Apple on iPhone 4 Reception Issues: It’s the Software

Apple addressed concerns over cell signal strength issues on the iPhone 4 in an open letter on the company’s Web site on Friday. The real problem, according to Apple, is the formula used to calculate the iPhone’s signal strength.

“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,” Apple said in its statement. “Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength.”

Some iPhone 4 owners have been complaining of signal loss issues when they grip their phone so the lower left corner of the device is covered by their hand. Users that experience the problem can watch signal strength bars disappear, and when they uncover the corner of their iPhone, the bars return.

The company said the problem with the formula used to calculate signal strength goes back to the original iPhone, which means users have always seen erroneous info about how strong their signal actually is.

“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,” Apple said.

Along with updating the iPhone’s formula, Apple will be increasing the height of the first three signal strength bars so they are easier to see.

The signal strength issue has already spawned at least one lawsuit alleging the company intentionally misled customers and released a defective product. According to a class action lawsuit filed against Apple and AT&T in Maryland, the companies “sold defective iPhone 4 units, which drops calls and data service when held in a manner consistent with normal wireless phone use.”

The lawfirm of Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff has been hunting for iPhone 4 owners to include in its own class action case against Apple for antenna issues, too.

Assuming Apple’s assessment of the problem is correct, that’s good news for the company. “So there is no reception problem and no hardware problem,” an attorney familiar with this type of case told The Mac Observer. “If this holds up, the controversies and class action lawsuits go away.”

Apple plans to release a software update sometime in the next few weeks to address the problem. The update will be free and available for the iPhone 3G, 3GS and 4.