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Apple Needs Some RF Design Engineers

Apple Needs Some RF Design Engineers

A Chinese man walks past a authorized Apple retailer in Beijing on July 12, 2010. Despite a new flagship showroom that just opened in Shanghai, Apple is striving to overcome price disadvantages and an underground market. Most fans of its Apple products here have been buying their iPhones, iPods and Mac computers from smugglers who operate through underground electronics markets.  UPI/Stephen Shaver Photo via Newscom

Courtesy of Karl Denninger at The Market Ticker 

Yep, as I suspected….

It’s official. Consumer Reports’ engineers have just completed testing the iPhone 4, and have confirmed that there is a problem with its reception. When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone’s lower left side—an easy thing, especially for lefties—the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you’re in an area with a weak signal. Due to this problem, we can’t recommend the iPhone 4.

That’s Consumer Reports, incidentally, which put the phone in an RF-isolated room to perform their tests along with a base-station emulator.

Oops – that’s about as close to proof as you’re going to find.  In an RF-quiet environment it’s pretty easy to prove your case, and it appears that CR did so.

The tests also indicate that AT&T’s network might not be the primary suspect in the iPhone 4′s much-reported signal woes.

"Might" not?  

I have never been impressed with the iPhone (any generation) in terms of RF.  Ever. It has always been a "form before function" device from my perspective, all the way back to the original units.  Then again I’m spoiled – the best RF-performing GSM phone I’ve ever used was a Nokia 3395.  I may still have one laying around here somewhere, and all of my old Nokias (including a 6610 which was nearly as good) still work just fine.  Old, yes, but one thing Nokia does know how to do is design and build an RF section.

Incidentally, buying devices that work before selecting them for "sex appeal" may be why I’ve never had a material problem with the "can you hear me?" BS that so many suffer with when it comes to cellphones.  I guess my view is that a cellphone is for communicating rather than trying to shag some hot chick at the local bar by flashing my "bling."

This is a common flaw for consumer devices – be sexy rather than be smart – or good.  Of course sex sells, and so the more "sexy" you can make something look the better it sells, and as long as you remain within the "acceptable" functionality envelope you don’t get hurt – too badly.  Witness Motorola, which had the "hot" phone for a long time in the RAZR.  I was entirely unimpressed with its capability as an RF device - yeah, it was sexy, yeah, it looked nice, but in terms of RF I gave it a "C+" and thus never owned one.

This time, however, Apple may have found the "corner case" on this particular bit of consumer product idiocy.  After all, whatever else an iPhone is, or any other handheld device that communicates over the radio for that matter, if it sucks as a radio then the rest doesn’t really matter, especially at this price-point.

The cost of recalling all these devices and replacing them after a full RF-redesign (which would be the right thing to do) would be prohibitive.  For that reason I doubt it will happen; rather, Apple will likely dispute what they can, diddle the software to pretend the signal is stronger than it is and/or try to hide the problem, and otherwise generally ignore this, perhaps hiring a few people to look at it for the next revision.

For those of you fanboys I’m sure this won’t matter, but for the rest of us I recommend sticking with a device that actually performs its primary function – that is, the processing of RF – in a reasonably-effective manner.

FU crApple.  Not for making a mistake – for trying to cover it up instead of doing the right (even if expensive) thing. 


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