By John Gruber
Next-generation Apple device management for macOS, iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS. Request access.
Source: “Letter From Apple Regarding iPhone 4”.
The iPhone 4 has been the most successful product launch in Apple’s history. It has been judged by reviewers around the world to be the best smartphone ever, and users have told us that they love it. So we were surprised when we read reports of reception problems, and we immediately began investigating them. Here is what we have learned.
We cannot believe we had to write this fucking letter.
To start with, gripping almost any mobile phone in certain ways will reduce its reception by 1 or more bars. This is true of iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, as well as many Droid, Nokia and RIM phones.
We cannot believe we’re getting shit for this.
But some users have reported that iPhone 4 can drop 4 or 5 bars when tightly held in a way which covers the black strip in the lower left corner of the metal band. This is a far bigger drop than normal, and as a result some have accused the iPhone 4 of having a faulty antenna design.
(No translation necessary.)
At the same time, we continue to read articles and receive hundreds of emails from users saying that iPhone 4 reception is better than the iPhone 3GS. They are delighted. This matches our own experience and testing. What can explain all of this?
It really is a better antenna and gets better reception, overall, than any previous iPhone. That’s really the hell of this whole goddamn situation. It’s like a two steps forward, one step back design, except maybe more like three steps forward, because this thing is faster at downloading, 10 times faster at uploading, and most importantly is better at not dropping calls with a weak signal. But, yes, there’s that one step back, wherein it can suffer from unintended attenuation when you bridge the lower-left antenna gap with your skin, and frankly, we’re a little pissed that this one step back is getting all the attention.
We have discovered the cause of this dramatic drop in bars, and it is both simple and surprising.
We are going to blame AT&T.
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.
We decided from the outset to set the formula for our bars-of-signal strength indicator to make the iPhone look good — to make it look as if it “gets more bars”. That decision has now bitten us on our ass.
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.
Yes, with no case on the phone, your signal strength can drop by about 20 or even 30 percent depending how you hold the phone. We’re going to change the bar algorithm so that you’ll only lose one bar (maybe two, if you’re holding the phone obnoxiously tight or have gross sweaty palms) if you’re holding it that way.
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.
We are braced for the backlash when, after installing this update, people who weren’t experiencing any problems at all with their iPhones start complaining, loudly, that their phones which used to get five bars now only get three or two or whatever from the same locations, and we all know — us and everyone reading this — that Gizmodo will immediately declare that the update has made iPhone 4 reception worse, even though we’ve just explained that we’re not changing anything related to actual reception, but rather only to how we indicate signal strength.
We will issue a free software update within a few weeks that incorporates the corrected formula. Since this mistake has been present since the original iPhone, this software update will also be available for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G.
(No translation necessary.)
We have gone back to our labs and retested everything, and the results are the same — the iPhone 4’s wireless performance is the best we have ever shipped. For the vast majority of users who have not been troubled by this issue, this software update will only make your bars more accurate. For those who have had concerns, we apologize for any anxiety we may have caused.
Don’t fuck this thing up for us. We mean, have you seen the Retina Display?
As a reminder, if you are not fully satisfied, you can return your undamaged iPhone to any Apple Retail Store or the online Apple Store within 30 days of purchase for a full refund.
We dare you.
And take your class action suits filed four days after we released the goddamn thing and stick them up your fucking asses.
We hope you love the iPhone 4 as much as we do.
Seriously, have you seen it?
Thank you for your patience and support.
Don’t hold it that way, or buy a case.