iPhone 4: Form before Function?

It’s certainly safe to say that a large number of people (myself included) have been plagued with an acute case of the “wants” when it comes to iPhone 4. Some of the new features are just downright awesome—Facetime, multitasking, HD video, 5 megapixel camera and the list goes on. We’re seeing all these cool new features, but at what cost do they get included?

During Apple’s keynote, some of the new technology was explained, one of which was the new antenna. The new iPhone chassis was designed not only to provide a more rigid body for the thin, refined design, but also to function as the antenna. As Steve Jobs mentioned during the keynote, the antenna is a metal band wrapping the phone and is comprised of two parts. One part for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS; the other for UMTS and GSM.

After reading this article, I began to question whether or not this new antenna was really executed that well. A prime example is shown in these videos: iPhone 4 losing reception when placing your hand over the antenna band. Have I seen this happen in person with iPhone 4? The answer is yes. It’s like magic; something that only Harry Potter should be able to do.

Just to clarify I’m not talking smack against Apple here, I’m just questioning how such a huge oversight like this could occur here. Some folks are suggesting that the phones tested were using the suggested* rubber case (which solves the problem), but I can’t seem to grasp the idea that, in all the testing that was done, no one seemed to notice this reception issue? Perhaps it was noted, but at that point did the rubber case become the solution to the problem? With past iPhones I’ve experienced drop calls which also makes me wonder if this whole time its been the actual design of the iPhone that has inhibited the reception and not AT&T (hard to believe).

On that note while I have your attention, I thought I’d ask for your thoughts.

Would you still buy iPhone 4 even though they are experiencing this issue?

Do you think Apple knew about the reception issue of iPhone 4?

49 Comments Leave A Comment


Trey Connally says:

June 23, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Hello, well, I’ll go ahead and open this can of worms…

I really want the iPhone on Verizon. I have had nothing but joy with Verizon and with this being the second time I have heard of this antenna issue it makes me cringe even more at the ENORMOUS temptation to switch to AT&T.

My Env2 can only hold out so long. :D


jm says:

June 23, 2010 at 10:00 pm

not sure if you have seen this yet, but it’s an interesting addition to your post. interesting how they quote the antenna as being a “work of genius”, and it may be “form” wise, but…

I will definitely get one as i do very little actual talking on my phone, and when i do it’s often on speaker, so this doesn’t affect me to much.

However I will be waiting till later in the year when all the major bugs are fixed, and the jailbreak is ready.


Kevin says:

June 23, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Apple doesn’t respect its customers, that’s how this oversight happened. This doesn’t even matter because this Iphone will outsell all other phones. Why should Apple respect its customers when they’ll buy anything they put out.


Scott says:

June 23, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Such a tough call. I am so sick of being treated like an idiot by both apple and at&t that I’m ready to bail to droid land (the droidx is a very compelling alternative). But I will miss the hardware and apps I think. But then again, I use PC at home for the very same reasons, so why not have a PC-ish phone. But damn, the 4 is gorgeous.

All hype aside, IMHO the only thing Apple has ever truly nailed is the Macbook Pro. Their phone doesn’t work as a phone and is always a couple years behind in terms of features and technology and their desktops are overpriced and underpowered.


Wilamagamid says:

June 23, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I would take anything that Gizmodo says with a grain of salt these days as those two are in a bit of a tussle.
That being said, I have never experienced dropped reception (though I am not in the States and not on AT&T) when holding my 3GS in my hand, a phenomenon that according to Macrumors was reported as early as 2008:

They also have a video showing at least one instance where the iPhone 4 is not losing signal strength when held in the hand….

IMHO the human hand seems like a poor block for any type of signals. Have we seen this phenomenon affecting wireless signals? If not, why not? If I covered the antenna to my wireless router, I am not going to see the signal fade from my desktop. I think this is one of those things where it’s best to take a wait and see attitude before passing any judgment. Keep informed and make the choice that best suits your needs.


