iOS 4.01 – taller bars and other changes [Updated]

Before I installed iOS 4.01 on my iPhone 4, I took screenshots in the persistent trouble spots in my house: the kitchen, living room and kids’ playroom. Below are those images, showing 1 and 2 bars respectively.

After installing the update, I stood in the exact same spots and again took screenshots. The iPhone reports the same number of bars, but now they’re noticeably taller.

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Next, I stood in the kitchen and placed a call. Despite having 1 bar, I talked for 15 minutes without interruption (holding the phone in my right hand). Finally, I applied the so-called death grip and could not make the bars budge. It was only while in my concrete-walled basement that 1 bar would drop to “No signal.”  Other than that, the iPhone flat-out refused to give up that last bar. Impressive.

Finally, here’s a video of myself completing and maintaining a call to my landline that started with two bars then dropped to one with the iPhone in a full death grip. The iPhone never gave up that last bar. Previously, this call would have dropped in seconds. I’m now very curious to hear Steve explain what type of spell iOS 4.01 has cast on my iPhone.

Update: AnandTech has published a thorough look at what’s new.

YouTube mobile

YouTube recently updated its mobile site to be even friendlier towards iPhones and other mobile devices. In fact, it’s better than the full browser experience. After playing with it for a few days, I’ve found some good and bad. Here’s what I like, what I don’t how it compares to Apple’s YouTube app.

The first time visit from an iPhone, you’re prompted to add a button to your home screen. The resulting icon looks great, even on a retina display.

Tapping a video brings up its information, is which organized differently that Apple’s. You can rate the video, mark it as a favorite, add it to a playlist (or create a new one) or share it via email. You can also toggle high quality on and off and show/hide the clip’s details. Finally, related videos and user comments are listed below the description.

It’s all presented on a single layout, which I like. Apple’s app spreads this information across two screens; sharing, favorites and playlists are on one screen while the description, comments and related clips are on another. I realize that complaining because I have to touch my expensive cell phone’s sleek surface twice instead of once is what some call a first world problem and others call obnoxious, but there it is. Having everything on one screen is convenient and YouTube has presented it in a tidy, usable way.

I love YouTube’s large, no-nonsense icons for Home, Browse, Favorites, Playlists, Subscriptions, My Videos and Settings. It’s clear what each is for and badges indicate how many favorites you’ve collected and videos you’ve published. Yes, they’re a whole extra tap away when compared to Apple’s placement, but I’ll buck up and deal with the hardship.

You may have noticed the “HQ” button. It’s easily toggled on and off, and provides a noticeable difference in video quality. YouTube claims that they’ve achieved quality better than some native apps, but I didn’t notice a huge difference between the web app and Apple’s iPhone app.

It’s a nice mobile solution that demonstrates YouTube’s commitment to the platform. As I said, it looks much better than the full browser version of YouTube, and is easily on par with Apple’s app.

Consumer Reports “Can’t recommend” iPhone 4 [Updated]

Consumer Reports:

“Apple needs to come up with a permanent—and free—fix for the antenna problem before we can recommend the iPhone 4. If you want an iPhone that works well without a masking-tape fix, we continue to recommend an older model, the 3G S.”

Consumer Reports is read by the shopper who feels that s/he lacks enough information to make a purchasing decision. For many, it’s the definitive word on a product’s quality and desirability.

Many of  you scoffed last week when I suggested that Apple has a serious PR problem on its hands with the iPhone 4. If you still doubt it, consider this tweet from Ged Maheux. It sums up the problem perfectly.

Incidentally, I dislike this image of someone applying duct tape to the iPhone. It suggests that it’s ill and needs bandaging, and that the only solution is ugly and inelegant. Couldn’t they have suggested using a case?

Update: Jim Dalrymple points out that the iPhone 4 scored highest on the magazine’s list of smartphones, earning 76 out of a possible 100 points, despite the “Can’t recommend” rating.

iPhone 4 photos

I took some pictures with the iPhone 4 today. In my limited testing, I noticed that the Camera app launches much faster than it did on my 3GS. The auto-focus also seems more responsive. Overall, the picture quality is impressive, especially for a camera on a phone.

