A look at the iPhone 4

A Steel Band…

Elsewhere on the iPhone 4, things are a bit more controversial. One of the innovative features, which engineers applauded back when the phone was first shown at WWDC is the steel band that runs around the phone. The stainless steel band or antenna is split into two portions, the largest of which is host to a GSM/UMTS signal with the remaining band providing GPS/WIFI and Bluetooth functionality. It is a superb idea that in theory should work well. Sadly it never has, and cupping the phone into the palm of your hand results in your conductive skin ‘bridging’ the two bands, which de-tune’s the antenna and lowers signal strength as well as data bandwidth.

iPhone Antenna

Since it’s release, the iPhone has become famous not for its powerful features and specifications but for the fact that most people can barely hold the phone without its signal dropping. Of course this has been blown way out of proportion as it is cool to mock big companies (like Microsoft and Sony) for their mistakes. Apple’s response to this, has been less than perfect and the entire iPhone 4 launch has been marred by this antenna issue, which has been handled very poorly.

Every iPhone 4 does have this issue, as it is a design flaw, but not everyone can experience the signal loss as it is dependant on the signal strength in your area. Apple could have coated the band in an insulative compound but never did. Instead Apple are now telling people to either purchase their ripoff £30 ‘bumper’ cases, or avoid ‘holding it that way’ – not acceptable Apple.

Edit: As of 16th July, Apple have announced that they will either refund all iPhone 4’s within 30 days of purchase, or issue out free ‘Bumpers’, or a suitable case should bumper stocks dwindle.

From a personal perspective I have yet to have a single dropped call and my area hasn’t the strongest 3G signal either. So good news there…but not quite. One overlooked issue, which people tend to forget about is data traffic. If I bridge the antennas with my palm and try accessing a website then my bandwidth will eventually drop to nothing. This in itself is a major problem.

This video on Vimeo by Cameron Hunt illustrates the problem clearly.

Most users can change the way they grasp their iPhones and hold it slightly higher to get around this issue, but then you have to ask yourself about Apple’s marketing comment for their recently released iPad…

“I don’t have to change myself to fit the product, it fits me” – Jonathan Ive (Senior Vice President of Industrial Design) on the iPad

The overall design of the iPhone ever so slightly strays away from Apple’s design aesthetics. The separate volume buttons were the main observation when the early prototype samples were accidentally ‘lost’ in USA and in Vietnam of all places. The device is typically a thing of beauty, with Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating and chemically hardened glass on the front and back of the unit. It oozes class from the moment you set eyes on it and the build quality is solid. This has a moot side effect now where owners are now very careful about handling their new fangled toy. This is a device you really have to look after…moreso than previous iPhone iterations. This alone doesn’t inspire confidence.

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