Wayne D says:

June 23, 2010 at 10:33 pm

I’ve heard many a bemoaning of AT&T reception quality from those I follow on Twitter. Most of the designers and creative people I’m interested in either live in NYC or San Francisco. Two of the most plagued cities on the carrier’s black list. I have had the iPhone since its debut and can count the number of dropped calls on two hands. However, I live in Salt Lake City.

Reading about the iPhone 4’s integrated antenna fading concerns me, as I’ll be receiving my device from the FedEx man tomorrow. But the fact that AT&T here in Utah has never been an issue gives me a bit of assurance.

Apple does respect their customers, through ALL stages of the manufacturing process, something that cannot be said for other hardware companies. This may very well be an oversight, but if enough units are affected, Apple will correct the problem. As Steve said in the keynote, this phone is most advanced thing they’ve produced to date, and anything that could mar its christening will be rendered a mere speed bump by Apple’s stellar PR and customer service teams.


Scott says:

June 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm

FWIW: When I go to Sacramento my iPhone reception is excellent, it’s only at home in San Francisco where I have problems. We’re talking really bad, like pretty much every call is eventually dropped. But then again I live in the Mission which seems to be a black hole for AT&T.

But even with my reception problems, I think what really gets me is the new data cap. just so punitive, so ridiculous, and so entitled. Will be tough to buy back into that system for another 2 years just for the sake of industrial design aesthetics. But I am a devout member of the church of Dieter and visually, all of the Droid offerings are sacrilege.


Shelby says:

June 23, 2010 at 10:54 pm

The Android probably will never suffice for me and IMO doesn’t compare to the iPhone.

At first I questioned whether or not Gizmodo was still a bit sour over their whole ordeal but this has been confirmed. I personally had someone test this reception issue exactly the same as in the videos and it was confirmed that it INDEED happens.

Now the question is whether or not this is going to really matter when using the phone. It really depends on how you hold it and when. I think however, this is out of the question as Apple should have made it to work for any circumstance.

Service in Seattle is pretty good. I probably haven’t had more than 15-20 dropped calls in the last two years on AT&T. When I go to Idaho it’s a whole different story. It’s a giant black hole.


Rafael Ikenaga says:

June 23, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I watched the videos and… Honestly, who’s going to hold the phone like that? If you do, it’s really more like a dexterity discordenation issue than anything else.

90% of the time its more likely you’ll be holding the back and front, and when you bring the phone to your ears, it’s unlikely you’ll hold the whole extremity of the phone side like that guy did, and if for some reason you do, then you’ll just have to get used differently.

I think Apple noticed it, but is it really an issue or it’s just the Antenna? I think they probably tested it enough knowing knowing of that but it just doesn’t affect its usability.

It becomes a issue if you wanna reproduce it, but then there is just so many ways you could cause the phone to malfunction.

Maybe if you don’t think about it at all and just use the phone… you’ll never experience any problem, but some people like spending time looking for problems, then yep, might not be the right phone for you.

Few friends I know with IP4 never noticed anything and I’ll probably not gonna mention anything to them as well.


Rafael Ikenaga says:

June 23, 2010 at 11:57 pm

sorry, my post wasn’t being pointed to anyone in specific here. Just general to everybody insterested on this thought.


NAVIS says:

June 24, 2010 at 2:57 am

I can always tell when someone is using an iPhone. They have the spelling of a first grader when texting. I text all the time. And touch screens are the anti-Christ for texting.

I won’t be switching phone companies anytime soon. When I drove through Mongolia, I managed to rack up a $1,700+ phone bill. Yeah. $1,700. Thanks T-Mobile for fucking me over. I asked them if I would be raped if I made calls (and emergency calls NEEDED to be made) over seas and the guy at the store said, “It shouldn’t be more than a couple of dollars per minute”. Try $215 in 15 minutes.

