Poor iPhone 4 signal? You’re holding it wrong, Jobs says

Fri Jun 25, 11:11 am ET
Yep, turns out the lower left corner of the iPhone 4’s antenna-housing stainless-steel rim is sensitive to human skin, so much so that your AT&T reception may drop precipitously when you hold the phone on the left side. Steve Jobs’ advice: Don’t hold it like that.

That’s the response Ars Technica got from a query to Apple corporate — with Jobs cc’d — about the iPhone 4’s widely reported reception issues, which seem to strike if your hand covers the lower left corner of the phone, particularly near a thin black stripe across the steel band that rings the phone.

For the record, Jobs’ exact reply to Ars was: “All phones have sensitive areas. Just avoid holding it that way.”

Meanwhile, a reader over at TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) who asked Jobs via e-mail whether the iPhone 4 reception problem was due to a “design flaw” got a similar response: “Nope. Just don’t hold it that way.”

After a little back-and-forth with a second TUAW reader, Jobs’ answer eventually morphed into a somewhat more corporate phrasing:

“Gripping any 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. 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.”

While Jobs denies that the iPhone 4’s sensitive lower left corner is a “design flaw,” one can’t help but second-guess Apple’s decision to boost the iPhone 4’s reception by essentially turning the steel band that encircles the handset into a big antenna — an idea that sounds great on paper, but as my fellow Yahoo! News blogger Chris Null points out, antennas don’t necessarily react that well to being touched.

I’m having no problem re-creating the iPhone 4’s reception woes. Just now, I dialed the Moviefone number while holding the iPhone in my fingertips: perfect reception, with five bars, all loud and clear. But once I cupped the iPhone in my hand on the left side, touching that lower-left corner, the AT&T reception bars began to disappear one by one, until finally the Moviefone guy went silent and a “Call Failed” notification popped up.

To be fair, though, I should point out that when my hand isn’t in contact with the specific no-touch zone in the lower left corner, reception on my iPhone 4 seems markedly better than it was on my iPhone 3GS. Usually I have to resort to Skype when trying to make voice calls in my apartment (believe me, I’ve become quite the Skyper in the past year or so). In my testing so far, however, regular voice calls on the iPhone 4 have gone through without a hitch, and I’ve yet to fall back on Skype.

Why has my new iPhone not been dropping calls one after another, given its aversion to being touched? Well, now that I’m paying attention, I’ve noticed that when I’m making iPhone voice calls, I usually hold the handset with just my fingertips rather than cupping it in my palm. I’m also right-handed, which means if I do end up touching its bottom corner with the base of my palm, it’s usually on the right side, not the left side.

But that’s just me. What if your habit is to hold a phone the (ahem) “wrong” way? You might have to resort to buying one of Apple’s $30 Bumper iPhone cases, which seems to cure the iPhone 4 reception problems. (Kinda makes you wonder, right?)

Now, as Jobs points out, other makes and models of phones also suffer reception problems when they’re held the “wrong” way. Still, the bottom line from Apple seems to be that this is just another iPhone quirk we have to live with, similar to the 3.5mm headset jack on the original iPhone that would only take headset jacks specifically designed to fit its unusually narrow opening.

In other words, it’s not the phone’s fault. We’re just using it wrong. Silly us.

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Posted on June 25, 2010, in iPhone and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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