Apple and Steve Jobs make a fetish of design. Their industrial design tradition stresses beauty and function, especially for casual users and folks who just "want it to work" like my 80-year-old dad. Kudos.
Apple's new iPhone 4 is a triumph of design over function. Its slender glass and stainless-steel case has wowed reviewers and fans from the beginning. It's sleek and chic and oh-so-unique.
Apparently it doesn't work very well, too. The new iPhone dropped communications during Apple's World-Wide Developer's Conference, frustrating even demo-god Mr. Jobs. The problem was blamed on too many wireless signals in the room.
Today (24 June) the phone is being shown to lose signal when merely held "incorrectly":
The problem appears to mystify Apple fans and computer geeks alike. How did Apple let this one get by?
The Real Problem
My son showed me the above video. Inspecting the lower-left hand corner of the iPhone 4's case reveals the problem. When held left-handed, the ball of the thumb covers up a small gap in the stainless-steel band that girds the unit. This band is Apple's touted integrated antenna.
I'm a software-and-systems guy, not an electrical engineer, but I messed around with radios as a kid. To anyone who's played with radios, the problem is immediately obvious: touching the gap bridges the antenna.
Antennae have worked like this since they were first invented by Heinrich Herz in 1888. On the new iPhone, the user's hand placement appears to couple what look like two antennae on the case, turning them into a closed circuit. No antenna, no radio signal, and the stylish, sexy iPhone 4 becomes a smaller, less-capable iSlab.
Fixing the Design
If bought already, put a piece of Scotch Tape over the antenna gaps on the case. Wait for someone to make a silicon rubber band that covers the iPhone's antenna/edge. It'll probably retail for $17.95.
Test with people who hold the product in alternate hands.
Put an electrical engineer who has radio experience on the product design team. Steve should be sure his engineer can say "no", then he should listen to him.
- Steve Jobs has problems demonstrating the iPhone at WWDC, June 2010, BusinessInsider
- Beautiful and sleek iPhone 4 impresses the design world, The Design Blog
- Radio Antenna (Wikipaedia)
- Cloud City (Wookieepedia)
30 June 2010 - Apple reportedly is hiring antenna engineers.
2 July 2010 - Apple Admits iPhone 4 Signal Issue, Blames it on Incorrect Signal Display. But Will Software Fix It?
14 July 2010 - Wall Street Journal reports Apple's engineers knew of the problem a year ago, but Steve Jobs forced the design.
14 January 2011 - Computerworld says Apple has redesigned the antenna for Verizon's upcoming roll-out of iPhone service.
9 February 2011 - Geek.com reports the newly redesigned antenna on the iPhone 4 suffers from "death grip" too.