Apple formally responds to iPhone 4 reception issues – and it’s AWESOME! - Macenstein

Apple formally responds to iPhone 4 reception issues – and it’s AWESOME!

Ok, so Apple just released the following statement on the iPhone 4 reception issues that (almost) everyone is reporting (Including me). My thoughts after the jump.

Letter from Apple Regarding iPhone 4

CUPERTINO, Calif., July 2 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ —

Dear iPhone 4 Users,

The iPhone 4 has been the most successful product launch in Apple’s history. It has been judged by reviewers around the world to be the best smartphone ever, and users have told us that they love it. So we were surprised when we read reports of reception problems, and we immediately began investigating them. Here is what we have learned.

To start with, gripping almost any mobile phone in certain ways will reduce its reception by 1 or more bars. This is true of iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, as well as many Droid, Nokia and RIM phones. But some users have reported that iPhone 4 can drop 4 or 5 bars when tightly held in a way which covers the black strip in the lower left corner of the metal band. This is a far bigger drop than normal, and as a result some have accused the iPhone 4 of having a faulty antenna design.

At the same time, we continue to read articles and receive hundreds of emails from users saying that iPhone 4 reception is better than the iPhone 3GS. They are delighted. This matches our own experience and testing. What can explain all of this?

We have discovered the cause of this dramatic drop in bars, and it is both simple and surprising.

Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.

To fix this, we are adopting AT&T’s recently recommended formula for calculating how many bars to display for a given signal strength. The real signal strength remains the same, but the iPhone’s bars will report it far more accurately, providing users a much better indication of the reception they will get in a given area. We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see.

We will issue a free software update within a few weeks that incorporates the corrected formula. Since this mistake has been present since the original iPhone, this software update will also be available for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G.

We have gone back to our labs and retested everything, and the results are the same— the iPhone 4’s wireless performance is the best we have ever shipped. For the vast majority of users who have not been troubled by this issue, this software update will only make your bars more accurate. For those who have had concerns, we apologize for any anxiety we may have caused.

As a reminder, if you are not fully satisfied, you can return your undamaged iPhone to any Apple Retail Store or the online Apple Store within 30 days of purchase for a full refund.

We hope you love the iPhone 4 as much as we do.

Thank you for your patience and support.


OK, that was awesome. I think they may also have plans to change the maximum iPhone volume from 10 to 11 so it is “louder”.

But seriously, while I have no doubt Apple can issue a software patch that will cause the reception bars to always show a lower signal strength than they do now, this statement has failed to convince me that there is not an issue with the iPhone 4. Below is a sample of the reception bars on my wife’s iPhone 3G S.

And here is a snapshot of my iPhone 4, in the exact same location (yes, these bigger screenshots ARE unnerving).

Now, here is my iPhone 4 with me covering the “sweet spot”.

For the record, I can’t hold my wife’s iPhone 3G S in ANY way to cause the signal to drop.

So, given that Apple appears to be using the same “erroneous” method to calculate reception on ALL it’s iPhones, there is no doubt in my mind that the 3G S gets better reception than the 4.

Unfortunately, Apple has given its army of fanboy defenders a rallying cry in that last sentence : “As a reminder, if you are not fully satisfied, you can return your undamaged iPhone to any Apple Retail Store or the online Apple Store within 30 days of purchase for a full refund.”

I fully expect anyone who is happy with their iPhone 4 reception (or who doesn’t even own an iPhone 4 but who is sick of any negative Apple news) to repeat that line to any of us who may still be complaining. And for the record, I agree. If this really mattered to me, I should return my iPhone. (Of course, I already sold my 3G S on eBay to pay for THIS one…) But while I’m definitely upset that my iPhone’s reception isn’t quite as good as the other models, quite honestly, I have no friends and never use the iPhone as a “phone”. Where the lack of reception will hurt me is in internet radio listening and such, and a software update that will make my 3 bars go (more accurately) down to 1 bar isn’t going to fix that.

So while this statement is a bit disappointing, I think deep down none of use expected Apple to truly cop to a design issue. I’m pretty confident Apple knows the antenna in the band design was not their best design decision, and the proof will be in the iPhone 5. As a symbol of the strength of my belief, I make this promise to you now… I will eat my iPhone 4 if the iPhone 5 has the exact same antenna design.

14 Responses to “Apple formally responds to iPhone 4 reception issues – and it’s AWESOME!”
  1. brnmbrns says:

    This doesn’t really seem like anything special to me. In other words, they’re no longer inadvertently disguising the low AT&T signal?

  2. suavenyc72 says:

    I don’t get it! I seriously had more issues with my 3G, grant it I’ve only had iPhone 4 for since it’s release and time will tell but I’m a very happy customer…..realistically speaking-out of 2 million iPhone 4’s, don’t you guts think that there will be atleast 200 thousand with some sort of issue? Any tech gadget will!

