iPhone 4 signal strength

Updated December 15th, 2015.

You’ve probably heard about problems with Apple’s iPhone 4— specifically, there’s something about the antenna that makes the number of AT&T signal bars go down when you hold the phone in your hand “in certain ways.” It turns out that “certain ways” includes the way I’d normally hold it (in the palm of my left hand). Bummer.

I had not noticed this problem myself, but I was able to reproduce it. Here it is, in pictures.

iPhone 4 on desk. Five AT&T bars (top left corner).

A few seconds later, I picked up the phone and held it in my left hand as anyone who uses his right hand to type would. Looky here– down to three bars!

A few seconds later and I’m down to 2 bars.

Then I put the iPhone 4 back into the cheap-o silicone case that used to hold my iPhone 3GS and my bars shot up to 5.

So– independent research shows that indeed this “fewer bars when holding the iPhone” phenomenon does indeed occur. Maybe, just maybe, putting the antenna on the outside of the iPhone, right where a person would naturally hold it, wasn’t the best idea ever. But, as demonstrated here at Boyce Labs, we have two ways to get a 5-bar signal. One of the ways (leave the iPhone 4 on the desk) isn’t practical. The other way (put the iPhone 4 in a case) is super-practical, and since there’s a case for every taste, I say “get a case and put this problem behind you.”

That would be the end of it, except for one thing: Apple’s written a very interesting letter (click here to see it) that attempts to explain it all away. I say “very interesting” because while one might expect Apple to say “sorry about the bars, we’re going to give away free cheap-o cases for all iPhone 4 users and solve this problem for you” they instead said (paraphrased) “Yes there’s a problem, but it’s not what you think. You had lousy signal strength the whole time, and we made a boo-boo in how we calculate the number of bars when it sits on your desk. You think you have 5 bars but you don’t.”

Hmm. Like I said, very interesting.

How can it be that they’ve made a mistake in their bar calculation “all along” (that’s what the letter says), but the mistake only shows up when you hold your iPhone 4 in your hand? And how can it be that they expect me to be happy with a phone that gets 2 bars out of five while in my apartment? I think what they’re telling us is that they’re going to change the formula to “more accurately reflect” the signal strength… but that means that even with a case on, my iPhone 4 is going to show 2 bars. That’s a different problem, and according to Apple it’s all AT&T’s to fix. Too bad, because I have more confidence in Apple’s ability to fix a problem than in AT&T’s.

BONUS: here’s “The iPhone Antenna Song.

Copyright 2008-2022 Christian Boyce. All rights reserved.

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