The folks at iFixit have compiled the insight they acquired while breaking down/re-assembling the iPhone 4 into a comprehensive (and unofficial) repair manual.
I’ve relied upon iFixit for years, and the detail in this manual is a great example of why.
Just hours after the iPhone 4 was delivered last week, some customers noticed an apparent data connection issue. Specifically, if one touches the lower left-hand corner of the phone with bare skin, the 3G connection immediately dies, and stays dead for as long as contact is maintained. Release the corner and the connection is re-established just as quickly. Cameron Hunt has posted a clear demonstration of the issue:
He isn’t the only one. Fraser Speirs posted a video of his iPhone demonstrating the problem, and Shawn Blanc charted his iPhone’s network performance while resting on his desk vs. while held in his left hand with clear results.
Meanwhile, others can’t replicate the drop at all. For example, David Pogue writes:
“I have never seen it on the iPhone unit I have been reviewing. I cannot even reproduce it, no matter how hard I try. I’m sitting here right now. I’m wrapping my hand every which way — I’m even holding it with two fists, completely concealing the silver band around the edges — and my four-bar signal strength doesn’t waver.”
What’s going on? To find an answer, let’s look at the band.
I’m with the band
When Gizmodo published photos of the early prototype, readers were struck by the metal band that edged the phone. With obvious seams and convex buttons, it veered from Apple’s aesthetic. Some suggested that the band was typical of unfinished, prototype hardware, and wouldn’t be a part of the final product. They were wrong. So what is it?
It’s a band of stainless steel, machined from Apple’s own alloy. Aside from holding the iPhone together, it integrates the iPhone’s UMTS, GSM, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth antennas. iFixit called it “…a work of genius.” Clearly, using the iPhone’s entire perimeter as the antenna was meant to address the chief complaints from earlier models: Dropped calls and spotty connectivity. Here’s how they’re arranged:
The issue arises when some users touch the seam between the right-hand side (UMTS/GSM) and the left-hand side (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS). How? According to WIRED, Danish blog ComON found one possible explanation by interviewing Professor Gert Frølund Pedersen of the Department of Electronic Systems at Aalborg University. Professor Pedersen:
“Human tissues will in any case have an inhibitory effect on the antenna. Touch means that a larger portion of the antenna energy turns into heat and lost. This makes the antenna less efficient to send and receive radio signals.”
Additionally, Spencer Webb of AntennaSys (Spencer has designed quad-band GSM antennas for the AT&T network) makes the issue quite clear:
“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. 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.”
Finally, Jobs himself confirmed the inevitability of human skin affecting an antenna’s performance in an email to a customer last week. Jobs wrote:
“Gripping any 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.”
Location, location, location
Let’s look at that “placement of the antenna” that Steve mentions. The iPhone 4’s antenna reaches around the bottom. If touching an antenna can cause trouble, as Spencer Webb and Professor Pedersen attest, why would manufacturers move it from the top, where my hand is not, to the bottom, where my hand is? Why not keep it on the top and avoid the issue all together? That’s a question for the FCC.
Not so long ago, the FCC defined the amount of energy that the human body may absorb from a handheld device. This limit is called the Specific Absorbtion Rate, or SAR. Mobile devices with top-mounted antennas were blasting more energy into human heads than SAR allowed. As a result, we’ve got bottom-mounted antennas in all of today’s mobile phones.
In short, we’re stuck with bottom-mounted antennas. Apple placed it on the rear of the original iPhone. By placing it on the side of the iPhone 4, Apple increased the likelihood that a user would disrupt its performance with a grasp.
As I said, not all users are experiencing this issue. So what’s keeping the unlucky ones down? The trouble seems to crop up most often:
- With lefties. Of course, a left-handed user will press more skin against the left-hand side of the phone than a right-handed user would.
- With sweat. Several customers have reported that damp/sweaty hands worsen the issue.
- With naked phones. If you can, apply a case. 1
You’re doing it wrong
Amid a torrent of complaints, Apple has made statements on the issue. In an email to a customer, Steve Jobs made a simple suggestion:
“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.”