One issue stood out today. While shooting the general store in the gallery below, I had trouble with exposure. The store is white and on a cloudless day it really washed out. Once I got some dark leaves from a nearby tree in the frame, it looked better.

I shot outdoors (a bright, largely cloudless day) and indoors under fluorescent and natural light. I also shot up close and far away. I’ve still got to test low light conditions, digital zoom and video, so another post is forthcoming.

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The Photos app has some nice new features under iOS 4. Places works much like it does in iPhoto ’09. The iPhone will geotag photos it shoots and place them on a Google map. A pin appears on a location with associated images. Tap the pin and a thumbnail appears representing those images; tap it to open a gallery of just those shots. Photos tagged with a different camera and synced to the iPhone will also appear on the map.


If you’ve synced photos with Faces data, the Faces icon will appear at the bottom of the main Photos screen. Tap any face to open an album of related images.

You can re-size images shared via email or SMS. For example, when emailing the photo below, I could select between four sizes, including the original. It’s quite nice when you’re on a slow network, have a limited data plan or want to send a shot to someone who can’t accept (or doesn’t require) large files.

The available sizes depend on the size of the original file as well how many images you’re trying to send.

Finally, you can set an image to serve as wallpaper for the home screen, lock screen or both. One disappointment is that  you can’t create new events, tag faces or move photos between albums with the iPhone. I was hoping this would be a part of iOS 4.

In short, the new camera is a nice update, though I’ve got to do more thorough testing. I like the updated Photos app too, even though I didn’t get some features I wanted. I’ll shoot and report more soon.

Apple to drop 10% restocking fee on iPhone 4 returns [Updated]

Computerworld reports that Apple has dropped the 10% restocking fee on iPhone 4 returns in an attempt to mollify customers frustrated by the signal issue.

If Apple is right, and the problem is that the iPhone is reporting a stronger signal than it actually has, the forthcoming patch won’t “fix” the issue, but more accurately let users know when their signal is critically low. Expect additional moaning and complaining.

Update: I’ve been asked by email to explain “…moaning and complaining.” The moaning and complaining will be justified; I apologize if that came off as snarky. As it is now, the iPhone is incapable of reliably performing its main function for many users. What’s unknown is exactly why.

Those in areas with a strong signal will be the least affected, as a drop from 5 bars to 3 is tolerable. However, dropping from 3 to 0 isn’t. So where’s the problem? Is AT&T’s network spotty in too many locations, or is the iPhone’s antenna especially poor at maintaining a strong connection?

More on this later today.

Apple explains iPhone 4 antenna issue

Apple issued a press release today explaining the reception trouble that many users have experienced. In short, the iPhone is erroneously reporting 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. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.”

In other words, when users saw their iPhone’s signal drop from 5 bars to 2, they were in fact dropping from 2 bars to zero. Apple’s only crime here was unknowingly exaggerating the strength of AT&T’s signal.

Apple will release a software fix “…within a few weeks” for the iPhone 4, 3Gs and 3G (Apple determined that issue has always existed on the iPhone) that utilizes AT&T’s modern formula for representing signal strength with those infamous bars.

This means that the worst case scenario — a hardware flaw — has been avoided. It also means that Jobs was right when he said, “There is no reception issue.” The reception is fine. The graphic representation of that reception has been wrong.

Finally, users like David Pogue who couldn’t reproduce the drop  (the majority of users, actually) are most likely in areas with strong coverage, where a drop from 5 bars to 4 or 3 isn’t significant. In fact, NYC (where David lives) recently received a major upgrade from AT&T. Good on Apple for the research and timely reply. If proven effective this fix should put an end to the lawsuits. In other words…

Blame AT&T.

iPhone 4 repair manual

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.

iPhone 4 release roundup

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. Apple’s most successful pre-order ever, and 10x the orders AT&T saw for the 3GS] 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. Or, as Steve Jobs himself said, “Avoid gripping it in the lower left corner.”] 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.