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Apple antenna guru 'warned Steve Jobs' over Judas Phone

Carrier foresaw Death Grip too, says report

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Apple's senior antenna expert told Steve Jobs during the "early design phase" of the iPhone 4 that the handset's exterior antennas could cause dropped calls, according to a report citing a person familiar with the matter.

Bloomberg reports that Apple senior engineer Ruben Caballero warned the company's management that the Judas Phone's antennas – which snake around the outside of the device – could harm reception.

A separate anonymous source tells Bloomberg that an unnamed carrier partner voiced concerns over the antenna design before the phone was released. The service provider performed tests that suggested the antenna design might cause reception problems.

Apple will hold a press conference on Friday morning regarding the iPhone 4, and the assumption is that the antenna will be discussed. Since the phone's launch on June 24, countless users have complained of degraded or lost reception when they grip the phone in certain places. According to reports, left-handers are particularly susceptible to the "Death Grip."

According to third-party examinations of the reception issues by the likes of Anandtech and Consumer Reports, problems occur when hands bridge the gap between the Judas Phone's Bluetooth/WiFi/GPS and UMTS/GSM antennas.

"What we're seeing is a combination of your hand bridging the WiFi and UMTS antennas as well as interference caused by your hand covering the most sensitive part of the cellular antenna in the lower left corner of the phone," says Anand Shimpi of Anandtech. He added that users can solve the problem by purchasing a "bumper" case.

"Using one of Apple's bumpers is probably the best bet at this point as it covers the antenna with a non-conductive surface, and moves your hand a little further away from the antenna which results in the iPhone 4 then behaving more like a normal smartphone in terms of signal attenuation while holding it."

Consumer Report now says it can't recommend the device, while suggesting that those who've already purchased one can solve the problem by adding a piece of tape to the bezel.

After initial complaints over reception, Apple said that the problem was not uncommon with phones and that users should simply hold the phone in another way or purchase a bumper. "Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone," told fanbois.

"If you ever experience this on your Phone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases."

Then, days later, Apple said that users were complaining merely because its software was incorrectly calculating the number of "signal bars" for the phone's UI. According to company, the signal bar issue dated back to 2007, and it said this would be fixed in an upcoming firmware update.

The Judas Phone's antennas wrap around the outside of its metal bezel. The Bluetooth/WiFi/GPS antenna snakes around part of the bezel, before giving way to the UMTS/GSM antenna. When the phone was in development, according to Bloomberg, uber Appler Jonathan Ive and his industrial design team suggested several designs for the iPhone 4 before Jobs and other execs chose the design with the exterior antennas. But antenna expert Ruben Caballero, Bloomberg says, warned during planning meetings that this design might cause dropped calls and "presented a serious engineering challenge."

Bloomberg's source said that if a user put their hand over the phone's two bezel antennas, "their finger would act as a conductive material, interfering with the signal." ®

Update: This story has been updated to clarify Apple's claims about its "signal bar" software.

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