I’ve stayed silent on the iPhone 4 antenna “debacle”, and I frankly think that although there is a legitimate issue at the heart, it has been overblown by a media eager to find a chink in Mr. Jobs’ armor.
Before I get too far into this let me just say I’ve become quite the Apple fan over the last three years and even stood in line for 7 hours outside the Apple Store on June 24th to pick up my iPhone 4.
I’ve been able to replicate the “Death Grip” bar loss on purpose, but I’ve yet to have it cost me a call either on accident or when purposefully trying to kill a call with it.
I just downloaded the new iOS 4.0.1 update with its modified signal bar algorhythm and decided to do some of my own testing. Granted this is not controlled testing and it is not terribly randomized, so take this test with a grain of salt, just like all other tests that you read on blogs. I’m not even terribly confident that Consumer Reports’ testing was done in the proper environment.
Anyway, I have a generally good 3G signal at my house, owing mostly to being in the Nashville metropolitan area. The test methodology was to conduct 5 tests using Speedtest.net app, take a photo of the 5th test in each phone position/mode, and then average the 5. The positions/modes tested were: Wifi (a control), 3G-no hands (control), 3G w/2-fingers, 3G casual hold, and 3G Death Grip. What follows are the results of the testing along with some pics. All speeds are in kbps.
Methodology: Home Wifi network, Airport Extreme Base Station, Comcast Cable Modem, phone on desk, no hands.
3G No Hands
Methodology: 3G, phone on desk, no hands. Full 5 Bars.
Methodology: 3G, phone on desk, Thumb and pointer finger tightly gripping, bridging antenna gaps on either side of phone. 2 Bars.
3G Casual Hold
Methodology: 3G, phone in hand casually (not tight at all), like I’d be dialing or surfing the web. 3 Bars.
3G Death Grip
Methodology: 3G, phone in hand so tight it hurt my hand for a few minutes (see second photo below), like I’m an Apple-hater trying to score points on my blog. 1 Bar.
Let’s just throw out the death grip completely. Why? Because I had to hold the phone so tightly it hurt, and no reasonable person is going to hold their phone that tightly to make a call or surf the web or do anything else one does with an iPhone. Its not a realistic scenario that is likely to occur in the real world.
Having said that, the Casual Hold is entirely valid, and its results were hardly better. While the average speeds for Casual Hold are way higher than for Death Grip, note the wild inconsistency among the tests in download speeds. I’m curious to see if this variance continues if one were to conduct a couple dozen tests. Whatever causes the inconsistency in a casual grip is probably why the problem seems so hard to reproduce for some folks (including me).
I think we can throw out the 2-finger test for the same reason we threw out the Death Grip, no body holds their phone this way. If you did, you’d drop it. Its a nice way to demonstrate the flaw in a controlled and explicit way, but its not a realistic demonstration of the scenario that causes the problem in actual use. Having said that, the results are similar to, but more consistent than the Casual Hold.
As for the 3G on the desk with no hands, those results speak for themselves. I won’t bother discussion the Wifi results, they are here just for comparison’s sake and validation of my methodology.
Overall the casual hold represents a 47% drop in download speed and a 72% drop in upload speed. That’s significant enough to notice, but the raw speed is still well above 2G speeds and fast enough one ought to be able to use the phone if in an area with a half-way decent signal to begin with.
I’d also like to note that in both Death Grip and Casual Hold positions I was still able to dial and complete calls. So one might say looking at data speeds when the issue is call reception is comparing apples to oranges (pun intended). That is a valid criticism.
Clearly the exposed antennas are prone to some attenuation issues. Oddly this seems to only really affect the 3G antenna though. So yes, its a flaw. Is it fatal? I don’t really think so. And judging by the lack of long return lines at Apple stores and continuing high demand, I don’t think the majority of consumers are all that upset about this.
Are there folks who’s phones are virtually unuseable because of this flaw? Yes, I’m sure there are some, but its hardly approaching even a large minority of iPhone 4 buyers. Is it a great number as a percent of the whole than had issues with previous models or would have issues with another brand of phone? Who knows, nobody’s sought fit to actually find any real data, this whole thing seems to be one giant anecdotal evidence party.
The media and Apple-haters (is it hate or just jealousy?) are certainly enjoying the brief exposure of Apple’s soft underbelly. Apple has gone from counter culture chick to mainstream in just a couple of years. As other articles have noted, though they are still barely 10% of the PC marketshare, they dominate the all important mindshare. Everybody loves to hate the big kid on the block, be it Microsoft, Wal-Mart, or GM in years past. Now that Apple is at the top of the heap and making busloads of money, they should get used to taking shots from the media, competitors and even perhaps formerly allied counter culture.
My guess on the press conference tomorrow is that Steve sends everyone who has already bought an iPhone 4 an Apple Store credit for $30 to be used on a bumper, which actually costs just a buck or two to make. Some who don’t have a reception problem will end up spending the credit on something else, perhaps even a significantly higher priced item. This remedy actually ends up making Apple more money, much to the chagrin of the Apple haters. The white iPhones will be announced to have been delayed while a modification (a coating?) is made to the steel band, and future black models will receive the same modification.