Antenna Issues Irk Some iPhone 4 Users

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Some customers that purchased Apple’s new iPhone 4 on Thursday have been complaining about an issue called the iPhone Death Grip where holding the device in a certain way negatively impacts cell signal reception. In some cases, people have been able to at least partially kill their cell signal reception by holding their iPhone 4 so that part of their hand contacts both antenna pieces in the lower left corner of the device.

In response to the potential issue, Apple stated “Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone.”

Apple’s advice to customers that experience the problem, according to Engadget, is “If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.”

While the issue certainly exists for at least some iPhone 4 owners, and could potentially be a problem for users that hold their phone in their left hand, TMO hasn’t been able to reproduce the problem on our test phones.

Despite the notion that the iPhone is the only smartphone to have reception issues when held in a certain way, other phones can exhibit the same behavior, too, including Google’s Nexus One.

Black bands separate antenna sections

In the case of the iPhone 4, the metal band that runs around the outside of the case also makes up the antenna array. The black bands that break up the metal edge separate the antenna structures, so bridging two sections with something conductive like your skin could potentially create some interference that impacts cell signal reception.

“The iPhone 4 has two symmetrical slots in the stainless frame.  If you short these slots, or cover them with your hand, the antenna performance will suffer,” said AntennaSys cell phone antenna designer, Spencer Webb. “There is no way around this, it’s a design compromise that is forced by the requirements of the FCC, AT&T, Apple’s marketing department and Apple’s industrial designers, to name a few.”

Using a case that covers the antenna structure will help reduce signal degradation, although obscuring the antennas with your hand will potentially reduce signal strength, too. That, in part, is a side effect of government requirements.

“When the FCC [antenna radiation] tests are run, the head is required to be in the vicinity of the phone. But, the hand is not,” Mr. Web said. “So, naturally, the design evolved to meet requirements — and efficient transmission and reception while being held by a human hand are simply not design requirements!”

iPhone 4 signal loss demonstration

The end result is that most any cell phone that packs antennas into its body — which includes pretty much every block-shaped mobile phone — can suffer some level of signal degradation when held in your hand.

Since the iPhone 4 is a high profile device, the media picked up on the user complaints almost immediately, along with Steve Jobs’s flippant response of “Just avoid holding it that way” to a customer email for help. While his advice might be accurate, the delivery stung at least a little.

The solution for the iPhone 4, as well as any other similarly shaped mobile phone, is to avoid holding it in such a way that signal reception is hampered. For iPhone 4 users that are experiencing problems, a case that keeps your hand off of the antennas, or even a strip of electrical tape, will likely do the trick.

Some changes to the way the FCC and cell service providers conduct their tests couldn’t hurt, either.

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While the tape solution is cheap and inelegant, won’t this problem also be solved by putting a case on the iPhone 4? Some of the simple ones I have seen (a rubber-like band that goes around the edge of the iPhone covering the stainless steel band) would solve the problem and protect the phone.

How many iPhone owners do you know that don’t have a case for their precious?


I’m having the bar drop/reception issue with my new iPhone 4. What really troubles me are the people who can’t replicate the problem however hard they try. This suggests to me that this could be a real defect on a lot of new iPhone 4’s. It would not be rocket science to set up experiments to prove or disprove what is really going on here. Why should i get a Bumper or Case if all i need is a different iPhone 4 handset where the issue doesn’t exist?

Jeff Gamet

While the tape solution is cheap and inelegant, won?t this problem also be solved by putting a case on the iPhone 4?

Any case that blocks conductivity between your hand and the antenna structure should do the trick. Apple’s own Bumpers for the iPhone 4 will work just fine, too.


Why would you NOT put a case on a phone whose exterior is 90% glass?

And to those who want the simple fix…MOVE YOUR HAND!!!!!

If I don’t get a signal in one room in my house, I move to another room. I don’t stand there whining and moaning. This is such a NON issue.


True, if the problem is not pervasive then it becomes an issue of quality control and should be handled by Apple. Apple does have an internal policy regarding new devices during the “market shakedown period” where new bugs and/or design/manufacturing flaws are uncovered and they tend to be more generous with exchanges.

This information was relayed to me second-hand by colleagues of mine that early-adopted iPads and ran into issues that were quickly dispatched and remedied by Apple.

However, if it were a pervasive issue, don’t you think that Apple’s testing crew would have uncovered it right away?

Still, without definitive proof of it’s pervasiveness, your best bet is to get Apple to pony up a replacement that doesn’t have the issue or use a bumper case.


I think people are really missing my point. I’m as big a fanboy as there is. That said it is not unreasonable for me to be concerned that my iPhone 4 may have an issue that yours doesn’t. Factor out cases and bumpers, it makes no sense that everyone wouldn’t experience the bar drop/reception issues under same conditions. Clearly many people cannot replicate the issue! Although i have no objection to using a case, would anyone blame me for wanting their phone that mysteriously doesn’t have the issue? I’m not running to the Apple store to return my phone,but a few answers would be nice.


