of the antennae.
Now, Jobs has informally — and Apple formally — acknowledged the issue: in email replies to owners of the new phones complaining about the problem, Jobs gave a simple response. “Don’t hold it that way,” he told one.
Apple’s slightly longer statement notes that: “Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance with certain places being worse than others … this is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.”
Some users have found tape or nail polish on the corner is a solution.
With the iPhone 4 having been a sell-out in many British stores — and Vodafone emailing customers whom it promised supplies to tell them that it cannot satisfy them — the problems are an embarrassment for Apple, which had to overcome early problems with wireless reception on its tablet-style computer, the iPad, when that was launched in May.
Dozens of people have posted videos on YouTube showing how the signal reception for 3G voice and data networks falls off when it is held so that the hand touches the antenna parts on the bottom of the phone. Companies selling silicone casing for the iPhone 4 report that they have already been busier, as word of the problem has spread, than they were for last year’s release of the iPhone 3GS.
Professor Joe McGeehan, head of the Centre for Communications Research at the University of Bristol, and an expert in cellphone antenna technology, said: “The hand does have a de-tuning effect on the antenna of any mobile phone: it changes the frequency that it responds to due to capacitative effects. How much it affects it depends on the materials surrounding it. If previous iPhones didn’t have this problem, then you have to ask: what’s changed, and might that be causing it?”
Antenna expert Spencer Webb said all cellphones house the antenna in the bottom of the phone, to minimise the radio output near the head so that the phone will pass safety testing by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). “The iPhone 4 has two symmetrical slots in the stainless frame,” Webb wrote. “If you short these slots, or cover them with your hand, the antenna performance will suffer. There is no way around this, it’s a design compromise that is forced by the requirements of the FCC, AT&T, Apple’s marketing department and Apple’s industrial designers, to name a few.” He said he had upgraded to the new iPhone, despite the concerns. “I voted with my dollars,” he said. “Sometimes an antenna that’s not great, but good enough, is good enough.”
Apple offers a solution: “bumpers” which fits around the edge of the phone. But at $43, they are too pricey for many to consider — and have not pleased people who think their phone should work correctly out of the box. – guardian.co.uk