1. Jeff Kirvin#IM's Avatar
    iPhone 4: The bars are*a*lie | JeffKirvin.net

    The single most striking feature of the iPhone design, which you notice even before you see the screen, is the stainless steel band sandwiched between the two plates of glass. This is not only the structural support for the phone, but also the antenna. The left side, from the headphone jack around past the volume buttons, is the WiFi/Bluetooth antenna, and the rest is the cellular antenna. While this design choice simplifies and minimizes the layout of the phone, it also means that you will, in the act of holding the phone, alter the the reception of the phone as you, who are essentially a bag of salt water as far as RF signals are concerned, change the conductivity of the antenna and watch in awe and/or horror as your signal bars drop from five to one. This "design flaw" is what all this fuss is about.

    Sure seems like a design flaw, right? To go from full signal down to nothing just by touching the phone? Touching the phone in the exact same way you see Steve Jobs holding it in just about every picture of him and the iPhone 4 on the web?

    Well, maybe, maybe not.

    See, the truth is that five bars can be well removed from "full signal," and even that's a misnomer left over from analog phones that doesn't mean much in a digital world. Let's look at the actual math for a minute.

    RF signals are measured in negative decibels. The best signal you can get, standing right next to the tower, is -51 dBm. The worst is -113, the point at which AT&T's towers just stop trying to talk to you. Now, you would think that the bars would be evenly distributed over that 65 dBm range. But the problem is that it's a logarithmic scale. -100 dBm is ten times weaker than -90 dBm.

    As a result, you see a "full" five bars all the way down to -90 dBM. Meaning as soon as you start losing bars at all, you're not approaching the cliff, you're already falling off.

    This is already confusing, but it gets worse. When you touch the antenna, depending on conditions you will cause the signal to drop by 20-24 dB. If you're in a strong "five bars" area, this will still leave you with more than 90, and thus still have "five" bars. If you're sitting right around 90, dropping 24 dB can drop you all the way down to the cut off point, even though you started with "five" bars.

    Only, even that isn't really the case. Because as I mentioned before, the whole concept of bars is a hold-over from analog cell phones and doesn't really make sense in a digital world. With digital cell phones, signal is a binary condition. Either you have enough signal to make the call, or you don't. Numerous reports have shown that the iPhone 4 holds on to a call just fine all the way down to -111 dBm, and holds calls in places the iPhone 3GS would have dropped or not shown service at all.

    Apple contends that the iPhone 4 has the best reception yet of any iPhone, and even with the attenuation problem factored in, this seems to be the case. I've lost a grand total of one call that I can blame definitively on the Death Grip. Granted, when I touched the antenna and dropped the signal enough to drop the call, I was already in an underground parking garage.

    Apple raised eyebrows at WWDC when they announced the iPhone 4 by also announcing their first ever case for the iPhone, something they'd previously left to third party companies. The Bumper is a minimalist case that only covers the steel band around the iPhone, leaving the glass front and back uncovered. Once reports of problems with the antenna surfaced, it didn't take long for people to figure out that 2 + 2 = Conspiracy Theory!

    Obviously, they say, Apple knew about this problem, and that's why they're ripping us off to the tune of $30 for a band of rubber and plastic to cover up the problem they knew they had!

    Maybe, maybe not.

    I'll admit the Bumper is suspicious. It does seem to reduce, but not completely eliminate, the attenuation. But a wise man once advised to never attribute to malice what could be explained by incompetence. I can see not only why Apple would have offered the Bumper without knowing anything about the signal issue, but how they never would have seen the signal issue.

    The Bumper is good for more than antenna insulation. It also provides a good deal of shock absorption, something at which steel and glass are notoriously bad. An iPhone 4 wearing a Bumper is much less likely to crack or shatter when dropped to a hard surface on the corner than a naked iPhone. So Apple could have provided it simply because they knew the iPhone 4 might benefit from the extra protection.

    As for them knowing about the signal issue, think about how this problem manifests and how Apple tested the phone. You don't see it at all in strong signal areas where even dropping the full 24 dB still leaves you with five bars. And within the Apple campus at Cupertino, you can bet they have impeccable AT&T signal. On campus, they'd never notice it.

    Of course, they don't just test it on campus. In fact, we know at least one radio baseband engineer who, while testing the phone in a bar, had a little too much German beer and wound up without his prototype iPhone 4. We also know from that little escapade that when off of Apple's campus, the iPhone 4 was hidden inside a specially built case that made it look like a 3GS. And holding it inside that case would have insulated the antenna, similar to how the Bumper works, which means they wouldn't have seen it there either.

    Apple's testing methodology seemed to guarantee that they'd never the test the iPhone naked and in poor signal at the same time. When they say they were "shocked" to discover this problem, I believe them. I really don't think they tested it in all possible conditions.

