Alexander’s Blog

July 3, 2010

Apple Publicly Admits that iPhone Signal Bars are Fake

by @ 1:56 pm. Filed under Apple/Macintosh, News

Today, in an open letter to public Apple finally admitted that the problems that iPhone users are experiencing are real. But Apple’s explanation is rather strange. They essentially say that although they know about the reception problems, they can’t really help you. However, they will do you a favor and fix the problem with the signal strength (the bars on the phone) so it will correctly show you how really pathetic the signal quality is. Currently, the signal bar gives you fake results so you don’t have a clue as to what exactly is your signal strength on your iPhone. The problem is associated with iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and iPhone 4.

It seems like most people are getting a chuckle out of reading Apple’s response to the problem. I am sure Apple doesn’t think it’s funny. At least not with the concerns of potential class action lawsuit looming over their head. Here’s what Apple says (the bold highlights are mine):

“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.”

Apple also blames the iPhone users because they don’t hold the phone properly and says that other phones have similar problems so this isn’t really that bad. I can’t speak for everyone else but my Motorola phone never loses its signal strength no matter how I hold the phone. I tried holding it upside down, backwards and forward, at every angle, even jumping up and down, but could not duplicate Apple’s claim that that’s how cell phones are supposed to work. But then again, I don’t have an iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, Droid, Nokia or an RIM phone. This may come to Apple as a surprise that my cell phone works while driving through the I-90 tunnel, in elevators, and even in basements…..and no, my service provider is not AT&T. According to Apple:

“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.”

I guess Apple’s engineers didn’t know how to calculate the formula’s properly so Apple has decided to use AT&T’s formula for calculating signal strength.

“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.”

In an effort to justify the great quality of iPhone 4, Apple said that they “continue to read articles and receive hundreds of emails from users saying that iPhone 4 reception is better than the iPhone 3GS.” I don’t think criticizing your own product is such a great idea. In fact, it’s a bad marketing idea. There are 41,152,350 people who purchased an iPhone by the end of 2009. Considering the fact that just in three days (June 24-26, 2010) Apple sold 1.7 million iPhone 4s, I wouldn’t be jumping up and down if only a couple of hundred people are excited about iPhone 4′s reception, compared to a worse product iPhone 3GS. That’s not something to brag about.

Apple admits that the mistake with the formula goes back all the way to iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G. It will take them a few weeks to offer a software update.

“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.

To help the public, Apple has announced the following:

“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.”

If you own an iPhone longer than 30 days, you are out of luck. Keep in mind that Apple won’t release the software update for several weeks…..okay, they said “a few weeks.” If you wait for the software patch then you may not be eligible for a refund if you miss the 30-day deadline. Obviously, if they don’t come out with a patch for the next 30-days (i.e. “a few weeks”), you are guaranteed to be ineligible for a refund.

You may have read about Apple’s recommendation to use bumper as a workaround (which they sell for $29 each). What people find funny is that Apple also claims that this is not a design flaw, it’s a software problem. How does using a bumper fixes a software bug? Talking about bumpers, you might want to read this article “Why Apple’s iPhone 4 bumper case is a rip-off” on Ars Technica’s Web site.

Makes you wonder why Apple’s testing and quality control department were not able to discover this and other iPhone flaws. Perhaps the iPhone manual should include instructions on how to properly hold Apple’s iPhones. Can you imagine someone making a really important phone call accidentally holds his/her iPhone in an improper method (whatever that is). Aren’t you glad President Obama uses a Blackberry, not an iPhone? Until Apple fixes the iPhone flaws, dialing 911 on an iPhone might not be a good idea.

You can read the entire open letter here.

Here are some additional links of interest.

  1. My blog post from June 29, 2010: Is iPhone a Lemon?
  2. Guardian’s blog: Steve Jobs solves iPhone 4 reception problems: ‘don’t hold it that way’
  3. Sharee English’s blog: To iPhone or not to iPhone
  4. Ars Technica article: Why Apple’s iPhone 4 bumper case is a rip-off
  5. ZDNet: Is Apple covering up the real problem with it’s iPhone?

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