Apple have come out with a formal response to the alleged iPhone 4 reception issues.

And of course John Gruber has come up with a brilliant translation of it.

Here is my take on it as an iPhone 4 owner.

I’d been hoping (and really expected) that there was going to be a real fix to this. As such I had been avoiding testing the issue too much, until now…

Updated: I did some more testing that shows the problem doesn’t occur in very, very good 3G signal areas, see the end of the article.

See what happened when I took my iPhone 4 to the Genius Bar.

Testing

I’ve just done some proper testing of it, comparing my 4 vs my 3G. I did it in a reasonable 3G signal, both phones (when sat by themselves without me holding them) holding 5 bars for long periods, occasionally dropping to 4 bars.

Either Apple’s press release is complete bollocks or my iPhone 4 is faulty.

With both phones sat without being touched the download speed, using a couple of different test tools, varies between 1,500k to 2,800k. It does vary quite a bit, which you would think would make testing difficult.

And it would, if there wasn’t such a dramatic drop in performance when the problem is triggered. When I just lightly touch the iSpot (can’t believe that isn’t what Gizmodo et al are calling it) the download performance drops to 50k-200k.

I get no such drops when I touch, hold or cup my 3G. Any drop that you get is well within the general variability of what you get when not handling either phone.

I really don’t give a toss what the signal bars indicate, it is the data throughput that matters and with my iSpot covered it is a ~10th of what it should be on my iPhone 4. For those that are curious when the spot is covered the bars quickly drop to minimum and it typically drops from 3G to GPRS.

Holding

And as to “hold it differently” ! I am a right handed person, but despite what the various reports seem to suggest, that doesn’t mean I hold my phone in my right hand. When I make calls I hold it in the left hand, when I am using the screen with two hands I hold it in my left and tap with my right. Only when I am using it one handed and using the screen do I hold it right handed.

When held right handed I can avoid touching the iSpot (though it is more natural for me to hold it touching the spot). When I am holding it left handed I can see no way, that I personally, can sensibly avoid touching the iSpot. I want to nestle the left hand corner down in the crease of my palm because it is the most comfortable and secure way that it fits in my hand. Even if I don’t tuck the phone into the crease of my palm, I find it very hard to hold the phone securely without touching the spot.

I find it bizarre that this issue was missed and also that Apple don’t seem to think that it is something worth fixing. Unless my phone is somehow atypical and that they don’t all behave the same way ?

Wanting

So I guess I am destined for a Genius bar appointment, where I require the outcome to either* be that they demonstrate that my phone is faulty and replace it or give me a free Bumper.

Assuming my phone is not atypical (which at this point seems unlikely), this is such a shame because other than this (very key) issue my iPhone 4 is just a stunning bit of kit.

I’m not angry about this, just very puzzled, again assuming that my phone is “normal”.

* there is I guess a third option of me rejecting the phone as not fit for purpose, but I really don’t want to consider that option at the moment

More Testing

I have my appointment with the Apple Store Genius Bar tomorrow. I’m the sort of geek who likes to know as much about a problem I am having with a product before I go back to the supplier and complain.
The fact that I didn’t know for sure how good the 3G signal I was testing with was bugging me, so I went out and did some more testing. I parked up 150 metres from the O2 3G tower that I was using for testing from home, I made sure I didn’t get too close as I’m well aware that too much signal strength can be just as bad as too little SNR.
The results were very interesting.
With the best 3G signal you could hope for I cannot trigger the 90%+ loss in performance on the iPhone 4. I can still trigger a drop in performance by touching the spot, but this time it is only the same 10%-30% drop that you get when you shield both edges of the iPhone 3G (and to be honest the 10%-30% drop could easily just been the variability of the 3G signal, impossible to tell without running dozens of speed tests and doing some stats).
So that would probably explain why some people don’t see the problem, if they were in very, very good 3G areas they may well never notice the issue.
However that doesn’t change the fact that the iPhone 4 still takes far less interference to trigger the drop in performance. On the 3G I have to shield both edges throughly to get the drop in the perfect signal location, on the iPhone 4 it still only takes a tiny touch of the spot (in normal use I would never trigger the issue on the 3G).
The end result is that in the perfect signal area, when held in my left hand the iPhone 4 and the 3G manage about the same download speeds (because the iPhone 4 loses its speed advantage due to the spot issue). On
uploads in the perfect location the iPhone 4 is comfortably faster.
All of which is great news for iPhone 4 users who hold the phone in their left hand and spend all their time in perfect 3G reception locations. Unfortunately that doesn’t match real life, I rarely find myself in locations with 3G reception as good as the “perfect location”.
It doesn’t change the fact that in good but not perfect locations in my testing, in my hand, my iPhone 4 drops down to 50k-100k speeds when my 3G in the same situation stays rock solid at 1500k-2000k.
I’m still holding out hope that my iPhone 4 is in some way atypical and can therefore be replace by one that has less of an issue with being touched, I’ll find out one way or another tomorrow. Unless of course the Apple store at Kingston has very, very good 3G coverage…