  3. Mark says:

    I think you meant formally not formerly. 🙂

  4. DJ says:

    I think you mean FORMALLY (officially), not FORMERLY (past).

  5. @DJ, I think you’re right!
    – The Doc

  6. Min says:

    Doc, Just in case they use the same design in iPhone 5, make sure to blend your iPhone 4 with the Blendtec blender before you eat it. 😛

  7. dasein says:

    I’m not suggesting there isn’t something wrong with the iPhone4, but what you’re demonstrating here doesn’t necessarily contradict Apple’s contention: The difference you’re showing is between 4 and 3 bars. If you don’t know exactly the dB value, it’s plausible the difference is so small that you’re straddling the bar. Any number of things could cause the reading to hop the 3 to 4 or back. If the algorithm is indeed the problem, getting a 4 isn’t much different than getting a 3 in that they’re both exaggerated reads (according to Apple). You didn’t mention whether your wife’s 3GS had been upgraded to iOS4, or that by doing the same with both phones, a measurable loss of data occurred in one but not the other. There is a point if she has upgraded to iOS4 and holding the 3GS causes less attenuation than you iP4 held the same way, although both signals appear to be weak to begin with.

  8. Nicholas says:

    …but they’re hiring antenna engineers…

  9. Kenneth says:

    I just wish they would fix the damn proximity sensor issue, I keep hitting buttons while on a call with my cheek and it sucks. It’s not isolated to my phone, all 3 iPhone 4’s at our company are doing it.

  10. steve humann says:

    I have a pretty clear memory of my signal indicator bars acting differently after one of either the version 2.0 or 3.0 iPhone updates. before that when I had low signal it would show me two bars. quite frequently at my house as a matter of fact. after the update it suddenly started showing more bars everywhere but the actual signal strength wasn’t improved. I figured it was just another AT&T scam to try to make me blame my phone for their crap network. now I wonder if what I experienced had anything to do with this “incorrect” logarithmic math they’re talking about.

  11. xyberdruid says:

    please let the Verizon rumor be true this time verizon gets G4 close enough to my contract end that I’m gonna wait and see my current ipod is pre g1 iphone and i’v LOVE to have a excuce…i mean justification for upgrading

  12. Chuck says:

    This is all too familiar. Check out the release notes for the iPhone OS 2.1.

    In the notes:
    “Improved accuracy of the 3G signal strength display.”

    So when AT&T has problems, bump the bars higher. When Apple may have problems, bump the bars lower.

  13. Dave says:

    What Apple is doing by releasing this “patch” is limiting their liability. If they can show “accurate” bars, which will just happen to be lower, then it shows that you are losing less signal while holding the iPhone and then becomes more of an AT&T issue than an Apple issue. It then appears to be more in line signal loss wise, with other manufactures phones. This of course will do absolutely nothing to help those losing connections.

  14. seearees says:

    I can actually see this explanation being pretty much legitimate. Back when the 3G first came out there were many complaints of poor 3G reception and within a few weeks Apple released an update to increase the reception. At the time people just accepted it since they were showing more bars most of the time. Most people in rural areas didn’t have 3G reception issues so they were fine and people in big metropolitan areas were seeing more bars so they just believed the issue was fixed. I was kind of in between living in a suburb of San Francisco and I can’t really say I felt there was an actual difference.

    Fast forward a year and a half and I got a job in San Francisco. Suddenly I was seeing that there would often be times where I would show full 3G bars yet I couldn’t load so much as the weather app. I’d walk a few feet and the bars would completely drop to one or even searching/no service. Walk back and show full bars again, all the while not being able to use the phone for anything that needed a signal.

    So now looking at Apple’s excuse for the 4’s reception issues it actually all makes quite a bit of sense. Albeit, it doesn’t make them look any better and it seems like utter bullshit that they’re “stunned” that the formula is wrong, as it is much more likely that they intentionally used the incorrect formula to give the appearance that reception was better. And now they’re going to make the first two bars larger? Oh thanks Apple, that solves everything!!! I sit here today quite frustrated with Apple. They’re clearly flipping their stance to lessen the blow on their end, yet customers are left with a phone that is as shitty as ever.

    I love my iPhone 4 and honestly don’t use it much as an actual phone. I get pretty good service everywhere outside of work and spend at least half my non work time somewhere with wifi. Despite all this I can’t help but feel like the right thing to do would be return it for an EVO or something similar where I wouldn’t always be reminded that I’ve drunk the Apple kool-aid while my co-workers are using their metro-pcs phones without a any problems day after day and I can’t even check my email.

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