The straight dope on Apple’s iPhone 4 and the signal problem

So Apple finally released a press release today regarding the iPhone 4’s signal problems.  So begins the legacy of the greatest con in cell phone history.  What a PR disaster!  I found this passage particularly interesting:

We have discovered the cause of this dramatic drop in bars, and it is both simple and surprising.

Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.

To fix this, we are adopting AT&T’s recently recommended formula for calculating how many bars to display for a given signal strength. The real signal strength remains the same, but the iPhone’s bars will report it far more accurately, providing users a much better indication of the reception they will get in a given area. We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see.

We will issue a free software update within a few weeks that incorporates the corrected formula. Since this mistake has been present since the original iPhone, this software update will also be available for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G.

So basically, they’re explicitly stating that the iPhones have (since the their inception) always displayed 2 bars of EXTRA signal strength, which were really never there.  Moreover, they are implicitly admitting that the iPhone 4 suffers from a major signal strength attenuation problem, and there is no software fix for it.  The ‘fix’ is to display less bars, and manage customer expectations.  I guess if you had one bar of signal before, and your iPhone 3G(S) still worked, that was just magic!  Alas, the iPhone 4 has no such magic.  No Jony Ive pixie dust here, guys.

What more is that this ‘fix’ doesn’t solve ANY problems regarding iPhone 4’s signal attenuation, and in fact exposes both AT&T and Apple as complete frauds in the representation of network coverage and the iPhone’s ability to handle calls.  This can only lead to one place: The land of class-action lawsuits and rubber bumper cases.

Postulating aside, here is what you can expect:  Signal strength for all iPhones will be ‘cut in half’ essentially, at least on paper, as reported by your iPhone, regardless of model.  If you were in a “7 bar” coverage area before, you’ll still have your 5 bars, but in reality most of us will not be so lucky.  And here is the best part:  Holding your old 3G or 3GS iPhone will result in the phone still being usable with those 2 bars of signal strength you now have, while holding your iPhone 4 with 2 bars of signal strength now (still) results in a dropped call.

The takeaway?  iPhone 4 has 2 bars of unusable signal strength, if you are going to hold the phone in your bare hands.  We must now all spend $29 on Apple rubber bands.

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