Friday, July 16, 2010

iPhone 4: The New Vista

Wonder why Steve Jobs threw such a fit over the 'theft' of an iPhone 4 prototype some months back? Well, now we know why. He knew he was passing a lemon on the general public.*


Apple knew about iPhone 4 antenna design flaw

Company ignored concerns of senior antenna engineer

by Suzanne Choney

Early in the iPhone 4's design stages, Steve Jobs was told by Apple's senior antenna expert that the antenna would cause problems, yet the concerns were ignored, according to a source who spoke to Bloomberg News.

"Last year, Ruben Caballero, a senior engineer and antenna expert, informed Apple’s management the device’s design may cause reception problems, said the person, who is not authorized to speak on Apple’s behalf and asked not to be identified," Bloomberg said.

"A carrier partner also raised concerns about the antenna before the device’s June 24 release, according to another person familiar with the situation."

Apple criticized the account, with a spokesman telling The Wall Street Journal: "We challenge Bloomberg BusinessWeek to produce anything beyond rumors to back this up. It's simply not true."

The news comes amid a furor about the iPhone 4's antenna woes, with Apple planning a press tomorrow to talk about it. On Monday, Consumer Reports said it could not "recommend" the fourth-generation iPhone because there is "a problem with its reception" caused mainly by the antenna being wrapped around the phone's casing.

On Wednesday, the publication said use of a rubber bumper around the phone "does remedy the issue," as would a piece of duct tape "or just being careful how you hold the phone. But these options all put the onus on consumers to solve or pay for a fix." The publication said it is "still calling on Apple to provide an acceptable free solution to the iPhone 4's signal-loss problem.

Caballero, the senior engineer, shared his concerns with Jobs, Apple's CEO, according to the source who spoke to Bloomberg. Caballero told Jobs that the antenna design might lead to dropped calls and presented a serious engineering challenge, the source said.

"The metal bezel surrounding the handset would need to be separated in sections to create individual antennas capable of handling particular ranges of the radio frequencies for different wireless networks," the source told Bloomberg.

It was known that "if a user covered one of the seams between the sections, their finger would act as a conductive material, interfering with the signal, the person said."

So far, the company has not acknowledged the antenna problem other than to say:

"Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone."

The company said that those iPhone 4 users who have the problem should "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 (phone protector) cases."

Allen Nogee, In-Stat analyst who specializes in wireless communications equipment, and who has a bachelor's degree in engineering technology, said as cell phones have become smaller, "it becomes harder and harder for manufacturers to place antenna in phones," especially at a time when phones are housing more and more wireless radios — including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS — that need antennas.

While the iPhone 4's antenna design idea "was good in that the antenna is low on the phone, and not covered by the iPhone's metal back, it can cause other problems as we have seen, as people hold the phone they can cover and 'short-out' the antenna, if you will, with the conductance of their skin," he said.

"In addition to all that there is another problem: Phone makers have tried to reduce the radiation that users experience when they hold the phone next to their head, so this typically means that phone makers have generally moved antennas to the bottom of the phone, because the top contains the earpiece that goes next to your head," Nogee said.

"With the iPhone, placing the antenna is even more difficult because most of the back of the iPhone is a metal plate, and you can't enclose an antenna in metal and expect it to work well."

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Apple and AT&T, exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the United States, over the iPhone 4's antenna reception.

And what do you, the consumer, get from Steve Jobs, who initially blamed everything on those of you who dared to hold his phone on the left side? A free rubber case, smile, and a sorry. Terrible reception, heal thyself.

Apple gives free bumpers to all iPhone 4 owners

Customers get a free case and an apology, but no hardware fix

by Wilson Rothman

Today, as expected, Steve Jobs announced that Apple would offer free rubber "bumpers" to anyone who bought an iPhone 4 in order to fix the problem caused by the antenna's design flaw. However, Jobs did not promise a hardware fix which would alleviate the problem without marring the phone's aesthetic.

"We're not perfect," Jobs told reporters. "Phones aren't perfect either," adding, "but we want to make all of our users happy."

The free offer is available through Sept. 30, and a full refund will be issued to those who already bought the $29 case. The deal will appear on Apple's website "late next week," and if the supply of bumpers runs out, Apple will offer "a choice of cases," presumably all in the $29-or-less price range.

"It's very hard to escape the conclusion that there is a problem," Jobs said, "but that problem is affecting a very small percentage of our users."

During the Q&A period following the press conference, Jobs did offer an apology to customers: "To our customers who are affected by the issue, we are deeply sorry," adding, "To those investors who bought the stock and are down by $5, I have no apology."

Apple opened the event with a jab at the media's overreaction to the antenna issue, playing a video of Jonathan Mann's "The iPhone 4 Antenna Song," which includes the lyrics: "If you don't want an iPhone 4 don't buy it. If you bought one and you don't like it, bring it back ... but you know you won't."

Jobs announced that Apple had sold more than 3 million iPhone 4s in three weeks, and that it's been judged the No. 1 smart phone by many publications, including Consumer Reports, who had withheld a "recommended" rating because of the antenna issue.

Jobs also said that the problem itself had not caused an unusual upsurge in customer-support calls. He said that just 0.55 percent of iPhone 4 owners have called tech support, adding "historically ... this is not a large number."

According to AT&T's dropped-call analysis, the iPhone 4 dropped 1 percent more calls than its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS.

The antenna problem has plagued the iPhone 4 since the first days of its release. Though its impact on calling has perhaps been overdramatized, it is a demonstrable issue: Hold your hand too tightly around the bottom of the phone, and in many cases you will lose reception, and perhaps drop a call.

Yesterday, some speculated that Apple might offer a hardware repair, an invisible fix that Rodman & Renshaw analyst Ashok Kumar called "a rubber bumper on the inside."

This is the third time Apple has publicly addressed the antenna issue. The first time was on June 24, when a company statement said that this was a general problem that all phones experience, and that when using the iPhone 4, people should "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."

Later, on July 2, when Apple, "surprised" to learn of these problems, attributed the flaw to a software issue, wherein the cellular reception bars displayed more signal than was actually available. "the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong."

The firmware update, which came out yesterday, recalibrated the reception bars to better represent actual cellular coverage, but most agree this did nothing to mollify actual reception loss.

This is not dissimilar from when Toyota claimed the design flaw on its breaks were a product of the floor mats. The rubber cover case is the floor mat of this product. On the positive side, the iPhone 4 will not be driving you off the road.

Remember when Apple was the little guy? The one you cheered for? The ones who were not releasing inferior products on us? Well, neither do I, except the inferior products one, until now, but Jon Stewart sure does, and his observations are most apropos for this day: The day the overpriced, self-deluded great product line figleaf was revealed for the profiteering criminal that it is.

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*=For the record, I own and use both an Apple iTouch and iPhone.


JM said...

Damned good thing I only have an ipod nano then.

TA said...

The Apple products I have/used over the years are excellent, actually, although I do not have the newest iPhone, so I lucked out.

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