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Apple Explains Why iPhone 4 Drops Bars When Held

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Apple issued an official statement explaining why some users see a dramatic drop in signal bars when held in what some are calling the “iPhone 4 Death Grip.” According to Apple the iPhone 4 displays two more bars than it should, causing iPhone users to mistakenly believe they have strong reception when in reality they should only see two or three bars. Apple said it’s reworking the iPhone 4′s software to show more accurate readings of signal strength. While this fix will give a iPhone 4 users a better idea of how clear a call may be prior to placing it, it will not improve call clarity or prevent dropped calls.

Many reports, including AnandTech, have detailed why some users notice a dramatic drop in bars when holding their new iPhones. While many assume that each of the five bars represent 20% of the signal strength, this isn’t the case. According to analysis by AnandTech, 64% of the signal strength is visualized as the iPhone’s top bar. This means that an iPhone 4 displaying five bars could have either very strong or sub-par reception. The fourth bar covers the next 16% of signal strength and the first (smallest) bar represents less than 1%.

In the statement Apple wrote:

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

The iPhone 4 is designed to have better reception than previous models thanks to external antennae. Some tests indicate this is the case when the iPhone 4 is used when placed on a flat surface or held in a way that does not interfere with the antennae.

Here are two videos demonstrating the iPhone 4 reception antenna problem.

Complete Statement from Apple:

Using a case, such as Apple’s iPhone 4 Bumper case, alleviates the issue of touching the two antennae at the same time and dramatically improves call quality.

Letter from Apple Regarding iPhone 4

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.

Apple

4 Comments

  1. lywell

    July 6, 2010 at 3:43 am

    hmm, hope the signal problem can be solved early, and I think to admit a mistake is great at least, this is the one I love Apple, and be a loyal fan. though actually, I received my “4″ on Friday, the day after release, and I have no signal problem yet, I have held it in the way which is supposed to drop the signal several times and only notice the signal drop once, So far I'm quite impressed.
    (BTW: As the iPhone 4 high-definition video clips, watch video on IPhone 4 must be cool and amazing, I've been looking for a good program to Convert videos or rip DVD movies for the iPhone 4 and I have download the iPhone 4 Video Converter at http://ifunia.com/video-to-iphone-converter-mac… Im ready for enjoying on the go! )
    So far, I am very pleased, it's expensive but it actually feels worth it. can't recommended it enough. Gorgeous to look at and an absolute pleasure to use.

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