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Apple Finally Admits iPhone 4 Antenna Problem

Gordon Kelly by

Apple Finally Admits iPhone 4 Antenna Problem

The iPhone 4 has barely been on sale two weeks, but after a torrent of abuse Apple has finally had to cave and admit there are reception issues with its shiny new handset...

In an open letter late to iPhone 4 owners the company proclaimed:

"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."

Yes, only Apple could answer furious cries from its customers by declaring it is because they were giving them more than they were entitled to. Sarcasm aside Apple proposes:

"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."

Given AT&T's notorious record as the carrier with the worst reception in the US adopting its formula for calculating reception and making bars one, two and three a bit taller seems a flaky fix. Numerous videos have shown you can make the iPhone 4 drop calls at times simply by using the infamous "Death Grip" and we have been able to replicate this, so I don't see how these measures will correct that. Furthermore, Apple says this problem afflicts the iPhone 3G and 3GS which a) means Apple has been exaggerating signal strengths for years and yet b) how come we've not run into these grip issues before?

Apple does deserve great credit for making the iPhone 4 its best handset to date. I've bought one and, in general, my experience is call quality and reception is much improved over previous generations. That said sometimes it would be nice for Apple to show some humility and admit even its much lauded designs can occasionally have defects...

Yeah, right!?!

In related news there are widespread reports that iTunes' accounts have been hacked. According to MacRumors threads both developers and users have been affected, though the scale of the attack is unknown. Initial talk is of the hack being by a single iPhone developer since many of their apps were pushed up the charts following the attack - not exactly the most subtle way of covering your tracks.

Be interesting to see how Apple explains we got more than we were entitled to here.

Link: Apple iPhone 4 Open Letter

Go to comments


July 5, 2010, 5:02 am

How's bar recalculation (software issue) going to address the insulation problem (hardware issue)? Lookup the objective signal testing data comparing iPhone 4 with iPhone 3GS on the following article:


It would be honorable for Apple to admit that. With immediate effect, modify the future production line of iPhone 4 with a layer of appropriate coating.


July 5, 2010, 5:09 am

Wonder if they'll ditch the edge mounted antenna in No.5?

I wonder why they didn't put it behind the glass on the back, glass allows radio through, doesn't it? Personally, I don't like the idea of being in direct contact with an antenna, but that's just me!

Sunny 1

July 5, 2010, 5:32 am

So Apple have been showing false reception bars to its user and making the user feel smug that there iPhoney gets better reception compared (when it isn't) to say HTC or Nokia phones in weak signal areas?

and it took them 3 years to notice this (including 3G & 3GS)?

nicely done Apple, good way to cheat the users and still make them worship the brand.

if HTC had pull this stunt with Desire they would be going the BP way by next week.

better still HTC should try this with the Hero handset which seem to have reception issue in T-mobile.

They can tell the customer you are holding it the wrong way.

Only Apple!


July 5, 2010, 5:37 am

as I have always said if you ever want to buy anything off iTunes (obviously not music it is cheaper from amazon/7digital ect, only reason to buy stuff from itunes is apps - nothing else) always and only use a gift card therefore you can only ever loose what was left on the card instead of your whole bank account or full credit limit.


July 5, 2010, 5:39 am

"We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see"

Liar liar pants on fire. They are making bars 1,2 & 3 a 'bit taller' so that the average iPhone buying punter has the illusion of getting a better signal than they are actually receiving.

Mind you, according to BGR, Apple's PR department seem to be hell-bent on telling porky pies of late. Somebody take the shovel away from Apple, it's time to stop digging.


July 5, 2010, 11:25 am

Ahhh, so in your review of the iPhone, you actually meant to give it a 3 out of 10 for performance, but the bars showed 10. Now that explains everything !

Martin Daler

July 5, 2010, 11:38 am

This makes absolutely no sense. Apple say that the issue is a phantom, the bars were never supposed to be there in the first place, so their disappearance is an artefact of software rather than anything to do with aerial attenuation depending on the hand-grip? To make sense, Apple will have to explain how this software error is triggered by a particular grip and not by others. How would the software even know {by design, or otherwise} which part of the phone you were gripping? Are there hand-grip position sensors? Baloney!


July 5, 2010, 11:55 am

I love the products - but it's a classic example of why I've moved away from apple for phones and laptops - they treat their customers like they are idiots .....

