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iPhone 4: Perfect for everyone, except humans

The non-touchy feely iPhone?

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Apple's new iPhone doesn't seem to like being touched much, and the beautiful (if easily discoloured) screen scratches too. Dear dear.

To be fair, the scratching issue only affects the more-clumsy user, and there are only a couple of reports about discolouration in the corner of the screen, but it seems that the majority of iPhone 4s do have an aversion to being touched as sticky fingers are causing huge drops in signal strength.

The problem was first noted by a reader on the MacRumors forum who provided a demonstration video:

Since then tech blog Gizmodo has been canvassing early-adopters and accumulated a bundle of examples showing, in almost every case, that touching the bottom of the phone leads to around three bars being dropped off the indicated signal strength (which runs up to five).

Even worse, a speed test performed by one reader demonstrated the download connection dropped to less than a third (from 840Kb/sec to 263Kb/sec) when they picked up the phone, a drop which could be slightly mitigated through the use of a leather case.

Which brings us to the conspiracy part of the story – unlike previous iPhones, the latest model was launched along with accessories including the "bump case", which (it appears) would provide enough separation to improve the signal significantly. A deliberate plan by Apple seems a stretch to us, but it's hard to see how such a widespread problem got missed during development.

Radio modelling can get very complicated, and the plethora of radios and frequencies used by a modern mobile phone adds to that complexity. In the past companies such as Nokia were able to leverage their vast experience with radio to create phones that just worked better than the competition. More recently the commoditisation of the radio component has enabled lots more players to create acceptable kit, though it seems in this case Apple may have tripped up.

A few users may be seeing discolouration in the corners of their iPhone 4 screens (as reported by CNet), and some will manage to scratch them too (also reported by CNet), but the killer application for a mobile phone remains the ability to make phone calls, and it seems possible that in all the excitement Apple has forgotten that. ®

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