Apple letter regarding iPhone 4: Signal strength formula ‘totally wrong,’ software fix on the way

Invisible Shield for Apple iPhone 4!The following is a “Letter from Apple Regarding iPhone 4,” verbatim:

Dear iPhone 4 Users,

The iPhone 4 has been the most successful product launch in Apple’s history. It has been judged by reviewers around the world to be the best smartphone ever, and users have told us that they love it. So we were surprised when we read reports of reception problems, and we immediately began investigating them. Here is what we have learned.

To start with, gripping almost any mobile phone in certain ways will reduce its reception by 1 or more bars. This is true of iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, as well as many Droid, Nokia and RIM phones. But some users have reported that iPhone 4 can drop 4 or 5 bars when tightly held in a way which covers the black strip in the lower left corner of the metal band. This is a far bigger drop than normal, and as a result some have accused the iPhone 4 of having a faulty antenna design.

At the same time, we continue to read articles and receive hundreds of emails from users saying that iPhone 4 reception is better than the iPhone 3GS. They are delighted. This matches our own experience and testing. What can explain all of this?

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.

We have gone back to our labs and retested everything, and the results are the same— the iPhone 4’s wireless performance is the best we have ever shipped. For the vast majority of users who have not been troubled by this issue, this software update will only make your bars more accurate. For those who have had concerns, we apologize for any anxiety we may have caused.

As a reminder, if you are not fully satisfied, you can return your undamaged iPhone to any Apple Retail Store or the online Apple Store within 30 days of purchase for a full refund.

We hope you love the iPhone 4 as much as we do.

Thank you for your patience and support.


Source: Apple Inc.

MacDailyNews Take: Finally!!! Mistakes happen and hopefully this letter and software fix will quell the firestorm. This also explains why we could move our iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS bars with certain grips, but never seem to get calls to actually drop. That this has been present since the original iPhone explains a lot while also making us wonder what the heck took so long to figure it out? iPhone reception/signal strength has criticized since the original iPhone shipped; you’d think Appel would’ve figured this out years ago! Anyway, the good news is that the issue seems to have been finally discovered and a fix is on the way.

It figures: After days of this, that, and the other thing, our original source was right all along! Here’s our initial Take from the very first article we covered regarding iPhone 4 reception, posted on June 24, 2010: “We can reproduce the issue of diminishing or disappearing AT&T bars on our units by blocking the lower left corner completely with our hands on iPhone 4 units without cases, but do not believe it to be a hardware issue. In fact, with 3+ bars, we don’t notice any loss of reception, even if we make the bars go away. According to a trusted source, there are multiple points on the iPhone 4’s frame for antenna reception. Our source says that the issues ‘can and will’ be addressed by tweaking, balancing, and/or redistributing antennae reception and/or signal strength display via software. When asked if it could be a hardware issue, our source said, ‘Don’t be silly. It’s not the hardware. Apple’s too smart for that. In fact, most any handset maker is too smart for that.'”

We’re sorry we doubted our source and we’re sorry we doubted Apple and Steve Jobs, too. From what was being reported (fake Jobs email, purported indifference by Apple, customers supposedly being told by Apple reps to “buy a bumper, etc.), we thought it imperative to speak up strongly on behalf of Apple’s iPhone 4 customers. We’ll hold our fire in the future and point people directly to this episode to explain why we’re “not jumping on Apple” when being endlessly accused of being “Apple lapdogs,” “Apple Fanbois,” and much worse. We will be more patient. Again, we sincerely apologize. It won’t happen again.

Now, prepare for the naysayers who will claim that Apple is lying in 3… 2…


  1. Very pleased with Apple’s response. I have been an Apple user for years and I personally was extremely satisfied with both their products and customer service. They have admitted something, have stepped up to the plate so everyone stop whining. If you don’t like the phone or don’t have the patience, return it. Enough said. Let it go guys.

  2. @PC Apologist
    Let’s say you’re correct, and that Apple is lying;

    I reckon the consumer world will be angry at Apple’s lies, and all the disillusioned iPhone 4 purchasers will be rushing to return their horrible iPhones to the evil, lying liars at Apple.

    Apple has even reminded their customers that these customers have the right to return their horribly faulty iPhones for a full refund from Apple, Apple, which lies so much and so hard, that their pants are on fire.

    Let’s now sit back and watch the massive avalanche of iPhone returns begin.

    Boy, this is sure going to be an iPhone Returns event of spectacular proportions!
    I brought popcorn, sandwhiches from DiRienzo’s, and Root Beer.
    What are you bringing?

  3. And as I said all along, this was an AT&T;issue with their garbage network, not the hardware. The software update will increase the accuracy but I can almost guarantee that this will be a CARRIER UPDATE and not a true software update.

    U.S. issue, not an iPhone 4 issue!,

  4. Sweaty hands, dry hands, having held it in every which way, I couldn’t reproduce the bar-dropping effect; full bars the whole time.
    And for whatever its worth, having owned all versions, I absolutely think that Apple has re-invented the iPhone with iPhone 4.

  5. Wow, MDN, first you jump to conclusions, and now you are jumping to conclusions again! Apple’s statement isn’t really consistent IMO… if it’s a problem with their formula for calculating signal strength, and they have used the same formula since iPhone 1, why the crap does the problem only manifest itself on the iPhone 4, and only when you cover up that little gap on the bottom left??? Makes no sense. Hopefully this upcoming software patch solves the problem, but don’t you think we should wait and see if it actually does before saying, “oh, we were right, then we were wrong, but now we’re right again!”?

  6. I also remember a long time ago when they patched the first iphones to improve the signal, actually just adding more bars, lol
    now someone else should had found this fix and said WTH! and commented the fix and uncommented the real old code. lol

  7. Can some of you that actually have iPhones confirm this? That in areas where you have decent signal coverage, lets say someone in general Houston area, that you dont lose 3G service every time you hold it in you left hand?

    I think i need to go see one of these things for myself.

    This might explain why only a subset of people can re-perform the lost bars. MDN own poll showed many people didnt have the problem. And some people on this board mentioned they coudl not get the problem to repeat.

    All that said, I have a 3G iphone and I have never seen the issue where when holding the phone a certain way or any way that I lose bars.

  8. People were justified in their being upset- as far as anyone could tell it was just as likely to have been a massive, hugely problematic hardware fault as it was an easily fixable software one.

    If it *had* been a hardware problem, this really would have spelled trouble for Apple because it would have been the first of it’s kind to affect so many units for Apple. If that had been the case, and I had stock in APPL, I would have found it hard to sleep at night.

    Let’s all just be thankful it was a software problem and leave it at that! ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

  9. Apple is getting more ”heavy-handed” as it becomes bigger. There are many ‘small’ problems with the hardware/software made by Apple that just gets lost in the roar of its success. I draw 2 conclusions. First, Apple WILL need a healthy dose of market competition to keep it on its ”consumer-friendly” toes. Be it Google, though they are 2 big and makes me uncomfy, or stream of newcomers. Two, with all the little faults, I still gotta give Apple my support for it being ultimately an innovative, and ”eye-opening” products.

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