Apple's Antenna Issues: Them's the Breaks

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s signal reception issues on the iPhone 4 are likely caused by a break in the casing for an antenna on the left-hand side of the phone and therefore won't be helped by the company's plans to alter its 3G signal-strength software, says UBM TechInsights.

Apple put out an open letter to iPhone 4 users on Friday stating that the iPhone 4’s wireless performance is "the best we have ever shipped" but claiming that the formula the company uses to calculate 3G signal strength often shows better reception than is actually the case. Thus, the signal can drop "by one or more bars" when users grip the new iPhone "a certain way." The company's solution to this is to reformulate and update its signal strength software for the iPhone. (See Apple Explains iPhone 4 Troubles.)

Light Reading Mobile asked the tear-down specialists at our sister company, UBM TechInsights, what they thought might be the actual cause of the signal strength issues with the new phone. Jeffrey Brown, VP of business intelligence at UBM TechInsights, says the problem is a hardware "design issue" and that the software stuff is, in fact, "a smokescreen."

"It looks like it is more a result of where they have created breaks in the frame to create antennas," Brown said in an email reply to questions.

See below for a shot of the iPhone 4 casing that illustrates where the breaks are:

"By holding the phone in the left hand, one could effectively create a different length antenna by shorting across a break created by the black plastic insert," Brown continues. "The other side is already shorted so holding the phone in your right hand would not change the dynamics of the frame."

The following shot from UBM TechInsights shows the detail of the functional antenna on the left-hand side and the decorative break in the casing on the right:

No quick fix
So, Apple's proposed software tweak will do little more than than "show how soft" the connection is when holding the phone in your left hand, Brown says. (See Apple Blames Your Grip.)

"This is still a design issue -- and a fundamentally wrong design nonetheless -- that Apple is scrambling to fix, as made evident for their recent job postings for antennae engineering experts," he notes.

Apple Insider reported last week that Apple started advertising positions for antenna experts just before the iPhone launched in June.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

krishanguru143 12/5/2012 | 4:30:43 PM
re: Apple's Antenna Issues: Them's the Breaks

Before release Apple was more than happy to talk about their innovative antennae design; one what no one else has used before.  Apple is not really an innovative company.  GUI; nope, they can thank Xerox/PARC for that.  iPod; nope, they were not the first on the block.  They did have a better UI though.  iPhone; the first version was way behind what everyone else offered at that time.  It not nothing special; for anyone that mentions multitouch, APple had nothing to do with it.  They found a screen that had that capability.  Multitouch was invented by others, not Apple.  Even Microsoft showed multitouch way before the iPhone.  Multitouch has quite a long history; it dates back to 1982.  The first iPhone couldn't record; fairly common for phone in 2007; didn't have GPS, Nokia was already selling GPS enabled phones, 3G was also the norm from the major manufacturers, apps were available for smartphones and they were nothing new.  In all reality, the entire industry pretty much has copied what Nokia did with the communicator.  That was a device far ahead of its time.  Look at the specs and when it was released.  Video calling is also nothing new, that goes back to 2005.  Nokia had a 3G phone that supported video calling; it took Apple 4 generations to get to there.  Nokia allowed video calls on all of their smartphones in the 2005/2006 timeframe.  Even if it didn't have a front facing camera, they allowed video calls; they can't see you but you can see them.  They also didn't require the other party to have a Nokia phone as well.


So now Apple knows why no one had done an antennae like that.  I'm sure they tried it and saw the drawbacks.  The most alarming thing, it wasn't caught during the testing phase.  I guess Apple was too busy trying to hide the phone from public view by putting them in cases.  Their own secretive nature got the best of them.


Apple has admitted they stole IP from Nokia.  They didn't like the royalty rates and refused to pay, so Nokia jumped the rates up.  It will be interesting to see what happens to Apple and the iPhone/iPad.  I expect the high margins will be greatly reduced in the near future.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 4:30:41 PM
re: Apple's Antenna Issues: Them's the Breaks

If the casing break turns out to be the sole source of the problem, then, yeah, I wonder how the design made it past preliminary testing.

krishanguru143 12/5/2012 | 4:30:40 PM
re: Apple's Antenna Issues: Them's the Breaks

Simple, Apple tries to be too secretive and they had the iPhone 4 in cases so that people wouldn't be able to see the phone.  This all goes back to the prototype that was left behind.  Put the phone in a case and the issue doesn't happen.  It really makes you question their QA program.

shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:30:39 PM
re: Apple's Antenna Issues: Them's the Breaks

This is becoming a fascinating case study, in more ways than one. Given that this is clearly a product design defect, and that the effects can be minimized by slipping the product into a protective case, wouldn't it be in Apple's best interest -- and, coincidentally, its customers' best interest -- to just send its customers those cases at no charge? They probably cost no more than $5 to make.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 4:30:39 PM
re: Apple's Antenna Issues: Them's the Breaks

It appears that AppleCare customer care is confirming that the software update won't fix the problem beyond giving a more accurate signal reading. Using a bumper case seems like it should help with the problem. The case is $33 with shipping from Apple. As Apple said in its open letter you can also return the phone for a refund within 30 days.


shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:30:38 PM
re: Apple's Antenna Issues: Them's the Breaks

Apple may now be learning a lesson that gets taught often enough but never seems to sink in: It's not the crime that does you in, it's the coverup. Or, in this case, the lack of a coverup.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 4:30:38 PM
re: Apple's Antenna Issues: Them's the Breaks

Presumably they could have also have done something like a silicon coating on the phone to cut this problem.

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