iPhone 4 External Antenna Possibly Causing Dropped Calls

Steve Jobs made a big deal of the new antenna design in the iPhone 4 during his keynote at WWDC 2010. But could this cool new feature that promised to make reception so much better actually be making things worse? Engadget and others are reporting poor iPhone 4 reception when held in the left hand.

On his handset, Engadget’s Richard Lai said that the phone dropped the call “… everytime it was held in our left hand … so that our palm was essentially bridging the two antennas.” Aside from the weirdness of more than one person sharing the same left hand and palm, this is weird all by itself. The two antennae he is talking about are the two radio antennae in the device that come together in the lower left corner as you look at the front of the phone. As you can see in the picture above, the cellular antenna (labelled UMTS/GSM) and the Bluetooth/Wi-Fi/GPS antenna come together at that point. So, if you hold the phone so that you are touching both antennae at the same time you, will either see a significant signal degradation (first video) or totally lose the signal (second video) in a short time as demonstrated by the videos below.

This is the demo by Engadget:

And here is another one by IGM where he compares this to the 3GS:

IGM also has a video demonstrating that the signal strength degrades when you hold it versus setting down on a table. Here it is:

Is this a widespread problem? It is interesting that two different tech bloggers on two different continents had the same issue. The Engadget video was shot in the UK. However Engadget did say they don’t have this issue with their preview device.

Apple says that this is a bug it plans to fix, and that it has to do with the way the bars are presented, not the actual ability to make a call. And, in fact, in nearly all of these cases, the iPhone 4 was able to place calls despite the lack of bars. (Walt Mossberg, AllThingsD)

That may be just a software issue, but Mossberg said that in his tests the issue did seem to be actual signal problems since at times he was getting no service on his iPhone 4 while the 3GS worked just fine. Of note, Mossberg’s review calls attention to better reception when he used the iPhone 4 in his car on speakerphone — during which time his hands would likely have been far away from the antenna.

It is possible that this problem could be a software issue, but it calls to question why Apple wouldn’t wait an extra week to fix the problem. If it is widespread, this is an unconscionable mistake – releasing a phone that doesn’t work well as a phone. With the significant issues of availability, would it not have been better to take an extra week or two to get the issue fixed and in the process get more devices manufactured so everyone who wants one on release day can have one?

Our friends at Gottabemobile have reported the same issue. Sumocat found the following video demonstrating this issue:

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