Commentary

Apple Sacrifices Antenna For Art In IPhone 4

iphone4/taped

Duct tape on the iPhone 4? That's the quick and dirty solution proposed by Consumer Reports to the device's reception problems in the much-publicized study blaming signal loss on the phone's external antenna design rather than a software glitch.

Of course, such a suggestion would likely give Apple CEO Steve Jobs a heart attack -- the equivalent of throwing house paint on a Picasso or "fixing" the Venus De Milo with Elmer's Glue. According to one report, Apple is already removing threads discussing the damning Consumer Reports article on the iPhone 4 from support forums.

The well-known product watchdog said it couldn't recommend the latest version of Apple's smartphone because of the signal problem created when a user's hand grips the lower left side of the device, causing it to lose a connection completely in a weak signal area. Consumer Reports also questioned Apple's explanation that the signal strength issues stemmed largely from faulty software that showed more bars than was actually the case.

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Whatever the chief cause of poor reception, it seems incorporating the antenna into the stainless steel band wrapping the glass frame of the iPhone 4 was more of an aesthetic  than a practical choice. It certainly hasn't helped improve call quality. But few would disagree the device is the sleekest incarnation of the iPhone to date, 24% thinner than the 3GS, with the metal band lending it an edgier, industrial look and feel.

Apple has long been hailed for fusing art with technology in its products -- which sets them apart from the utilitarian offerings of competitors and adds to the cult-like status the company enjoys among global brands. But matching form with function hasn't always been easy for Apple. The iPhone and other Apple products in the past have had battery-related woes, while the iPod has had issues with durability and being scratched easily.

And as the company creates more streamlined devices, smaller components have to perform equally well or better than larger prior versions. Apple has run into trouble this time by putting one of the components on the outside, making the antenna vulnerable to interference when touched by a hand or finger.

Apple's own solution to the problem -- a recommendation to buy a $29 rubber "bumper" for the iPhone 4 -- is hardly elegant, or inexpensive. But for Jobs, it's surely better than slapping on a piece of duct tape to do the job. After all, iPhone's lesser cousin the iPod has already become a museum piece.

3 comments about "Apple Sacrifices Antenna For Art In IPhone 4 ".
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  1. Ira Kalb from Kalb & Associates, July 13, 2010 at 4:52 p.m.

    The fact that Consumer Reports (a well respected independent 3rd party) is not recommending the iPhone4 cannot be good for Apple. If I were apple, I would provide a very good looking rubber bumper to buyers of the iPhone4 at no charge until such time as they fix the problem. Most trust that Apple will fix this, but those that do not subscribe to the Apple religion are not amused by their waffling on the source of the problem. Can't Apple afford a good PR person that can convince SJ that we are not all stupid sheep?

  2. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, July 13, 2010 at 5:29 p.m.

    Duct Tape has saved me from Chemical and Biological and Nuclear Terrorism many a time. Not surprised it fixes the IPhone.

  3. Jeffrey Clayton from Autodesk, July 13, 2010 at 6:56 p.m.

    Not Apple's finest hour, and their inadequate response to the mini-furor disappoints me.
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    But CR's advice on electronics usually disappoint me too, and this time is no exception. The whole issue is way, way overblown by commentators, so I have some sympathy for Apple as well. Also, there's no totally satisfactory way of making the whole thing just go away.
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    It's an external antenna, people. We have been living with these since the earliest days of radio. A big bag of salt water, like your average human being, influences a small radio receiver just by being close to it.
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    Until I find a case I like, I'm using a thin strip of black electrical tape as a precaution. Silver duct tape is not good enough for me, because I'm really, really fussy. But not really, really whiny about the best smartphone I have ever had my somewhat conductive hands on. YMMV.

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