A bit of humility and an apology to their customers wouldn't go amiss - they need to be careful in case they fall from that consumer pedestal - the rise of Apple's fortunes may have been rapid - but their fall could well exceed even that if they aren't careful.


July 5, 2010, 11:56 am

So, what exactly does the best mobile PHONE on the market have to do? It certainly doesn't have to enable you to hold a phone call... After all, two cans and a piece of string are not that difficult to find.


July 5, 2010, 12:25 pm

Sometimes Apple's actions can be breathtaking. This is one of those times.

Considering how infrequently I actually get 5 bars, I can only assume I should have been wandering around using Edge most of the time for the past 15 months.

iPhone 4 - welcome to eBay.... Fortunately inspite of this you're still worth more than I paid for you.


July 5, 2010, 12:52 pm

Isn't this story about 4 days old? (Not like to TR to be so slow off the mark...)

Nick G

July 5, 2010, 1:10 pm

If it's just the display of bars that's the problem, then why does my phone physically drop an active call if I put my phone in the other hand for a few seconds? This is just another cover up. It's a hardware fault that they're trying to fix with software. Really they just need to recall the phones and sort it out properly.


July 5, 2010, 1:44 pm

Worth a look...



July 5, 2010, 2:06 pm


Love it! :-)

This has become quite a big issue (at least online) but has there actually been a real backlask by customers? My mate who works in Carphone Warehouse says that they're selling faster than a German counter attack and that returns are vitually non existant.


July 5, 2010, 2:26 pm

I am very critical of TrustedReviews' Apple commentary, and I really do not want to be, but the bias is just so obvious it's ridiculous. How can you say that Apple has designed its best handset yet when it can't even do what it was originally designed for? MAKE CALLS. You talk about how it's a premium product with great build quality but it has one of the biggest flaws a phone can have. And I bet you the issues don't disappear after this update, I reckon there's a problem with the hardware not software. The iPhone is by far the most expensive product in the market, it has issues with making calls and you still go on about how great it is. This is absolutely ridiculous. I give up with you people, seriously.


July 5, 2010, 2:55 pm

uh... anandtech did a report on this, with the bars replaced by actual numbers instead giving the proper report of signal strength in dB. holding the phone in the left hand with slightly sweaty palms = -113 dB (milli?) and thats a dropped signal.


July 5, 2010, 3:02 pm

@JGM: Worth a look..

I got mine this W/E, tried the death grip a number of times. Tried it also in a weak signal area (2 bars), and it never had any effect. That link does mention different carriers using different frequency's, so I wonder if this could be it, I'm with O2. Also I have pretty dry hands that might help. Not got InvisibleShield yet, so that should help if I do get wet hands :).

One thing I have noticed, here at work we get a very weak signal for 3G, so when I was using Internet on my old 3G it would try 3G but would then drop down to GPRS. Now it stays with 3G and webpages are much faster even when the bars are only showing 1.

On another note about new phone, one thing I thought seemed a pointless upgrade was the extra high res screen, I always thought the 3G resolution was fine. Most people mentioned they still kept zooming in, and I did initially, but then though I'd try not zooming in and see how I went, and now I zoom in a lot less, I believe the zooming in was more down to habit than necessity. Eg, try BBC's or TR's homepage in Landscape mode and try reading with the 4G, I've not got great eyesight and found it very easy to read.


July 5, 2010, 3:12 pm

@Enarca: This is absolutely ridiculous. I give up with you people, seriously.

Yeah TR, stop giving your opinions of a product, and score it so that people like @Enarca stop spitting out there dummy. Even though you know the reception issue has been blown out of proportion, we all believe you should still use this as an excuse to bash Apple to a pulp. I know, I know, if people like @Enarca were not interested in Apple products they could just skip them, but please remember not all Web users are as tech savvy as you and me, and it's very easy for them to click the link by mistake and be confronted with pure Apple porn, it's just so wrong.

Jawad Mateen

July 5, 2010, 3:43 pm


Really... C'mon man...

Do you actually buy that explanation? As someone

pointed out already if it's a software issue then how in the name of Mark Twain do you drop calls by holding it a certain way. Gordon, where is your biting sarcasm now... Just because you had an iPhone 4 is it really that hard to grill Apple for that kind of mistake (if it can be called just a mistake). I think you should watch the latest Futurama episode to lift some joke ideas about Steve 'Mom' Jobs telling people how to hold their phones. Seriously, if any other company came with that kind of lame excuse for a faulty product you'd have *****slapped them so hard they'd start to like it but since its Apple you can still mention 'great credit to Apple' in your piece about that story. How about some journalistic integrity? I mean that's even worst than fanboy stuff because you're a talented staff writer for a site like TR not a washed up dude going crazy on his keyboard holding a Mountain Dew can with his mouth...

