Apple has finally come forward and addressed the issues of the iPhone 4 antennae without condescending remarks from its CEO.  As it turns out, according to this letter published by Apple today, the problem is not with the iPhone 4’s antennae but rather the algorithm that Apple has been using to go from the signal decibel ratings to a non-linear “bar” scale that we are all used to.  From the letter:

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.

There is so much about this that makes me cringe.  Essentially, since the days of the original iPhone, Apple’s software team has “accidentally” gotten it all wrong!  To think that four years could go by without an engineer raising a hand to the issue seems insane and the conspiracy theories will pop up today, if they haven’t already. 

Apple addresses iPhone 4 complaints: It's the software, stupid! - Mobile 3

Did Apple decide they wanted people to think better of their phones so they made it appear to have MORE signal strength than it really did?  Was it something Apple and AT&T worked on together to try and counter the nagging critics of AT&T’s service? 

We had a good chat with Anand Shimpi yesterday on This Week in Computer Hardware about the story on that looked at the iPhone 4’s signal strength and its very non-linear scale.  (It’s a great article and well worth the read.)  This graph of that scale as it exists today tells the story:

Apple addresses iPhone 4 complaints: It's the software, stupid! - Mobile 4
Image from article linked above.

Here you can see that first four “bars” of signal apparently scale over only 22 db of signal strength while that magical fifth bar scales 40 db!!  That means that even moderate signals would likely be displaying 4 bars of strength when they should only have been showing 2 or 1, according to Apple’s announcement today.  We are meant to believe then that Apple simply made a mistake with its phones and that this was ALLLL a big mis-understading but it’s hard to take it that way given the evidence that is out there now. 

It seems that only because the external antennae sees a sharper reduction in signal strength with a hand placed on the infamous left corner that this custom scale Apple has implemented is getting attention.  From

The fact of the matter is that either the most sensitive region of the antenna should have an insulative coating, or everyone should use a case. For a company that uses style heavily as a selling point, the latter isn’t an option. And the former would require an unprecedented admission of fault on Apple’s part.

The new phone might be a better phone, even with a more sensitive antennae, but Apple was obviously not being honest about the signal drops, about the fact that this phone should have a non-conductive material covering the antennae and now we know they weren’t honest about its “bars to signal” relations. 

But don’t worry, Apple is going to make things right:

We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see.

Well THAT is a relief.