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The iPhone Death Grip Thing Keeps Getting Weirder and Weirder



Call it the death grip, call it the Vulcan grip, call it what you want, but the amount of digital text flying through the Internet and yapped over the air waves on the new iPhone’s antenna issue is really amazing. There’s been all sorts of reporting on the issue from first person accounts to actual real science being laid out as to why this might be a real issues, and why it has always been an real issue with cellphones. Although curiously, we’ve never seen any real hoopla before this.

But after Apple issued its official response and then Steve Jobs responded to some emails telling us we’re holding the phone the wrong way I got to thinking. Engadget pretty much put a lie to the condescending “holding it the wrong way” approach with the series of pictures from the keynote and Apple ads (watch for those to change soon.) This is obviously a real issue that some (not necessarily all) are dealing with. The jury is still out on to the extent of the problem, but this is quickly headed to real PR issue, if not a real technology issue. Where I sit today, and this is of course my deduction and/or speculation, is that Apple got caught with its pants down on this one and is desperately trying to pull them back up quickly to cover its posterior. Here’s why.

The pictures Engadget lays out tell a pretty dramatic story. Given Apple’s attention to detail, I find it hard to imagine that they would treat this issue so cavalierly when it comes to advertising, if they knew they had a problem on (or in) their hands. By the same token, I don’t think they would have trumpeted this new antenna approach the way they did in the keynote, if they knew they had what appears to be such a serious problem. Given the visual evidence, Apple and Jobs’ “holding it the wrong way” response sounds desperate and childish in its defensiveness and threatens more rational statements about how signal strength can be affected by humans in any handheld. Had Apple anticipated this problem prior to the release, you can bet they would have had a more PR peppered and prepared statement ready to go on launch day. Instead they come out sounding foolish.

As I said yesterday, the technological problem makes the 1st generation of a 4th generation device look a bit like alpha hardware. The shoddy PR response is making this look like a company that is desperate, defensive, and in denial. To be fair, even some harsh critics are saying they are seeing improved connectivity (when they are holding the device “the right way”) so keep in mind there is more to discover about this issue.

Speaking of “right way” and “wrong way”, I’d like to dispell what I think is a myth here about this being a left handed issue. I’m right handed. But I use the phone in both hands and frequently hold it in my left hand while my right hand is interacting with the screen. I also frequently hold the phone in my left hand when I do have it at my ear to talk into it. So, I just don’t see this as a left handed issue. Those who suggest it is, need to add a little more right brain thinking to their left brain logic.

Apple’s Bumper approach (or for that matter any case) might be a real solutionf or those who don’t mind using a case.  It erases the problem in my situation, but in essence it is a band aid approach. And who knows, maybe band aids work just as well, given that we’re hearing about solutions ranging from scotch tape to finger nail polish. But the real test of Apple’s might PR and Marketing machine will be when we start seeing companies that manufacture cases advertising that their product helps signal strength.

There may be a technological issue here that is a problem, but the poor PR approach to handling it is turning Apple’s usually carefully managed machine into a laughing stock.



  1. acerbic

    06/25/2010 at 2:51 pm

    The statements about how signal strength can be affected by humans in any handheld are actually not at all more rational, because in other handhelds you can only partially cover or shield the antenna with your hand which is a completely different issue than “de-tuning” the antenna by making an actual conductive contact with the metal or even worse: electrically connecting two different antennas by touching the gap separating them.

  2. Brett Gilbertson

    06/25/2010 at 4:53 pm

    I think we can safely assume (by the fact that the bumper case fixes the issue) that putting the antenna on the outside was a dumb move…

    It’s like the iPhone is wearing its underpants on the outside trying to be a superhero… We’re laughing at you iPhone.

  3. iPad Cases

    06/26/2010 at 5:55 am

    Probably the first iPhone which definitely needs a case because of the reception issue.

  4. Fleon

    06/26/2010 at 6:11 am

    This isn’t new for Apple for the last four or five years; I’m not sure why anyone is surprised.

    The last few revision of the Macbooks have have overheating problems- the original Air even shuts down over playing a low def Youtube clip. The DisplayPorts haven’t ever worked correctly and the image degradation is just atrocious.

    Snow Leopard added some (not full) 64-bit support, but at a cost of major application compatibility loss. Over 20% of reported software had some sort of problem with Apple’s newest OS. Not even Vista had those kind of numbers.

    The iPad also has reported heat problems. Not a good sign for a little device that would otherwise be fine to take outside to play with.

