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Apple Answers iPhone Signal Woes Issue



Apple has put up a letter telling what it thinks is the issue with the “Death Grip” issue and signal degradation. The bottom line? Apple says, in what it calls a surprising discovery, the software that calculates and displays signal bar strength on the screen is inaccurate. Apple is promising a fix for the iPhone 4, the iPhone 3Gs and the iPhone 3G since they say this has always been a problem. And I guess they are just now discovering it. Hmmm? Essentially, your display has been showing more bars than it should.

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.

As to the “Death Grip” signal degradation, Apple is saying that essentially if you’re in a weaker signal area, you’re probably going to see issues.Which jives with some of my testing and some good reporting here. (highly recommended reading on this by the way.)

The bottom line, is that if users follow through on the promised upgrade, they will see less signal strength reported on their phones. Which raises other interesting questions in my mind. Do other AT&T phones with other software report less bars in similar locations? And of course the timing is interesting of the letter’s release, coming on the Friday before a big three day weekend. Will be interesting to see how this continues to shake out.



  1. Irked Inker

    07/02/2010 at 6:51 am

    Link to source of the quote?

  2. Sumocat

    07/02/2010 at 7:00 am

    I think the response is basically “your signal strength sucks worse than you think”, which doesn’t actually solve the problem, but it lines up with what I and others are seeing. At work, where I’m clear of tree cover, the death grip is far less effective than at home where I know my signal strength is weaker. Regardless, reducing the number of bars shown won’t stop the death grip from killing the connection.

    • Hal (GT)

      07/02/2010 at 12:46 pm

      Great point. Basically they’ve been saying the signal is stronger than it is. Would love to see this become the final straw that moves the iphone on to other carriers.

  3. GoodThings2Life

    07/02/2010 at 7:04 am

    @Sumocat, I’m glad I’m not the only one that notices the whole “we’ve been lying to you about the strength of your signal for 4 years” bit… No wonder everyone complains about AT&T’s crappy network… it really IS crappy. But you’re right, it’s probably not going to fix the death grip to change the signal measure… it just means it’s gonna continue to drop from 2 bars to 0 bars.

  4. Paul Harrigan

    07/02/2010 at 7:32 am

    Does this mean that Apple now gets sued for four years of fraud about signal strength?

    Can we dump AT&T without an ETF?

  5. Warner Crocker

    07/02/2010 at 7:54 am

    Sorry about the link. Fixed now. Thought it was there.

  6. Wyngo

    07/02/2010 at 8:31 am

    There goes AT&T’s “More bars” ad campaign.

  7. Oliver

    07/02/2010 at 5:34 pm

    As someone on another site observed:

    Why didn’t Toyota think of this? They could have just “corrected” the speedometer display instead of fixing any stuck gas pedals.

  8. Chris Hickie

    07/03/2010 at 12:48 pm

    Hope they don’t get caught in a class action lawsuit lie by someone with the right equipment to test these claims against the seemingly more likely claim that true signal strength is lost when the external antenna is detuned.

  9. Mark

    07/03/2010 at 7:29 pm

    My iPhone 4 reports 0 or 1 bars. According to Apple, I should now see -1 to 0 bars. That’ll be a neat trick. My iPad reports 5 bars and the 3GS reports 2 or 3. Kind of looks to me like they used a random number generator. That aside, the iPhone 4 works BETTER than the 3G or 3GS ever did. In two years I have never held a conversation from home longer than 5 minutes. Ever. With the new phone, I’ve held several longer than 20 minutes that ended when I ended them, not when they dropped. So it works better than the 3GS but will display fewer bars? I have my doubts. And I’m still pretty sure the problem is the antenna.

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