I loved your recent objective article about UK broadband and let me say that your love for the iPhone was never lost on me. Nobody can help it... Like I love Martin Scorsese films so much I couldn't help myself but to like Shutter Island even knowing that it wasn't up to the usual Scorsese standards. Far from 'Goodfellas' it wasn't even 'Gangs of New York'. Not the greatest analogy but you get the idea... So in the light of what Apple have done with this whole issue, stop searching YouTube for a similar problem in 'one' Nokia phone and going 'Hah'... Say it as it is... Before the iVirus totally gets you...

Big fan...


July 5, 2010, 3:47 pm

@Encara: It isn't just TR. Mobile phone reviews have changed. Go back to around 2005, and *all* smartphone reviews dealt in detail with call quality, signal strength and reception in moving vehicles and so on. Today, very few reviews do. There're a variety of reasons for this which I'm not going to get into, but to say that this reflects a bias in TR is ridiculous. It isn't just TR that treats Apple thus, and it isn't only Apple that gets this treatment.


July 5, 2010, 4:16 pm

just a thought

buy one of those screen protector clear plastic things. cut out a tiny little rectangle. apply to that section of iphone. hey presto, problem solved?

or just buy a bumper..... the cynic in me says the bumper IS the solution to the problem. apple knew about it, it was too late to fix and decided to cash in with an accessory that will fix the problem and charge customers a further 30 bob ontop of a ludicrous price tag.


July 5, 2010, 4:37 pm

Open question to everyone who actually owns an iPhone 4 and is whinging about the signal issue:

Have you returned it? Are you even planning to? Do you even own an iPhone or are you just pretending in the hope that it&#8217ll give your argument a bit of much needed authority?

It's bizarre that despite all of the evidence that has come out regarding dozens of other popular handsets showing off the same (spiny-blue) life-stopping-fault-of-doom, everybody ignores it and continues to just shout at Apple. Will it ever stop being fashionable to hate the company?

After being demonstrated "the grip" I could replicate the loss of a bar or two when I held the phone tightly enough, but not once have I lost a call despite purposely holding the phone in the wrong fashion. Data download speeds are phenomenal compared to my old 3G. The general speed of the device, and the Retina display, still silently please me during use, and the multitasking/fast-app-switching works like a charm with draining the battery; my many, many apps are being rapidly updated with iOS4/iPhone 4 functionality.

I have never been more satisfied with a handset.


July 5, 2010, 4:59 pm

@Cub: Do you even own an iPhone or are you just pretending in the hope that it&#8217ll give your argument a bit of much needed authority?

I think that's a common technique, last time @Greg was ditching his 3GS and getting an Android phone.

A Scotland

July 5, 2010, 5:07 pm

I am not returning the phone, despite it frequently dropping calls when held out of a case, because I am perhaps naively waiting for Apple to offer a free fix. Like Microsoft did with the Xbox.

The phone is great in every other respect I agree. It is however unacceptable that the company should so unashamedly lie to its customers in a press release. First of all to pretend they have only just realised their signal strength has been falsely displayed by iphones for years. Secondly to pretend this is why the current iphone is dropping calls. I know PR is all about deceit but I can swallow it if done intelligently.


July 5, 2010, 5:32 pm


I feel exactley the same, while i accept there may be a signal issue It is yet to cause me a problem in fact I have even deliberately held the phone in the 'death grip' whilst on a call and my signal has been on full.

I had a HTC Desire for a few months prior to iPhone 4 and got rid of it for several reasons...

1) The battery life is terrible (even with mobile+wifi diabled etc)

2) The Apps for android and the Android OS itself are still far from iOS quality

3) The HTC Desire seems to have an annoying audio/video lip sync issue when playing any form of video whether it's YouTube, a video file stored on the phone, Sky News, Flixter etc all have the same problem. I havent looked into this problem much but I noticed it straight away and apparently the Nexus One has it too.

All of the above problems were far more annoying to me than a signal issue that people keep going on about that hasn't caused me a problem yet at all.

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