    Apple was caught so off guard by this controversy that they they stumbled repeatedly in dealing with it in public. The first time a user emailed Steve Jobs himself about it, or at least the first (only?) one Jobs replied to, Jobs actually told the guy not to hold it that way. This struck most people as flippant and dismissive, which is probably why Apple quickly followed up with an official statement with more careful wording. BGR reported that Jobs also had a longer exchange with someone else where he ended up telling the user to get over it, it's just a phone. Apple claims this conversation is a hoax, though BGR stands by their reporting.

    What we do know is that Apple's official stance at the time of this writing is that all phones have this issue to one degree or another, but that iOS4 has badly calibrated signal bars that don't give people a realistic idea of how likely they are to drop a call. This seems to be true, as people have been able to grip other phones from the Moto RAZR to the Google's Nexus One in ways that cause similar signal drops, and the "hey, my bars are dropping like flies" effect is showing up on older iPhones that have been upgraded to iOS4. Apple is not recalling the phone or even offering free Bumpers as a matter of policy. Instead, they're going to address this with a software fix. But how can a software fix resolve a physical design issue? Because, as with everything in this story, things are more complex than they seem.

    The iPhone 4 handles signal differently than other iPhones. Differently than other phones, as near as I can tell. Previously, iPhones tried to home in on the strongest signal from a tower they could find. The problem is that the tower they're closest to--thereby providing the strongest signal--might also be the most crowded. Or there might be more electromagnetic interference in that area. So even though the signal is stronger, your call quality might actually be worse.

    The iPhone 4 seeks out the "best" signal, not necessarily the strongest. It looks for clarity, lack of interference, low traffic on the tower. As a result, and keeping with digital calling's binary nature, you "do" have a signal with the iPhone 4 more often than you "don't" compared to older iPhones, even if the reported signal strength is a lower number.

    Apple is going to change the way the bars are displayed so they follow AT&T's guidelines on how many bars to report for a given signal strength. Counterintuitively, this change is going to show fewer bars than you had before for any but really strong signals. Where you used to have four or five bars, you might now only see two. But, and this is important, those two bars are more "durable" and a more accurate indicator of what kind of signal you've actually had all along. You never really had the kind of signal strength you thought you did if you used to see five bars and now you see two after installing the patch. You always had "two bar" strength, you just didn't know it. Everyone clear on that?

    Should you hold off on buying an iPhone 4 because of this issue? If you already have one, should you take it back? That depends. Are you dropping calls? Are you dropping more calls than you did with your previous phone, iPhone or not? If not, then I wouldnt worry about it. As mentioned above, the iPhone 4s antenna is actually better than the 3GS at holding on to a call at low signal strength, so for all practical purposes the numbers dont matter.

    My iPhone 4 performs at least as well as my iPhone 3G, and offers so many advantages besides, so Id be a fool to take it back. Do I use a case? Sometimes. Sometimes not. I keep mine in a Griffin Elan Passport Wallet when Im on the go along with my drivers license and debit card. But I take it out frequently to sync, use around the house, for use as a GPS and when typing or watching video in the Griffin Travel Stand. In or out of a case, I dont notice the problem much. Its just not an issue. Put aside the hype and noise, and you might see the same.
    07-05-2010 03:40 PM
  2. chippy19977's Avatar
    Great write up!! Thanks!
    07-05-2010 03:53 PM
  3. BLiNK's Avatar
    Apple was caught so off guard by this controversy that they they stumbled repeatedly in dealing with it in public.
    thanks for the laugh; i hate mondays and i needed that
    07-05-2010 03:59 PM
  4. fresh1's Avatar
    Great write up Jeff K ... Thanks for posting it ..



    Fresh1
    07-05-2010 04:06 PM
  5. Cleveland's Avatar
    definitely great write up... Thanks again
    07-05-2010 04:25 PM
  6. LazyStarGazer's Avatar
    iPhone 4: The bars are*a*lie | JeffKirvin.net

    Apple raised eyebrows at WWDC when they announced the iPhone 4 by also announcing their first ever case for the iPhone, something they'd previously left to third party companies. The Bumper is a minimalist case that only covers the steel band around the iPhone, leaving the glass front and back uncovered. Once reports of problems with the antenna surfaced, it didn't take long for people to figure out that 2 + 2 = Conspiracy Theory!

    Obviously, they say, Apple knew about this problem, and that's why they're ripping us off to the tune of $30 for a band of rubber and plastic to cover up the problem they knew they had!

    Maybe, maybe not.