If you dislike being told that you’re holding your phone the wrong way, take heart in this other email Jobs reportedly issued to a customer:
“There is no reception issue. Stay tuned.”
Sure sounds confident, doesn’t he? Perhaps a fix is in the works. Which brings us to the conclusion.
What does this all mean?
That depends on the answer to a crucial question: Is it a software issue or a hardware issue?
If it’s a software issue, as Steve’s terse email implies, then it’s really no big deal. Apple will release a free patch that will restore normal functionality for all users. A week later, they won’t remember this even happened.
If it’s a hardware issue, as Webb and Professor Pedersen suggest, well…that’s a disaster. A few things will happen.
- Anti-Apple blogs (Gizmodo especially 2) will have a field day. Haters will come out of the woodwork in full Hate Mode with Kung-Fu Grip.
- Users will demand restitution/replacements. I don’t think Apple has ever issued a recall.
- The iPhone will suffer a huge PR failure.
- Future sales will stall. I haven’t bought one and until the above question is answered, I won’t.
I hope this issue can be fixed with software. Perhaps one area of the antenna can be told to take over if it notices that another area is compromised. Here’s hoping this gets resolved this week. For now, it’s a real problem.
- Believe me, I get the principle of the thing. You shouldn’t have to buy a case to get your phone to work. ↩
- Gizmodo has had a palpable chip on its shoulder since the iPhone prototype fiasco. Their reporting of the AT&T email leak — which they were intent on blaming on Apple — was downright gleeful ↩
Estimating Apple sales numbers requires a heavy dose of guesswork, but Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner has suggested that Apple sold 1.5 million iPhone 4s by June 24th.
All of the anecdotal reports I received from people across the country told the same story: huge numbers of people standing in line for hours. It looks like Gizmodo’s week of incessant free promotion worked quite well.
Really works. Only $29.99.
The iPhone 4 was finally released today, capping off one of the strangest launches in Apple’s history. First, Gizmodo got a nearly-complete prototype and paraded it before the world. That site’s editor had his house raided by police, and the poor Apple employee who lost the prototype in the first place was the butt of jokes on The Late Show and offered a free trip to Germany.
Days later, more prototypes showed up in Vietnam. Eventually Steve Jobs demonstrated the thing at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference, where a network glitch forced him to skip a large part of his demo.
On June 15th, Apple and AT&T processed 600,000 pre-orders, despite widespread network issues that left many would-be customers frustrated. Sales were so high 1 that shipping dates had to be adjusted and AT&T suspended pre-orders entirely.
Today, outlets like Best Buy and Radio Shack had significantly fewer iPhones than they expected (several had less than 5) and turned customers away. AT&T stores had no stock for walk-in customers at all. At Apple Stores, sales were brisk while lines were tremendously long.
An odd reception issue that seems to be unique to left-handed customers marred the experience for some while others noticed a yellow splotch on their displays. It turns out that the reception issue can be fixed with a case 2 while the smudge can be “repaired” with patience.
Finally, Apple announced that it can’t make any white iPhones for a month.
At the end of the day, people are enjoying their new iPhones, making FaceTime calls and trying out iOS 4-optimized apps. Soon we’ll forget how strange this whole ordeal was. But for now … what an odd launch.
BoingBoing has posted a gallery of photos taken with the iPhone 4’s 5 megapixel camera. They’re impressive to say the least.
People have a special, unique relationship with magazines. They’re companions. Before you get onto a plane, you grab a magazine. We bring them to the beach, the coffee shop and yes, the bathroom.
They’re forgiving. You can fold one and stuff it into a pocket, leave it in a bag or toss it in the back of the car. Did you get a coffee ring on the cover? That’s fine; it’ll dry. You say you only have a few minutes to read? No problem. Bite-sized articles abound. Magazines are inexpensive and familiar.
