The Apple iPhone 4 hasn’t even been available for 24 hours, and already Apple is fielding complaints from customers complaining about reception issues with the devices: some users are finding if they cover the lower left-hand corner of the phone, covering the antenna notch, that they may see minor to significant loss in signal. Numerous customers have posted online videos and descriptions of the problem: some seem to be able to reproduce it more easily than others, and some users experience more radical signal loss than others.
Surprisingly, Apple has rapidly acknowledged that bridging the antenna gap by gripping the phone can cause signal loss. Apple’s recommended solution: hold the phone differently, or buy an iPhone 4 case that covers both sides of the antenna’s metal band to avoid contact with skin.
“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,” Apple is telling customers in an statement via email. “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.”
To be sure, the issue of user’s hands degrading mobile phone signals is not new: mobile phones are most often designed with their antennas at the bottom part of the phone so they’re as far as possible from a user’s head. This design reduces radiation exposure—no health impacts have been firmly established, but research is ongoing—and keeps the antennas as far as possible from another big object that blocks signal: the skull. Previous iPhone models have been demonstrated to have signal loss from users’ hands, as have numerous other mobile devices.
However, Apple’s advice that users are somehow holding the iPhone 4 incorrectly is rubbing many customers the wrong way; some have ironically noted Apple’s own iPhone 4 promotional materials frequently illustrate users holding the phone in ways that would block signal. However, there are also many reports of considerably improved reception with the iPhone 4, including users who only got middling reception with the iPhone 3GS reporting significant improvements in the same locations using the iPhone 4.
Most iPhone cases should let users avoid the worst of the signal loss issue by keeping bare hands off the iPhone 4’s antenna.