    I'll admit the Bumper is suspicious. It does seem to reduce, but not completely eliminate, the attenuation. But a wise man once advised to never attribute to malice what could be explained by incompetence. .
    Haha, love that line.
    07-05-2010 04:39 PM
  7. OTACORB's Avatar
    I think this is probably one of the best write-ups I've seen on the topic. It is explained in such a way that anyone could understand it. Good Job!

    I've posted the link to your web site on several forums.
    07-05-2010 06:06 PM
  8. ebedoun's Avatar
    AMAZING write up. Thanks Jeff.
    07-05-2010 06:28 PM
  9. Raptor007's Avatar
    Finally a post that can clearly explain in laymans terms what is going on with the signal, the bars and how everyone loves to follow the herd. Its a great write up and hopefully it will help those who don't know what the issue really is get it now.

    I ordered my iPhone 5 days ago, waiting patiently. The problem I see is that Jobs keeps tellilng people things are magical, best ever, walk on water, purify the air (humor abound). The problem is when the Apple his the masher someone has to get cider on them. I buy Apple products because they meet my needs, and I buy them fully understanding what I am getting, others are not as tuned into the show.

    What should a signal meter really be, I say put the dBm in place of the bars. Explain the lower the number the happier you should be. Unfortunately for the vast majority of cell phone users, they would rather wear a tin foil hat.
    07-05-2010 09:01 PM
  10. lungho's Avatar
    Of course, they don't just test it on campus. In fact, we know at least one radio baseband engineer who, while testing the phone in a bar, had a little too much German beer and wound up without his prototype iPhone 4. We also know from that little escapade that when off of Apple's campus, the iPhone 4 was hidden inside a specially built case that made it look like a 3GS. And holding it inside that case would have insulated the antenna, similar to how the Bumper works, which means they wouldn't have seen it there either.
    It's good to see you hit this angle. Other than the comment I made in another thread, this is the only other place I've seen somebody make this point.

    With the weird and somewhat offbeat introduction of the Bumper accessory at WWDC, I'm betting that Apple knew about the problem very late in their testing phase. If this is true, I'm quite appalled they think their users are this stupid. Did he not think we wouldn't be able to figure it out?

    BTW, nice write up!
    07-05-2010 09:06 PM
  11. Jeff Kirvin#IM's Avatar
    Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I'm glad this is helping.
    07-05-2010 11:28 PM
  12. chobbs1's Avatar
    It clarified what I already knew but couldn't put into words.

    I went to my mothers for the fourth and when everyone saw my iPhone for the first thing they said is "oh no!" " are you having signal problems?".
    Everyone that does not have an iPhone already believes that it is seriously flawed. I hate trying to explain the issue.
    07-06-2010 01:27 AM
  13. OTACORB's Avatar
    .
    Everyone that does not have an iPhone already believes that it is seriously flawed. I hate trying to explain the issue.
    Yes, I have encountered that myself and even though I could replicate it for folks to see it I won't. I just tell them that I've not had any real reception problems where I work, live and use my phone. So for me this is a non issue that is being blown way out there. They just sort of look at me a roll there eyes. Of course you know when you say stuff like that, they just think you are a crazed Apple fanboy. Like I really care! LOL

    Though I can replicate this and we have done so now on about 17 iPhones in my area between co-workers, family and friends. In reality none of us really have had issues with dropped calls, the ability to make calls etc. That also applies to data usage.
    07-06-2010 01:48 AM
  14. Cleveland's Avatar
    I know I was explaining to someone I was on the phone with about the whole death grip issue so to speak and I realized at the time I'd never tried it on a call.... What I found out is exactly what Jeff was talking about ...

    I dropped from 5 bars to 0 bars and never had a single issue with the quality of the call and I'm not using a bumper yet ...

    I also have a screenshot of it and I was explaining how and what screenshots were lol

    I'll post the screenshot when I can get to my Mac
    07-06-2010 05:18 AM
  15. Cleveland's Avatar
    Here's that screenshot... I stayed on this call for at least 5-6 mins infamously "death gripping" my phone and not a change in call quality at all... this is clearly a software issue as it's been stated
    07-06-2010 03:41 PM
  16. BLiNK's Avatar
    07-06-2010 04:05 PM
  17. Hack-My-i's Avatar
    i agree, its a nice write up but STILL... i guess when it all comes down, i can honestly deal with the antenna issue but what i CANT deal with STILL is the proximity sensor issue... will there be a fix for this other then speakerphone or headsets??? can u do a write up on this????? eh?????
    07-06-2010 05:26 PM
  18. big9erfan's Avatar
    Here's that screenshot... I stayed on this call for at least 5-6 mins infamously "death gripping" my phone and not a change in call quality at all... this is clearly a software issue as it's been stated
    LOL. It's not "clearly" a software issue. The software update will only more accurately show you your bars. Run speed tests on 3G when "death gripping" your phone to where your signal degrades. Watch the degrade in speed. It's not purely cosmetic unfortunately.
    07-06-2010 05:58 PM
  19. Hack-My-i's Avatar
    Here's that screenshot... I stayed on this call for at least 5-6 mins infamously "death gripping" my phone and not a change in call quality at all... this is clearly a software issue as it's been stated
    How is this CLEARLY a software issue???? and where has it been stated a software issue?????? SJ, himself stated to hold it differently, to me this sounds like hardware all the way. There will be no antenna software magical fix, the new update will only show "TRUE" service bars meaning u will have the same crappy service, but atleast u can see the bars in true formula.