The cool thing about T-Mobile is that someone can open up a fake account with your name and rack up a $900 unpaid bill (not sure how this is possible but apparently is). Then, T-Mobile will mark it fraudulent and just let the account collect dust and never tell you. Then when you call them to ask what the fuck a $1,700 phone bill is about they’ll finally let you know that you have a $900 fraudulent account on top of a $1,700 phone bill. No letter. No nothing. So you spend a good part of your life bouncing from departments trying to sort shit out. And I’ve been with T-Mobile for 10 years with zero late payments. They would not budge on the bill.

Then one day, the lady was *so* kind and gave me a pro-rated discount on my plan (pity discount). A month later, I get another bill for $1,200. This time it was $1,200 in texts. The amazing lady disabled my unlimited texting plan (and all texting at that) thus wasting another day of my life. Fortunately, we fixed it and and I survived my very first stroke.


Berthold says:

June 24, 2010 at 4:41 am

While I think the iPhone is a great concept and sooner or later will be the de-facto framework of every mobile out there, I prefer my phone in my pocket and a headset in my ear and I suspect it wouldn’t do much better in that regard than my $100 Samsung. That said, I’m a notoriously late adopter.

Frankly, with all the care that goes into Apple products I would be surprised if this issue were around for long. Everybody has to decide for themselves whether the improvements merit trading in their 3GS, but for my 2 cents, if you want the absolute best mobile phone out there, you’re probably not going to be dissappointed by the 4.


Jakub says:

June 24, 2010 at 6:37 am

To be honest its the iPhone or no phone, to not have an iPhone anymore would be like realizing I spent all my lottery money too fast and having to get a job again, its sad but true. I used a Blackberry and a Droid for 30 minutes and I gave them back to the people that let me try them with this forced fake smile and thank you


Mat MacQuarrie says:

June 24, 2010 at 6:48 am

I’m twenty five years old and have still never owned a cell phone. I was planning on making the iPhone 4 my first ever, but we’ll see how this reception issues clears up. Crazy oversight.


blath says:

June 24, 2010 at 7:30 am

im sure they found that out pretty quickly, didn’t want to give up any of the innards to arial space, and game up with the rubber case, knowing full well people would still buy the phone and then fork out for the case to make the phone actually work! at an extra $35 or whatever it is, more money for them!


Shelby says:

June 24, 2010 at 7:31 am

@Mat I still can’t believe that you haven’t owned a cell phone! You must be difficult to get ahold of. I’ll try and clear up this reception issue today and post my results in the comments here.


mg33 says:

June 24, 2010 at 8:22 am

I think AT&T just doesn’t work well on the interiors of buildings. When i had T-Mobile a few years back, I got crystal clear reception within my apartment. Had a building taller than mine next to our apartment building. Moved across the building last year and reception slightly increased.

But it was inside the interiors of buildings I’ve worked in in downtown Chicago that I could tell the big difference: T-Mobile seemed to work great within the center of buildings, with concrete and wood walls separating me from the outside. AT&T and the iPhone a bit less. It’s a tradeoff… I don’t want another phone at all because I’m a huge fan of the iphone even with the shortcomings.

I got my iPhone 4 yesterday and I have to say it is quite a wonderful device. It’s a bit heavier than the 3G I had previously, but it’s really great. The camera is so much faster now and overall the speed of everything is a huge improvement. It feels great in hour hand and feels nice and solid.

I can replicate the reception issue, so I’m hoping it will not be a big problem as Apple have already reported that lower bars doesn’t necessarily mean the reception is dropping.


Damon Moran Illustrations says:

June 24, 2010 at 9:18 am

I’m afraid that the antenna issue only exacerbates a problem inherent to AT&T phones of any make. AT&T’s reception, particularly in say…Los Angeles…is awful. I never owned an iPhone but the 5 different phones of three different makes (Ericsson, Nokia, and LG) I had all suffered the same issues. In fact AT&T relieved me of my contractual obligations free of charge (even paying my last two bills) as a result of my dropped calls and consistently poor reception. All of the dozen AT&T personnel I spoke to admitted to the fact that I live in a known poor reception area (Los Angeles). That said I would love the new iPhone if I were able to overcome my grudge against AT&T in addition to accepting my inability to make and receive calls consistently.


