In response to widespread reports of reception problems when the iPhone 4 is held by its bottom-left corner, Apple has told its customers simply to not hold the phone in this manner.
But that is easier said than done: gripping the iPhone 4 in one's left hand is apt to touch both the bottom and left portions of the wrap-around steel bezel that doubles as the phone's antenna. Forming a circuit in this way courtesy of conductive, water-logged human flesh is thought to disrupt the radio frequency signal.
This technical snafu could turn out to be a major one. Considering that the majority of the population is right-handed, many people will be holding the iPhone 4 in their left hands while touch-screening away.
Do as I say, not as I do
Apple's blunt advice also smacks of contradiction when considering that at the launch event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs similarly gripped the phone in this natural way. Product demos as well show anonymous iPhone users gripping the device in the same manner that, according to multiple video testimonials on YouTube, will cause the reception to plummet from five bars to none.
Rumors and reports swirled yesterday about this glitch, and various people and bloggers emailed Apple and even Jobs directly to comment.
The busy CEO actually responded to some of these emails. "All phones have sensitive areas," Jobs wrote back to Ars Technica. "Just avoid holding it that way."
A more detailed response went out to several persistent tipsters at TUAW. Jobs wrote back to one with the following statement, which Engadget has described as an official statement from Apple (though no press release has been published at the time of this writing):
"Gripping any mobile 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."
These cases that wrap around the iPhone have previously been sold as third-party accessories, according to Gizmodo, but now are available in the Apple store for the first time as "bumpers." Some bloggers have grumbled that Apple's proposed solution to the reception problem is a bit self-serving.
Shaking out the kinks
Hardware and software bugs are relatively common during new electronic product launches, and complex smartphones are no exception.
Nevertheless, the iPhone 4, which went on sale in stores Thursday, has been racking up a number of gripes. Users have complained of yellow discolorations and white spots on the screen as well as swapped volume control buttons.
The prudent move for would-be iPhone 4 and other new smartphone buyers might be to wait a few months until technical troubles and quality control lapses get corrected by Apple and its supply chain.
Of note, similar reception headaches pegged to how people hold their phones have cropped up in the past for the iPhone 3G as well as the Google Nexus One.
Some debate remains whether the weakened reception – at least as indicated by the falling AT&T reception bars in the upper left of the screen – actually results in poor network linkage and dropped calls.