Back in the day, iPhone 4 antenna issues were a hot topic. They seemed to be a huge problem for the iPhone and an example of Apple’s arrogance. But were they? These issues are not always well understood, especially since not all iPhone 4s have experienced them.
What is the problem?
Shortly after the release of iPhone 4, some owners found that the phone dropped calls more often, and had a harder time getting good cellular signal reception, than other iPhone models or competing smartphones. Apple initially denied there was a problem, but after sustained criticism, the company launched its own investigation of the reports. Apple determined that there was an issue with the model’s antenna design that caused an increase in dropped calls.
What causes iPhone 4 antenna problems?
One of the major changes added to the iPhone 4 was the addition of a longer antenna. This was designed, ironically, to improve signal strength and reception. In order to fit the longer antenna without making the phone much larger, Apple threaded the antenna all the way through the phone, even exposing it on the lower outer edges of the device.
The problem that the iPhone 4 experiences with its antenna has to do with what is called “bridging” the antenna. This occurs when a hand or finger covers the antenna area on the side of the iPhone. Interference between our body and the antenna circuitry can cause the iPhone 4 to lose signal strength (also known as reception bars).
Does every iPhone 4 experience the problem?
No. That’s one of the complicated things about the situation. Some iPhone 4 units are affected by the bug while others are not. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for the units to be affected. To get a sense of the full scope of the nature of the problem, check out Engadget’s comprehensive post, which surveyed two dozen tech writers about their experiences.
Is this problem unique to iPhones?
No. It got a lot of attention because the iPhone is so popular and influential, but many cell phones and smartphones experience some drop in reception and signal strength if users place their hands where the phone antennas are located.
How serious is the problem?
Depends on where you are, really. The consensus on the problem is that bridging the antenna causes a drop in signal strength, but not necessarily a complete loss of signal. This means that in an area with full coverage (all five bars, maybe), you’ll see a drop in signal strength, but not enough to interrupt a call or data connection.
However, in a location with weaker coverage (one or two bars, for example), the drop in signal strength may be enough to terminate a call or prevent a data connection.
How to fix iPhone 4 antenna problems
Fortunately, the way to fix the iPhone 4 antenna problem is quite simple: keep your finger or hand from bypassing the antenna and you’ll prevent the signal strength from plummeting.
Steve Jobs’s initial response was to tell users not to hold the phone that way, but that’s obviously not a reasonable (or always possible) option. Eventually, the company relented and instituted a program under which users got free cases to cover the exposed antenna and prevent bridging.
That program is no longer active, but if you have an iPhone 4 and are having this problem, getting a case that covers the antenna and prevents your body from coming into contact with it should work.
A cheaper alternative is to cover the antenna on the left side with a piece of thick tape or duct tape to prevent contact.
Do other iPhone models have the antenna problem?
No. Apple learned its lesson. All iPhone models since 4 have had differently designed antennas. Call issues related to antenna design have not reoccurred on Apple devices.