Robert says:

June 24, 2010 at 10:44 am

The whole issue is an indicator problem and doesn’t effect the cell phone’s reception at all. My buddy just got his and we been testing this all morning. When you cover the antenna what looks like what is really happening is that the device is failing to do is correctly display the true signal when the antenna is covered. When then the phone went down to no bars we were still able to make a phone call that was clear and crisp. At one point the phone was displaying “Searching…” and we were STILL able to make a phone call and it was clean and did no drop (We were on the phone for an hour covering the antenna with the headset on).

So like I said I’m pretty convinced this is not an issue of the signal being compromised. The idea of covering an antenna with your hand and loosing reception is just dumb. It looks like a simple software problem which I’m sure will be fixed very soon.


Shelby says:

June 24, 2010 at 10:50 am

So here you have it. iPhone 4 in hand, I’ve tested the reception issue and it doesn’t appear to be a big deal unless you cup the phone really firmly with both hands.

The rest of the phone’s features are blowing my mind right now (facetime and photo/video quality).


mg33 says:

June 24, 2010 at 11:05 am

Shelby – I’m still a bit awestruck at just how great the new display is. After only 10 minutes with the new phone, my 3G screen looked awful!


Kevin says:

June 24, 2010 at 11:24 am

My ‘fix’ was to buy a dumb phone and an ipod touch. I’ve saved more than $600 over the two years and I get nearly all the same functionality. Every once in a while I wish I could look something up from the road, but it’s happened about twice per year, so for 600 bucks I’ll walk into the gas station and ask for directions (people used to do that all the time apparently). And it’s true, I’m carrying two devices instead of one, but the second device fits just fine next to the giant wad of cash…


Alex says:

June 24, 2010 at 11:45 am

Yeah I held one this morning too and it was pretty awesome. Didn’t even turn it on, but it felt cool. (Though I am a little worried about changing the shape of the device — I have gotten used to playing with the rounded 3GS in my pocket and I am nervous to change. I have a fickle hand fixation).


Shelby says:

June 24, 2010 at 11:47 am

Alex, your hand will welcome the new device. It feels much diff but almost feels more expensive to me. Definitely more rigid.


ron says:

June 24, 2010 at 2:15 pm

I’d buy an iphone if it was on another carrier. Right now I have t-mobile and can get 500 anytime minutes, unlimited weekends, unlimited texting, unlimited web for 15 bucks less a month than at&ts 450 anytime, 5000 weekends, 250mb web, and 200 text messages “deal.”

and apparently i get the bonus of no dropped calls too with t-mobile. with no competition at&t is free to gouge away.


Chris says:

June 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Call me crazy, but my family or I have been on AT&T for over ten years, without any really bad problems everyone bitches about. I own an iphone 3gs, which I have owned for a couple months, and have maybe dropped 2 calls. My last phone maybe dropped 3 calls over two years. I live in NYC and work in Times Square, which is suppposedly a terrible zone for the iphone, but its hell on earth and I run out of here right after work and don’t use my phone at work so its a non issue.

One thing I do regularly is turn off 3g, and all I really do is text, call, and check email, which I don’t need 3g for.


Wayne D says:

June 24, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Just plugged the 4 into my iMac and syncing/restoring now. I already love this phone and haven’t even got to the main screen yet. iMovie here I come.
Congrats to those who picked one up today.


Shelby says:

June 24, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Rafael, I haven’t had any trouble with the reception issue. Out of 10 or so folks who bought the phone that I know of, they haven’t had reception issues or yellow spots either. I say go for it, you won’t be disappointed!


Rafael Ikenaga says:

June 24, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Thanks Shelby, It’s a shame I currently live in Thailand living out of nothing so I’ll have to wait till next year, this new screen and glass… gosh.


BlaineM says:

June 25, 2010 at 7:23 am

Am I the only person in the whole world that seems to thinks consumerism and being connected to the internet all the time is bad?

