For iPhone owners, it always comes back to the antenna. Apple’s touch-screen smartphone has been a sensation since Day 1 three years ago, and many who own the device believe it to be almost perfect — if only it worked better as a phone.
So it is not surprising that as the first boxes of the new iPhone 4 landed in the hands of the earliest adopters late yesterday, Wednesday, the antenna’s reception quickly became an Internet obsession. What surprised many of them: the precious little bars that signal network connections inexplicably disappeared when they cradled the phone in their hands a particular way. Sometimes, but not always, the cradling resulted in dropped calls.
With no official word from Apple, iPhone fans turned to each other on the Internet in a zealous exercise in crowd-sourcing for answers to the mystery. They were all the more baffled because the iPhone 4 was designed to have better reception. A metal band that wraps around the edges of the device is supposed to pull in a stronger signal; software is supposed to choose the section of the signal with the least congestion. A user calling himself FFArchitect appeared to be the first to report the phenomenon on MacRumors.com, a site for the Apple-obsessed. He said that touching the band in various places caused reception problems. His report, like many that followed, included a video demonstrating the problem.
Soon after, Gizmodo, a popular site for gadget fans, picked up on it, calling the phenomenon “weird.” “When the guy holds the iPhone in his hands, touching the outside antenna band in two places, he drops reception,” Jesus Diaz, a writer for the blog, said. “Placing the phone down gets him 4 bars.”
Apple has not acknowledged any problems with the iPhone 4 and did not respond to requests for comment. For all the reader reports, and suggestions for how to fix the problem — Update 19: use nail polish to insulate the antenna; Update 21: enclose the phone in a rubber case — there appeared to be limits to the wisdom of this crowd. On Thursday afternoon, the mystery remained unsolved, though one report suggested that the problem with dropped calls when users cradled their phones, which also occurred on an older iPhone running Apple’s new operating system, iOS4, might come from software.