Want to know the must-have item for owners of the new iPhone 4? A bit of duct tape — or a dab of nail polish.
The reason: Despite Steve Jobs’s describing the positioning of the antennas which pick up the mobile signal on the outside of the phone, rather than the inside, as “brilliant engineering,” a number of users have discovered that if it is held from the bottom, the signal strength drops off dramatically — because their skin changes the electrical properties of the antennas.
Now, Jobs has informally — and Apple formally — acknowledged the issue.
In e-mail replies to owners of the new phones complaining about the problem, Jobs gave a simple response. “Don’t hold it that way,” he told one.
Apple’s statement notes that: “Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance with certain places being worse than others ... this is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.”
Some users have found tape or nail polish on the corner is a solution.
With the iPhone 4 having been a sellout in many stores — and Vodafone e-mailing customers whom it promised supplies to tell them that it cannot satisfy them — the problems are an embarrassment for Apple, which had to overcome early problems with wireless reception on its tablet-style computer, the iPad, when that was launched last month.
Dozens of people have posted videos on YouTube showing how the signal reception for 3G voice and data networks falls off when it is held so that the hand touches the antenna parts on the bottom of the phone.
Companies selling silicone casing for the iPhone 4 report that they have already been busier, as word of the problem has spread, than they were for last year’s release of the iPhone 3GS.
Antenna expert Spencer Webb said all mobile phones house the antenna in the bottom of the phone, to minimize the radio output near the head so that the phone will pass safety testing by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
“It’s a design compromise that is forced by the requirements of the FCC, AT&T, Apple’s marketing department and Apple’s industrial designers, to name a few,” he said.