They’re also in trouble. Newsstand sales for the 472 consumer titles in the United States fell 9.1% in the last half of 2009 versus the same period a year earlier. With the release of the iPad, a segment of the publishing industry is looking for Apple to provide the same salvation that the music industry received from the iPod.
Can an electronic edition of your favorite mag provide the same casual comfort that you’ve come to know?
In this article, I’ll look at two magazines for iPad: WIRED and Outside. But first, let’s review the factors that determine a pleasant reading experience on the iPad.
Forget the page curls, videos and other tricks. If a magazine app fails to convey the author’s ideas and message to the reader, the rest doesn’t matter.
Developers are free to get creative with how users move through their applications. As a result, there’s no standard. Does a given solution enhance or hinder a given app?
How does the presentation, layout, navigation and so on combine to create an overall feel? Most importantly, does the app disappear and leave me with the story, or am I aware of the software (and hardware) the entire time?
What makes a given magazine stand out?
How do I receive new issues or content?
Now, let’s look at some magazines.
The first electronic release from Condé Nast, 1 WIRED Magazine ($4.99) sold 24,000 copies in the first 24 hours. By June 8th that number rose to 79,000 copies, and the app was set to surpass print sales for the month.
That was nearly one month ago (WIRED Magazine for iPad was released on May 26th), and it’s still the only issue available. But that doesn’t mean they’re done. “There is no finish line,” wrote Editor In Chief Chris Anderson. “WIRED will be digital from now on, designed from the start as a compelling interactive experience.” That’s great news, because this is a nice implementation that will be great after after a few changes.
At first, navigation is a bit confusing. Pages scroll horizontally, and multi-page articles and ads scroll vertically. Swiping left and right moves you through the magazine. Unfortunately, some of the multi-page articles provide visual cues that they scroll vertically, but not all.
However, tap any page and all becomes clear. A menu bar appears that reveals a table of contents on the left and a gorgeous overview on the right. The length, synopsis and even keywords of each page is clearly presented. Let the doves descend from a sun-filled sky because this is so clear and effective it must be of supernatural origin. Well done, WIRED.
If navigation is good, the feel is great. WIRED’s bold design, colors and images are well represented in this app. It’s undeniably an issue of WIRED.
Best of all, the developers took advantage of of the medium with lots of interactive features.
For instance, the “Invaders from Mars” feature presents an image of the red planet and the man-made machines that have paid it a visit. Slowly swiping across the image rotates it, revealing a photo and brief history of each mission. The illusion of “spinning” the planet is very well done and kind of addictive (you’ll find yourself whirling the planet around even after you’ve read all of the text).
Some articles, like “Riverboat Resurrection,” let you toggle between related photos without leaving the article. A great example of this explains what goes into Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce. As you tap between the numbered steps, a new ingredient is revealed. Others include a clip of related audio or video. It feels like a webpage, so it’s familiar, but it’s much faster, so it’s more satisfying.
I spent 10 minutes playing with Worcestershire Sauce. Not even Worcestershire Sauce, but an article about what goes into Worcestershire Sauce. Now that’s engaging content.
I don’t know if other publications would be able to pull this off. As a tech-y magazine for geeks, this type of flash just “fits” into WIRED. I can’t imagine Vogue, for example, using the same tricks without seeming gimmicky. WIRED for iPad is unique in very good way.
Acquisition is a mystery as only 1 issue has been released, so we’re left to talk about communication. WIRED for iPad is successful in this regard for one simple reason: It’s fun.
It’s fun two spin Mars around, to look at pictures of Pixar and explore how a frame is assembled. I’m pulled into the experience and as a result riveted to the content.
The app has its faults, of course. The price is too high ($5 per issue at this point), it’s huge at nearly 1/2 a gig and there are a LOT of ads. But what’s good about this app is so good that I’m willing to overlook the bad.
I was thrilled to see long-time favorite Outside ($2.99, universal) hit the iPad. The photography and the gear/gadget reviews have had me hooked for years. The iPad edition mostly works for me.
