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Steve Jobs death-grips iPhone 4 reality

Those are just the facts. The truth is very different

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Comment A.E. Housman: But it's all true.

Oscar Wilde: On the contrary, it's only fact. Truth is quite another thing and is the work of the imagination

–Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love

When you hold the iPhone 4, does the signal fade more than it would on other popular smartphones, such as Apple's own iPhone 3GS or Google's Nexus One? It certainly does, according to independent tests. But those are merely the facts. The truth is that there is no Antennagate. Steve Jobs said so.

During the Friday morning press conference where Steve Jobs told the world the truth – now available online – he explained that grip-induced signal problems are "not unique" to the iPhone 4. "You can go on YouTube and see videos of Nokia phones and Motorola phones and other phones doing the same thing," he said, before showing separate videos from Apple testers in which signal bars disappear when hands grip various handsets, including the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the Samsung Omnia II, and the HTC Droid Eris.

"Pretty much identical to the videos on the web about the iPhone [4]," Jobs explained as the Blackberry's bars vanished. "Most smartphones behave exactly the same way ... This is life in the smartphone world. Phones aren't perfect. It's a challenge for the whole industry and we're all doing the best we can, but every phone has weaknesses."

Jobs didn't provide data comparing the iPhone 4 to other phones – just pictures of disappearing bars. But he said he was providing data. Before the videos appeared, he put up a large sign that read "Data". "Let's go right to the data," he said, knowing that providing the data isn't necessary. The truth has nothing to do with data.

RIM, maker of the BlackBerry Bold, says that Steve Jobs' words were "deliberate attempts to distort" the issue. In a statement released after the Jobs press conference, RIM alluded to the fact that unlike other smartphones, the iPhone uses an antenna that snakes around the outside of its metal bezel – and that Apple is giving away rubber bumpers in order to mitigate signal attenuation.

"RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage," RIM said. "One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity."

But this is merely the truth according to RIM. The truth according to Steve Jobs is more truthful. He doesn't speak in public much, so when he does speak in public, it means a lot. And you can't come to his press conference unless you write what he wants you to write. And he gets really angry if you suggest he's wrong. And people think he's a genius.

Plus, he is genius – at least when it comes to PR.

Last week, Consumer Reports announced that it could no longer recommend the iPhone 4, after its tests showed that the iPhone 4's antenna problems aren't present on previous iPhones or other handsets from AT&T. But the truth is that Consumer Reports has judged the iPhone 4 "the number one smartphone". Jobs said that too.

"It's been judged the number one smartphone in a variety of publications. These are just a few: Wired, enGadget, PC World, Consumer Reports," he said, as he put up a large sign that said the same thing. "So people seem to like it." He said the Consumer Reports bit with a slight chuckle. He knows the facts shouldn't be taken seriously.

Did Apple's senior antenna expert warn Jobs that the iPhone's exterior antenna might hurt reception? Of course he did. No senior antenna expert worthy of the name would stop at anything less.

On June 10, fourteen days before the launch on the iPhone 4, a Danish boffin – professor Gert Frølund Pedersen from Aalborg University's Department of Electronic Systems – looked at the handset's antenna design and said it might might cause signal problems. "[The antenna design] means that the user cannot avoid interfering [with the] antenna system with [his] touch," he told a blog, according to Google Translate.

"The human tissue will in any event have an inhibitory effect on the antenna. Touch means that a larger portion of the antenna energy turns into heat and [is] lost. This makes the antenna less efficient to send and receive radio signals."

But the truth is that the story about Apple's senior antenna expert is "total bullshit" – and that the iPhone 4's antenna is "a more advanced antenna than has ever shipped on a smartphone". According to Anandtech and Consumer Reports, the iPhone 4 antenna needs a little help from some tape or a rubber bumper. But that's just another fact. Steve Jobs thinks it needs a bumper too. He's giving them out for free. But even his own facts have nothing to do with the truth.

Jobs admits that his truth is the work of the imagination. "There is no reality," he said. "So some guy says his iPhone 4 is having reception issues. I say there is no reception issue. Now it’s his reality against my reality. Which one of us is living in the real reality?

"There’s a two-part answer: 1, there is no real reality, and 2, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is which reality our customers will choose to adopt as their own.

"Of course, most people would rather live in a reality where everything works and there are no problems. And now, thanks to me, that reality exists. Because I’ve created that reality for them."

It wasn't the real Steve Jobs who said this. It was the Fake Steve Jobs. But those are merely the facts. The truth is quite another thing. ®

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