Consumer Reports and plea for sanity
The Consumer Reports declaration on the iPhone, although helpful overall in moving the ball forward, still doesn't address the bigger issues. My problem with Consumer Reports, and every report and every comment I've read on this issue, is everyone's just looking at once slice of the pie. My own analysis suggests a series of variables can cascade for some users, and never reach critical mass for others.
1) Software 4.0: Upon updating my 3GS to 4.0, I could on purpose drop bars by employing the death grip if I took off the case. There are many users saying 4.0 made their 3GS and 3G phone more vulnerable to signal fade. Apple did change the protocol, searching for the least busiest tower INSTEAD of the closest tower as part of the 4.0 update. Other slight changes were likely made as well. A long standing issue for the iPhone has been call quality. Apple can't control ATT's network, but no doubt has been pushing the envelope in order to compensate.
2) The new 4.0 hardware design. Duh. Obviously this makes it worse as evidenced by the many tests and the fact that duct tape seems to help in some cases. The design was supposed to make it easier for your phone to pick up a signal. We've had many reports it does just that...but the double edge sword is it also makes the phone easier to short out. However Consumer Reports and others have solely focused on the antenna, and therefore is missing the big picture.
3)Your Carrier: ATT's signals have been all over the map since launch. When the new 4.0 first came out, we would see download speeds of 4500 and upload of 1300. That's 3x and 5x the top speed I ever got from my 3GS. But those speeds only lasted a few days. ATT has admitted a problem on their network with upload speeds. Here they've gone down from 1300 to 90! Download speed has dropped from 4500 to 1400. This seems to clearly be on ATT's end, not related to the antenna issue. It appears there's a whole lot of tweaking going on at ATT.
4) Proximity: It's been demonstrated that the lower your signal is from ATT, the more likely you are to have the death grip problem. This I believe is a key issue. I've observed a 4.0 phone more than once going from 4 to no bars without even being touched. It appears the farther you are from a tower, the more likely you will be automatically switched to another tower if there is less traffic on it at that precise moment. A bumper is not going to fix this problem.
Therefore, I believe the death grip "issue" is really a series of interacting problems, both hardware and software, both Apple and ATT. These interacting variables also explain why some people have the problem and others don't. Why bumpers cases work for some users. Why some users are getting better reception than ever and couldn't be happier. And why Consumer Reports and others came to their conclusions.
Personally, I'm more concerned with data speeds than dropping calls. A bumper and attention to not, dare I say it, hold the phone the wrong way will reduce drop calls. But a crazy lack of consistency in data speeds is hard to deal with. And honestly, this has always been the case. We're the mercy of the load of the network, but there's no doubt at this point that it's worse with the new phone. The good news is much of this are software fixes. Does anyone really think the fix Apple has already offered to make, changing the algorithm of how the bars appear in your screen, would take more than two weeks to accomplish? This was a long term PR move, designed to get all of us to focus on the impact of proximity. It's obviously not going to "fix" anything, and that's why many are upset.
Just like many politicians, Apple is making the mistake of not acknowledging that an issue like this is really, really complicated. We live a binary world where people demand simple explanations. Just look at the comments on this subject in every blog you've read, and will no doubt be added to this post. Too many posts fit pre-existing attitudes, and the result is confusing users and the media. I'd like to challenger Consumer Reports and others to test more than just one variable. No doubt that's what Apple is doing now...and why it's taking so long....