Gizmodo has been posting several user reports and videos showing the iPhone 4 losing wireless reception when held firmly in hand. After Warner pointed it out to me, I began to try to replicate their results, and I must admit, the issue has me stumped.
Basically, if you hold the iPhone 4 in hand, contact with the frame, which acts as the wireless antenna, causes the signal strength to fade. Releasing the frame restores it. The folks at FameFoundry (their video) have narrowed the trouble spot down to the bottom of the left edge (side with the volume buttons). I can confirm contact with the frame divider there, specifically contact that bridges both parts of the metal frame, can lead to decreased signal strength. Emphasis on “can.”
Last night, after some early mixed results, I did manage to do replicate the problem consistently enough that I feel confident this is the trouble spot. However, I can’t do it every time, it doesn’t work nearly as fast for me as for others, and contact with that spot alone doesn’t seem to do it. Furthermore, I’m finding the problem isn’t nearly as severe in my office this morning. One hand position that worked last night at home takes at least a minute before dropping a bar and doesn’t kill the signal. Nothing else seems to affect the signal at all. Whatever the problem is, and yes, it is a problem, the trigger is more complex than holding the phone.
The obvious fix would be a protective case, much like the Bumper that Apple is selling, the first protector they’ve produced in-house. This leads me to suspect this is a known issue and Apple is trusting that it won’t be a problem since most people use some type of case, similar to my suspicions about the drop problem. If so, I think they’ve really handled the situation poorly. On one hand, they could have included a Bumper with every iPhone 4, perhaps with an option to swap colors like they did with the 2nd gen candy-colored iMac. On the other hand, their accessory partners would take a major hit if every iPhone 4 came with a Bumper. Yes, there is a slight dilemma here, but Apple should have erred on the side of the consumer. I’m guessing their backup plan is to send a free Bumper to anyone who files a claim.
On a related note, reception problem or not, I’m getting a case for my 4 anyway, probably a Bumper (especially if they give them away to claimants). I find the steel frame edges to be less comfortable than the rounded body of my iPhone 3G. Could be I’m just not used to it, but I don’t see the point of trying to get used to something I already don’t like. Maybe making it feel uncomfortable was part of the plan.
Update: Engadget reports their review unit had no problems but one received today did. They also got a free Bumper for standing in line, so perhaps the “Bumper giveaway” is already starting up.