    LOL. It's not "clearly" a software issue. The software update will only more accurately show you your bars. Run speed tests on 3G when "death gripping" your phone to where your signal degrades. Watch the degrade in speed. It's not purely cosmetic unfortunately.
    LOL. it made me chuckle too
    07-06-2010 06:11 PM
  20. Raptor007's Avatar
    It's a software issue in terms of Apple screwed up from day one on their algorithum. They will apply a more accurate one. I for one want a signal meter that has some basis in reality and now showing me 5 bars when I have 1. I need a real signal meter, NOT a BS meter.

    Now as to the ridiculous nature of class action lawsuits, first the only parties who make any money are the lawyers, Apple's and the Class Action Attorney's who take the case on contingency.

    If people are truly outraged, incensed about this and feel they were cheated or lied to (same people who would run down an old lady for an iPhone4) then contact your State Attorney General and the FTC. Put some real heat on Apple where it may actually do somehing.

    I purchased an iPhone knowing this is the issue, if it happens to me I will figure out how to work within it. The only thing you could get Jobs on is the magical BS part he spouted on about regarding the antenna. Certainly Nokia thinks so.

    Love my Apple gear, I just don't trust Job's and why shoud I.
    07-06-2010 09:26 PM
  21. Cleveland's Avatar
    It's a software issue in terms of Apple screwed up from day one on their algorithum. They will apply a more accurate one. I for one want a signal meter that has some basis in reality and now showing me 5 bars when I have 1. I need a real signal meter, NOT a BS meter.

    Now as to the ridiculous nature of class action lawsuits, first the only parties who make any money are the lawyers, Apple's and the Class Action Attorney's who take the case on contingency.

    If people are truly outraged, incensed about this and feel they were cheated or lied to (same people who would run down an old lady for an iPhone4) then contact your State Attorney General and the FTC. Put some real heat on Apple where it may actually do somehing.

    I purchased an iPhone knowing this is the issue, if it happens to me I will figure out how to work within it. The only thing you could get Jobs on is the magical BS part he spouted on about regarding the antenna. Certainly Nokia thinks so.

    Love my Apple gear, I just don't trust Job's and why shoud I.

    Then they should just return them and shut up lol... is my take... just my .02 worth
    07-07-2010 12:23 AM
  22. Hack-My-i's Avatar
    I purchased an iPhone knowing this is the issue, if it happens to me I will figure out how to work within it. The only thing you could get Jobs on is the magical BS part he spouted on about regarding the antenna. Certainly Nokia thinks so.

    Love my Apple gear, I just don't trust Job's and why shoud I.
    wow, really??? i guess u didnt get it on launch day like alot of us did...

    ...im not going to lie, i thought about returning it but the reception issue is something i can live with because im used to ATT's spotty service...
    07-07-2010 12:06 PM
  23. Raptor007's Avatar
    You know what I didn't get it on launch day. I see no reason to stand in line and wait for something you can pretty reasonably get within a week or two without the aggravation.

    Jobs is neither going to admit to faulty design, nor is he going to given away anything because he doesn't give a rats . . . I would agree that if users are unhappy they should a) return for a FULL refund, b) have the option to downgrade their 3G/3GS to OS 3.x or keep it at iOS4.

    Its easy to get caught up in the hype machine and Apple does a great job generating that hype. But plenty of people were commenting concern about the display before it went on sale, and yet they moved like a brush fire in San Bernadina Valley.

    I still say if your pissed off enough take it to a gov't entity who can actually push Apple to do something instead of making lawyers rich off of it.
    07-07-2010 01:05 PM
  24. etexans82's Avatar
    yes they are
    07-07-2010 01:59 PM
  25. lungho's Avatar
    I still say if your pissed off enough take it to a gov't entity who can actually push Apple to do something instead of making lawyers rich off of it.
    The iPhone 12 will be out before the government moves on anything. The only thing the government does quickly is spend our tax dollars.
    07-07-2010 03:49 PM
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