    Yellow LCD screen problems? Just five months ago Apple had similar problems with the iMac. What is shocking is that they didn’t check for the same issues with the iPhone 4.

    What shocking is not that the newest Apple product has problems, but that there are still people buying them. Form over function to this extent is somewhat ridiculous when the product can’t handle its most basic purpose.

  5. dstrauss

    06/26/2010 at 8:17 am

    I have not yet received my iPhone 4, but I have upgraded my iPhone 3Gs to iOS4. At random intervals, the upgraded 3Gs displays the SAME fading of signal bars as the videos circulating on the internet about the iPhone 4. Once placed on a flat surface away from your hand, they reappear at the same rate they disappeared. This does not happen every time, but I know it NEVER occurred before iOS4.

    I have been posting to many sites about this problem, and it is often dismissed as “impossible” because this cannot be just a software problem, it has to be hardware related. I am no engineer, but I suspect it is both and my intuition tells me that attenuation of the antennae may be a pre-existing problem that the OS software has not been accurately reflecting BEFORE iOS4. That would also explain the dropped call problem on AT&T using all my prior iPhone models (2, 3, 3Gs). Perhaps AT&T is NOT the only party at fault in this voice quality mess. What if the prior versions of the OS were incorrectly reporting signal strength and performance, and this has been fixed in the current iOS4? Even more importantly, if the imminent 4.0.1 is released and the problem (as reported on screen) is resolved. Has it just been hidden again?

    I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it is IMPOSSIBLE for my 3Gs, with its internal antennae, to exhibit the same behavior as an iPhone 4 supposedly “bridged” by holding it wrong. This deserves an honest answer, and even perhaps a few apologies to AT&T.

  6. Chris Hickie

    06/26/2010 at 10:31 am

    They’re probable working on V 2.0 where there is some sort of a thin, nonconducting (but durable) layer over the antenna metal, something like the enamel used on copper wire uses for winding electrical motor coils. And if Apple were smart, they’d quickly put out some sort of thin plastic border that you can snap around the edge of the phone.

    But Apple hasn’t had a snafu like this in a while and got caught napping.I think the last time they got so ballyhooed was with the handwriting recognition on the early Newtons.

  7. Spike

    06/26/2010 at 3:22 pm

    @Chris Hickie
    I doubt apple will release an iPhone 4 v2.0. More likely they will give away free sets of bumpers, the little plastic border that Apple already makes to snap around the outside of the iPhone.

  8. Spike

    06/26/2010 at 3:34 pm

    True, Apple has had some problems with new hardware. I haven’t heard that statistic about Snow Leopard compatibility, but I’m not doubting it. However, I make my living fixing computers. I do Windows, Linux and Mac. My Linux clients are all businesses, mostly servers. My Mac clients are almost entirely users of virtualization software, like Fusion or Parallels, or those who have installed Windows directly, using Boot Camp. Basically, Macs only break due to manufacturer’s defect, which is why they have a warranty, or due to Windows. My Windows clients include anyone who owns a windows computer that doest know a degree’s worth of computer knowledge. Windows keeps us IT folk eating dinner at night. So complain about “form over function” all you want, but the fact of the matter is when all the software and hardware are made by the same people, you get a better machine. And please don’t let Steve Jobs being an arrogant, egomaniacal asshole make you think differently about products he has little to actually do with at this point.

  9. Mark

    06/29/2010 at 1:00 pm

    Because I favor my left ear, hold a phone so that it’s less likely to slip out of my hand (which is hardly a “death grip”) and live in an area where AT&T is shaky at best, I was bitten immediately and hard by this problem. Fortunately, it took 20 minutes to fix. I drove to the Apple store where I was met by pure, raw attitude. I was actually surprised none of that happy bunch spit on me for asking for a case that they were sold out of. So I went to AT&T where they had none on display for the iPhone 4 but they had a whole desk drawer full of very nice looking, well fitting cases that worked perfectly. 20 minutes, great reception. Now as I mentioned, AT&T pretty much blows at home. With the 3G and 3GS I was never once able to hold a conversation longer than about 5 minutes and data speed was abysmal. The new phone is a magnitude better and it’s partially because of the external antenna. So yes, on one hand it sucks that Apple pushed it out the door with such a glaring problem and Steve Jobs’ infantile “response” is undoubtedly why there’s a whole new group of haters happily tearing into all things Apple BUT with a minimal investment of a case, you end up with a phone that has superior reception to any iPhone preceeding it. It even does better than my AT&T Fuze which was pretty good to start with.

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