Grief Over iPhone 4 Reception Problems Grows

iPhone 4

The iPhone 4's much-ballyhooed reception issue appears to be reaching a boiling point.

Days after Consumer Reports dropped its iPhone 4 recommendation – citing a confirmed antenna hardware problem – a ticked-off United States Senator is poised to publish an open letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs calling for a free-of-charge remedy.

On top of that, rumors are circulating that Jobs knew of the reception glitch a year ago, as reported by Bloomberg, quoting unnamed sources.

Apparently in response to this growing furor, Apple has called a morning press conference for tomorrow, Friday, in Calif. to address that sinking feeling people are having about Apple's new smartphone.

Congressional oversight

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is the author of the open letter addressed to Jobs, which was picked up by AppleInsider.

Schumer commended Apple's "innovative approach to mobile technology," but in the same breath insisted that the company address the iPhone 4's "flaw in a transparent matter."

"The solutions offered to date by Apple for dealing with the so-called 'death grip' malfunction – such as holding the device differently, or buying a cover for it – seem to be insufficient," Schumer wrote. "These proposed solutions would unfairly place the burden on consumers for resolving a problem they were not aware of when they purchased their phones."

Schumer also takes issue with Apple's July 2 statement that chalked up the perceived perception issue to a software bug that displayed inflated signal strength bars in some cases. The Senator feels that this explanation does not jibe with Consumer Reports' lab tests that say an antenna snafu is really to blame.


The plot, and perhaps consumer ire, thickens in light of reports that this reception problem had been identified a year ago.

Bloomberg reports that Apple's senior antenna expert voiced concern about placing the antenna externally, where it aesthetically wraps around the phone and doubles as a structural steel bezel.

The bezel would need to be segmented into individual antennas to pick up particular frequency ranges employed by different cell phone carriers, the unnamed source said.

But if a user covered one of the seams between this antennas with a finger, say, the flesh would act as conductive material and scramble this signal – voila, the death grip.

Searching for a solution

Apple is expected to announce some sort of fix at tomorrow's press conference. A recall of the approximately two million iPhone 4s sold seems unlikely, but might be the only true solution.

Hardware issues are historically intractable compared to easily downloadable software patches. After all, a hardware fix requires the performance of a physical action or the installation of a new device component – not exactly something that most iPhone owners are technically knowledgeable enough to do in the first place.

Per Consumer Reports' advice, a piece of duct tape across the antenna gap in the smartphone's lower left corner does away with dropped calls and degraded reception. Do not expect Apple to suggest the same at tomorrow's event.

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Adam Hadhazy
Adam Hadhazy is a contributing writer for Live Science and He often writes about physics, psychology, animal behavior and story topics in general that explore the blurring line between today's science fiction and tomorrow's science fact. Adam has a Master of Arts degree from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boston College. When not squeezing in reruns of Star Trek, Adam likes hurling a Frisbee or dining on spicy food. You can check out more of his work at