Not Running Out to Get iPhone 4

I’m not an early adopter, and the problems with the iPhone 4 are part of that reason. I’m sticking with my 3G for now, at least until the revised versions are out. Les Jones points out Apple’s changing positions on the antenna problem, and wonders whether Apple is right that all phones have the problem, after trying the trick with his blackberry and receiving signal degradation.

They are correct, but it depends on a lot of factors. The main problem is that in order to get more bandwidth, cell providers are moving higher and higher into the microwave range to accomplish communication between the cell phone and tower. This also benefits battery life. The problem with microwaves, however, is that the higher you go in frequency, the less they penetrate barriers. The iPhone uses GSM 1900, which operates from 1850 to 1910MHz. Your microwave oven operates at 2450 MHz, so you can see we’re not that far off from the ideal frequency for reheating leftovers. Microwaves are poor penetrators of materials, and they don’t penetrate metals at all, otherwise RADAR would have no theoretical basis. So yes, all phones are subject to signal attenuation depending on how you hold them, where you are, and how strong your signal is.

The problem with the iPhone is that they put the antenna on the outside where it can be touched, which changes the impedance of the antenna, causing more of the energy generated by the iPhone’s radio transceiver to end up in you rather than being radiated off to the local cell tower. This is why adding a bumper fixes the problem. It would seem it should be relatively easy to put a transparent, non-conductive coating on the exterior metal of the phone that would attenuate the problem. That way people’s grubby hands get kept off the antenna, and Steve can still feel good about his slick design. Antenna experts say FCC rules limit where they can locate it, because the FCC limits how much radiation can get pumped into your skull. Apparently bottom antennas are not all that uncommon. But how many vendors have them openly exposed?

11 thoughts on “Not Running Out to Get iPhone 4”

  1. I waited 7 hours in line to get my iPhone 4. Though I was an early adopter of the iPhone, I had never before waited in line for something.

    It was totally worth it. The beautiful screen and added speed are amazing compared to my 3G, which I still have, and now feels glacial.

    The antenna issue has not been a big deal for me, I mean, it’s there and I can reproduce it, but I bought a bumper and put a Bodyguardz film on the back (don’t like how it feels on the front), but would have done so anyways since I have shattered the glass on my 3G on the one day I used the phone without a case. It is a shame that a case is mandatory for many reasons beyond the antenna issue, because the industrial design of this phone, visually and in your hand, is just amazing.

  2. The antennae issue is way over blown.

    That being said, I’m now on round 10 with Apple about why my account can’t purchase iPhone or iPad apps.

  3. As LFS said, the antennae issue is totally blown out of proportion—I think mostly because people have unrealistically come to expect something close to perfection from Apple products, when nobody can produce such a thing.

    Apparently numerous other phones actually have pages in their manuals detailing how to correctly hold their phone, and mentioning that holding it a certain way will cause reception issues:

  4. Well, I’m considering buying a jailbroke iPhone 3GS. I love my iPod touch, but hate AT&T. I just wish they would include a slide out keyboard. I hate the on-screen keyboards.

  5. I find the on screen keyboard easier than the slide out. Even on Bitter’s Droid, who’s on screen keyboard sucks, I don’t use the slide out ever.

  6. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of seeing Apple struggle with the antenna issue, but I don’t think it’s a huge deal from a practical point of view. If I needed a new phone, didn’t mind AT&T and I wanted an iPhone this wouldn’t stop me.

    Sebastian: agree on the keyboard. My wife’s Droid has the slide-out keyboard, but we always use the onscreen keyboard.

  7. Just getting your skin in close proximity with the antenna is enough to detune the circuit. Touching is not necessary.

    Not that I would own a blood soaked piece of Apple crap ever again anyways…

  8. iOS 4 rendered my 3G all but useless. I’ve been frustrated and angry with my phone since its release. But yesterday, I actually managed to get my hands on one of Wonka’s golden tickets, err, the iPhone 4. All they had were the 32GB models (I was going to be satisfied with a 16), but it doesn’t matter. The screen truly is gorgeous and the phone is FAST. Plants vs. Zombies would take anywhere from 30-40 seconds to load on my 3G. On my 4, it’s instant- you never even see the loading screen. I think I heart my new phone…

  9. I have had a couple of cellphones that came with stickers saying, basically, “don’t touch here or you will degrade your antenna performance”. But that was 5+ years ago. (These were Sprint phones and thus also in the 1900 mHz band).

    What this speaks to is Apple being a rookie in the cellphone market – this is not a new problem and one that, presumably, Moto, RIM, etc test for and take steps to mitigate. It also doesn’t reflect well on AT&T for missing testing for this.

    But easily avoided mistakes happen to everyone.

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