‘Bars’ as a Unit of Measure

Aaron Swartz:

If, on the other models they compared the iPhone 4 against, they had shown the actual dBm (the generally-accepted measure of signal strength) lost by “holding it wrong,” we could have fairly compared their issues to the iPhone 4’s. But instead of having a debate about signal lost — the real issue for users — Apple has consistently tried to distract people with the issue of bars shown.

This can’t be an accident. Those advanced phone testing facilities must keep full track of actual dBm — it would be ridiculous to try to test a phone based on how many “bars” it had — yet, even after a talk supposedly about “hard data,” Apple still hasn’t once shown us a real dBm number on any phone!

Astute point. So, why omit precise data? Could be that the dBm numbers make the iPhone 4 look bad. Could be that Apple felt they should talk and show “bars”, arbitrary nonsense though they are, because “bars” are what people think is the actual metric. Could be that a precise fair dBm comparison between these three or four phones would have taken a week or longer, and they didn’t want to wait for that because this was a PR fire. (Based on what we were told during the lab tour yesterday, it really might take several full days to accurately measure the antenna of a single device. Several individual tests run for 24 hours each.)

Three million and counting iPhone 4 users seem happy, or at least satisfied, with the device’s reception, so I don’t think Apple is hiding anything truly bad here. But because there was no discussion of actual signal strength numbers, we do not know.

(Swartz’s comparison of Steve Jobs to Richard Nixon strikes me as a little overwrought, to say the least.)

Saturday, 17 July 2010