After a quote from Steve Jobs, and a statement from Apple attempted to gloss over the antenna reception issue plaguing the iPhone 4 launch as a "non-issue", it seems that Apple may actually be treating it as a real issue - at least internally. There are reports that an update to the iOS 4 firmware could come as early as next week to address the problem.
Rumours are circulating that an IOS update was confirmed in the Apple tech support forums - but all traces of it are gone now. According to a post on AppleInsider "Readers report that Apple's tech support forums originally confirmed that a iOS 4.0.1 software fix addressing the issue would ship early next week (as early as Monday), before the comments were subsequently taken down along with all the other related discussion about the matter."
I have an iPhone 4. Pre-ordered it before the onslaught of pre-orders crippled the system. Ordered it early enough that I was one of the lucky few who received it on Wednesday - a day before the official launch.
I took it out of the box, and activated it. I synced it up with my iTunes to get all of my apps and music installed. All the while, it had a full five bars of 3G signal. It was a beautiful thing.
Then, a call came in. I picked up the phone and said "hello"....then nothing. Apparently, I missed the memo that if you hold the iPhone 4 the way you would hold any other smartphone - including the iPhone 3GS I just deactivated - it actually becomes an iPod Touch. Maybe that's a feature rather than a bug from Apple's perspective, but they should at least include a little memo when you open the box explaining the precise manner you must hold the iPhone 4 in order for it to function as a phone.
After reading reports identifying the issue, I was able to recreate the attenuation problem myself. Holding iPhone 4 gripped in my palm - no signal. Holding iPhone 4 daintily between fingers, avoiding the lower-left corner of the metal casing--five bars of signal.
What I also noticed, though, is the lag. It takes about ten seconds for the signal to completely disappear when I touch the lower-left corner of the case, and another ten seconds for the five bars of signal to return and establish contact with the 3G network once I stop touching the lower-left corner.
Based on that observation, the rumours of the iOS 4 fix actually make sense to me. The AppleInsider post explains that "The fix is expected to address a [sic] issue in iOS 4 related to radio frequency calibration of the baseband. Readers who saw the original forum discussions say that the issue is believed to occur when switching frequencies; because the lag is allegedly not calibrated correctly, it results in the device reporting "no service" rather than switching to the frequency with the best signal to noise ratio."
Yes, it is true from a technical perspective that the mechanics of antenna signal reception will be impacted any time the device comes into contact with human flesh--or many other things for that matter. The length of the antenna is a factor in receiving on a given frequency, and coming into contact with another conductive material can significantly alter the functional length of the antenna.
However, Apple can't simply call it a "non-issue" and ignore the fact that every other device out there--including their own previous iPhone models--have managed to compensate and overcome this physical hurdle without providing users with instructions to hold the device differently.
Apple sold an estimated 1.5 million iPhone 4s on launch day. Four days later, that number might be north of two million at this point. Apple has an obligation to address the issue and resolve the problem rather than trying to convince two million customers that the problem is their fault.
The Android-based HTC EVO 4G experienced a number of launch-day issues as well - but at least it could make and receive phone calls. More importantly, Sprint and HTC acted quickly to acknowledge and address the issues rather than issuing statements and platitudes in an attempt to brush the issue aside.
Hopefully the Apple tech support forums thread, which no longer exists, is correct, and Apple is hard at work on the firmware update that will solve the problem for real and at least make reception on the iPhone 4 only as dysfunctional as it is on every other comparable smartphone when held the normal way. I guess we'll find out this week.