I’m on the computer all day long working; I don’t want to facebook, twitter, blog, email, (fill in the blank with whatever else digital addiction we ascribe to) via the iPhone. Regular cell phone service for me.

I do understand needing to have email at all time for business, even on the phone, but come on, where does the line get drawn?

Just stirring the pot :)


Yuri D says:

June 25, 2010 at 9:04 am

Well I believe that Apple did notice these issues in the field test. But they had bigger things to worry about in making sure the whole things works, the way they wanted it to.

This is an amazing design and they’re very proud of it. But it would not surprise me if a version 2 of the same model releases next year. Fixing all the current issues of the first.

A good example is the 3G and 3GS. If you google these 2 and put the word radiation after them. You will find that the 3G emits way more radiation than the 3GS.

But bottom line is, I find this to be a “design bug” and as tempted as i am in buying it. I think i’ll just wait for the next one

Thanks for the article.


Camilo says:

June 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Just got the new iPhone 4 and it’s pretty amazing. Retina Display is awesome. I also havent had any problems with reception or yellow spots… The new design feels like it’s more compact and better quality than it’s predecessors.


Ivan says:

June 28, 2010 at 7:17 am

I’m really excited for the new and most celebrated feature-face time. I think its just the first step in the revolutionary progress that I think will not stop.

WHat I dislike is the fact that we are going to pay more money for the exterior design and materials involved. I think thats why Iphone is overpriced.

However, overall its a good toy, multifunctional, convenient, slim, what else can I say?

Want it.


jules says:

June 28, 2010 at 8:17 am

so during the iphone 4 launch steve couldnt get on wifi, i guess he was holding his phone wrong?


Min says:

June 28, 2010 at 11:12 am

I will get the iphone no matter what, because of their functionality and design, but it’s lame that they released it with this huge reception problem.
I bet they knew about it, but they released it anyway.


Sean says:

June 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I’ll probably hold off until the 4Gs is released. My old 3G is holding up just fine. And yes, I do think they knew about it. The $29 bumper case, which doesn’t protect the phone in any way other than the metal band housing the antenna, speaks volumes. I think Apple likely saw it as a minor issue. Jobs’ dismissive reactions to it so far also speaks volumes. But then, Apple has the market share to be dismissive, doesn’t it?


Hugo says:

June 29, 2010 at 1:11 am

While I think that the reception issue has become quite overblown, one thing that could have prevented Apple from noticing it is that the phones using for off campus testing seem like they were all wrapped in decoy 3GS cases (see the stolen iPhone / Gizmodo debacle).
Cases are apparently helping to mitigate the potential signal drop because your finger is not covering / touching the complete little band on the lower left corner.


Mitch says:

June 29, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Apple is easy…I am sad and at the same time satisfied enough to say that I can deal with sub-par reception in exchange for the benefits.


john says:

July 4, 2010 at 12:30 am

iphone sucks to the bone, this new cool features you mention pro exists for years now in other mobiles phones.
iphone its just glossy. Like apples computers, you pay a lot and you get just a basic fancy computer, just to take photo with it.


Curtis says:

August 2, 2010 at 12:56 pm

If u get an android then u will hav just wasted ur money I know iPhones r expencive but worth every penny androids r crap I know cuz I hav one but then sold it for a hundred less cuz nobody wanted it so I saved up and brought an iPhone 4 and I will not regret it. I even live in a place where reception is rubbish but I still send every message and call the only thing it does is when u hold it tight then the display goes down but u still can send messages


Vitalka says:

October 9, 2010 at 6:32 am

To my mind – antenna issue in iPhone 4 is a great shame to Apple. But the most sadly thing to me was to see how they was trying to hide that issue after customers began to speak the truth on forums and blogs. It’s amazing thing – such a great company (I am really appreciate them work) and to do so miserable things like a first class pupil at school…
Speaking about price – the real price of that model should be at least 2 times cheaper, cause too much money should be spend on buying additional accessories and apps.