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How to solve the iPhone 4 antenna problem

How to handle Apple's new iPhone to get good reception, why a case matters, and skip the Scotch tape

July 2, 2010 06:45 AM ET

Computerworld - iPhone owners armed with pitchforks and torches are ready to storm the Apple castle over the problems some have experienced, and many have repeated, with making calls, keeping calls alive and holding a data connection.

Reports of call and data signal-strength problems in the new iPhone 4 surfaced within hours of the smartphone's launch last week. By the next day, Apple was acknowledging that holding the iPhone 4 can diminish the signal but offered only generic advice, telling users to "avoid gripping it in the lower left corner" or "use one of the many available cases."

As they're wont to do, iPhone users have come up with other, more creative ways to work around the problem.

We've selected some of the best advice we've seen so far. Ready? Flex your fingers. It's time to grip the problem, and your iPhone 4.

Take Steve Jobs' advice. Hold it just like this. On the day Apple launched the iPhone 4, Engadget posted a customer message and Steve Jobs' reply, where Apple's CEO told the complainer to "just avoid holding it that way."

(As with all mail reportedly originating from Jobs, take its veracity with the usual dose of salt.)

Antenna engineer Spencer Webb has dubbed his preferred grip the "Vulcan iPhone pinch," an allusion to the Vulcan nerve pinch used by Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek TV series from the 1960s. Also called the "Death Grip," the hold minimizes contact with the steel band that encircles the edge of the iPhone 4, which contains the antennas.

According to Webb, the president of antenna design and consulting firm AntennaSys and the holder of 11 antenna-related patents, the Vulcan pinch consists of holding the iPhone 4 using the middle finger and thumb on either side, with the index finger in a supporting role against the top back.

It doesn't require the dexterity of Nimoy's "Live long and prosper" split-fingered hand gesture, but it's close.

Get a case. Apple says to wrap a case around the iPhone 4. (It just so happens to have entered the case market with its $30 "bumpers.")

According to Apple, a case prevents skin-to-iPhone contact at the lower-left -- the score or gap in the steel band -- which can change the cellular antenna's ability to receive and transmit signals at its designed frequencies.

In fact, antenna guru Webb believes that it's entirely possible that Apple took a case for granted when it designed the iPhone 4. It appears that assumption, if it was made, was a mistake.

There are scores of cases and skins available for the iPhone 4, so we're not going to spotlight any one maker. OK, I lied: Grove's bamboo cases are made in Oregon, my home state, so I'm inserting a shameless plug here.

My advice: Go with a case maker you've gone to before for previous iPhone model protectors.

And don't pay $100 to someone on eBay for a piece of plastic and rubber that Apple sells for $30.



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