The navigation is instantly usable to anyone who’s browsed the web within the last 5 years. To begin, swipe through the covers of issues you’ve downloaded. Once you’ve tapped a selection, a toolbar displays icons for each section, and an overview screen presents what’s available from each department. Best of all, there’s a tutorial on “how to navigate.” Nice!
Acquisition is simple if a bit time-consuming. The app checks for new content at every launch. It only takes a moment and, if it does find something, it asks before beginning the download. My suggestion is to accept when you aren’t really in the mood to read, as the downloads take a while.
What’s unique about this app is its gallery. It pulls all the photos from every article and displays them together. You can easily flick through the pictures without seeing a lick of text. Before you scoff (“The whole point is reading, Dave”) consider how many times you’ve flipped through the pages of a magazine, looking at the pictures without reading a single syllable. See?
Feel is where Outside for the iPad loses me. I’ve gotten into the habit of taking it with me to EMS to show a salesperson exactly what I want. Yes, I could do that with the iPad but I probably won’t for fear of A.) looking like a tool and B.) dropping or misplacing the thing. Extracting a crumpled magazine from a cargo pocket is one thing. Flinging a $500 computer around a store — especially for a scratch-0-phobe — is another.
That’s not the app’s fault but it does speak to the core of magazines on an iPad. Like I said, people think of magazines as their rough-and-tumble companions. They’re the Jeeps of the publishing world: utilitarian and ready for duty. Even with a case, the iPad is, well, a delicate computer. I’m not going to hand it to Janie the Sales Clerk in hopes that she can find the Tevas I’m after.
That’s where the disconnect will be for many. Not the implantation. The teams behind WIRED and Outside have pulled off their projects spectacularly well. How many will be comfortable brining the iPads on the planes, beaches and bathrooms of the world for a quick read?
“White models of Apple’s new iPhone 4 have proven more challenging to manufacture than expected, and as a result they will not be available until the second half of July. The availability of the more popular iPhone 4 black models is not affected.”
I knew something was up when leaked Best Buy inventory reports showed not one single white iPhone. Apple has produced white iPhones in the past, of course, but never white glass. The rear cases have always been plastic. It will be interesting to see where the manufacturing glitch is.
I’m reminded of Henry Ford: “The public can have any color it wants, as long as it’s black.”
The dons of technical writing have published their iPhone 4 reviews. Apple has charmed them all, including Uncle Walt. Calling the iPhone 4 “…a major leap over its already-excellent predecessor,” Mossberg’s review was largely positive. From All Things D:
“I’d say that Apple has built a beautiful smartphone that works well, adds impressive new features and is still, overall, the best device in its class.”
The downside? AT&T. Mossberg:
“Just as with its predecessors, I can’t recommend this new iPhone for voice calling for people who experience poor AT&T reception, unless they are willing to carry a second phone on a network that works better for them.”
I hoped the antenna-as-casing would improve reception for those of us who struggle with reliability. I’ll have to test it in my own neighborhood, of course, but this is disappointing to hear.
Joshua Topolsky wrote Engadget’s extremely thorough iPhone 4 review, complete with HTML5 videos that play on the iPhone and iPad. Not only does Topolsky offer the best representation of the Retina Display’s clarity that I’ve seen yet, he also contradicts Mossberg’s assessment of the phone’s call reception:
“…in our testing, we had far, far fewer dropped calls than we experienced on our 3GS. Let’s just say that again: yes, the iPhone 4 does seem to alleviate the dropped call issue.”
“It’s not the first phone with both a front and back camera. It’s not even the first one to make video calls. But the iPhone 4 is the first phone to make good video calls, reliably, with no sign-up or setup, with a single tap.”
David’s experience with iPhone 4’s “killer app” — making calls — was similar to Joshua’s:
“The new phone is also better at choosing the best channel for connecting with the cell tower, even if’s not technically the strongest one … Does any of this mean no more dropped calls in New York and San Francisco? No. But there do seem to be fewer of them.”
I’m still waiting on Andy Ihnatko.