Yes, but not running to Apple right now is tantamount to telling them you have no problem. If you have an issue, run, don’t walk, to local Apple Store and tell them about it.

BTW, are you left-handed?


I’m not running to Apple because they have not decided it is a defect. Besides, i doubt they would have another handset to give me right now. I think the experiments will surface very soon that determine whether all iPhone 4 handsets are created equal. I just want to know that my fellow users have to use a case or hold it correctly, or they too have issues. I’m right handed with an unremarkable grip on my phone.


I follow both Dave Hamilton and Ted Landau on twitter. I enjoy and respect their views on everything mac related. I’m waiting for their views on the reception issue. If they say they can’t replicate the issue then i’m running to Apple to exchange my phone. If they share my problem then i will don a bumper or case!


One theory as to why the issue is so hit and miss.

Skin conductivity varies wildly. If you are in a dry climate and or have dry skin it will be much less conductive than if you live in a humid area and have moist skin. It would be interesting to see a plot people who do and do not have the issue on a map. My guess is that LA, Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Reno will see much less of the issue than Miami, Seattle, and New Orleans. Similarly it would be interesting to see if people with moist skin have more trouble than people, like me, with dry lizardy skin.


Interesting. As luck would have it i live in FLORIDA! smile


I asked if you were left-handed because when lefties hold the iPhone 4 the palm is what bridges the antennas causing the short. THe palm, having far more surface area than the fingers and being continuous seems more likely to cause a short when sweaty. Remember, skin in and of itself is a poor conductor of electricity. It’s the sweat that is more electrically conducive.


It?s the sweat that is more electrically conducive.

That’s very possible. In that case Florida in the summer, both hot and humid would see much less of that than, for example Minnesota in the winter.
I wonder what effect of hand lotion would be?
that also gets me to thinking of the Apple testing team. Mostly engineers, mid and upper management I would guess. That would be a group that may take better care of their skin. It would be interesting to see if there are particular professions or such that have more trouble.


If I don?t get a signal in one room in my house, I move to another room. I don?t stand there whining and moaning. This is such a NON issue.

So you think it’s totally fine that Apple didn’t design the phone to work well when holding it in a completely normal way? And your answer is to give Apple another 30 bucks for a bumper? Would you be okay with your MBP not connecting to WIFI networks when your hands hovered over the keyboard?

It stuns me how much your willing to let Apple slide on. I guess their new campaign will be “Hold Different.” You need to admit that Apple blew it in the Q/A during R&D. Too focused on the next cool thing that they forgot about the practical design. Reminds me of Frank Loyd Wright using stretched canvas as roofing. Cool idea, but useless once the canvas rots off. Not Practical.

Hell there own marketing shows them holding it that way:


Agreed. Whatever the cause, and I’m betting the antenna is getting shorted to the frame and it’s screwing up the tuning, it should have been caught in testing. There is some evidence that this is a known issue in other phones as well


But that means that it should have been checked. I’m a huge Apple fan but if I buy a $700 phone I expect better than this.


I bet that this is why Apple created their first ever iPhone case - the Bumper - which will conveniently keep your hand from contacting the metal antennae.  Coincidence?


” ... efficient transmission and reception while being held by a human hand are simply not design requirements!?

  —Spencer Webb, now-famous antenna designer [from the article]

Um, he must mean formal FCC requirements for energy emissions. Working well in the hand is so obviously a functional design requirement that it goes without saying.

This lovely mobile device works perfectly out of the box as long as I wear a rubber glove. That does somewhat diminish the elegance in use.


This lovely mobile device works perfectly out of the box as long as I wear a rubber glove

Supporting my theory and suggesting that a thin layer of clear plastic over the antenna strip could have prevented this without damaging the look of the device.

Anyone want to try applying a layer of clear nail polish around the outside of their iP4 to see if it solves the problem.
Maybe not. LOL


I am an Apple guy from Day One….  This is clearly an issue that Apple should solve…  If it means giving away a free band to go around the phone, then so be it….  Just do it!  Coming out with these lame announcements and comparisons is very sad.  If a Microsoft, Palm or Blackberry phone had this issue, you guys would be all over it…

It’s time for Apple to man up!


That kind of response is not unheard of. When Leica shipped their M8 digital rangefinder camera in 2006, it was discovered that the sensor was overly sensitive to infrared (IR) light and would make black synthetic cloth have a magenta cast. Rather than issue a massive recall, Leica gave every registered Leica M8 owner two (2) free IR-cut filters. The problem persisted to the subsequent model, the M8.2 and was finally corrected last year with the release of the M9. These filters retailed for about $95 each. I am sure Apple can pony up a free Bumper to anyone having the issue as they are sitting on a huge mound of cash.


You can do the same thing with the 3GS, but nobody ever noticed. If you are not dropping any more calls than before, I don’t see the issue. It’s seems to me just to be more ‘visible’ now.


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