The iPhone Antenna “Issue”: FUD

by Hadley Stern Jul 14, 2010

fight FUD

FUD* is one of those wonderful technology terms that is thrown around quite a bit, although not by this author. But today, observing the absurd accusations against Apple and the iPhone from all quarters, it is time to whip out FUD and take a look at what is really going on here.


Consumer reports, the supposed unbiased non-profit has behaved like Gizmodo. I have no doubt that they saw this as a golden opportunity for more pageviews, more magazine sales, and more exposure. I doubt they had the consumer in mind.

Consumer Reports is spreading fear. Fear that anyone who has bought an iPhone made a mistake, and fear that anyone who is considering an iPhone is about to make a mistake.

The iPhone 4 is the highest rated smartphone according to Consumer Report yet they cannot recommend it? Based on what? Based on some questionable lab testing.


Of course the typical Apple-haters (CNET for example) are jumping on this, calling for a recall, further exacerbating the issue and building up fear.


Here Apple is not entirely blameless. Its reaction has been somewhat all over the place, from denial, to telling people not to hold the phone a specific way (which, I think, is entirely reasonable), to saying it is a software issue.

But in typical FUD style the press, especially the anti-Apple press and Android fanboys have been relentless in their pursuit to keep this topic alive.

The usual suspects are alive and kicking, whether it is Rob Enderle or CNET the articles keep coming talking of recalls, etc.

There are some brave folks out there who are not spreading uncertainty, in one case a piece by PCWorld by a couple of engineers.

Apart from many press outlets gleeful that Apple, which created the touchscreen smartphone, has made a "mistake" the multiple, vitriolic Android fanboys are out in full force as commentators.


The final piece of FUD is Doubt. Could the iPhone be defective? Will I not be able to make phone calls when I really need to? Will I be wasting my money? Should I maybe buy an Android instead, it is a smartphone after all, and then I can become a Droid.

Doubt, combined with Fear and Uncertainty equals a disaster. Or a blip. The next few weeks will be telling to see which it is. The iPhone 4 has been the fastest selling device in Apple's history. You still cannot just order one online or walk into a store and buy one. They are being sold overseas at a huge markup by resellers. The list goes on and on.

FUD can be conquered with facts, so let us list them.

  • Apple has stated there is a software glitch that over-reports signal strength. There is an error in the company's algorithm and it will be fixed with a software update in a few weeks.
  • Any iPhone 4 user who is dissatisfied with their iPhone can return it within 30 days.

That second point is the most telling one to clear through the FUD. Before we start flaming the flames of a recall just point out to any user who is complaining (who, on the web, is likely to be an Apple-hater pretending to be an iPhone 4 owner) that they can return their phone and get their money back.

The market will inevitably decide if this is a real issue or not. If the iPhone really does drop calls en masse then expect to see a lot of returns.

But something tells me, even with all the FUD out there, this won't happen.

What do you think? Am I being an apologist or am I spot on?



* FUD was first defined (circa 1975) by Gene Amdahl after he left IBM to found his own company, Amdahl Corp.: "FUD is the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that IBM sales people instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering Amdahl products."[4] The term has also been attributed to veteran Morgan Stanley computer analyst Ulrich Weil, though it had already been used in other contexts as far back as the 1920s.[5][6]

As Eric S. Raymond writes:[7]



  • 2 Million sold - and not a whole lot of consumers up in arms. Just websites and Consumer Reports “who deems it the best smartphone on the market but can’t recommend it” WTF?

    Apple’s PR for this issue has been clearly non-apple like. I mean really bad. And that is what is fanning the hysteria of “news” sites etc… Not a whole lot of lines at apple or att returning the phone.

    Recall will not happen. Apple will start giving free cases soon, IMO. Not only good PR (people like stuff for free). Make some mod in production for new phones coming down the line - rubber coating on the antenna bar or something.

    But even true cell antenna experts as you point out say the new Consumer Reports test was totally flawed. CR is basically looking for hits on it’s site. So trash Apple. Get those hits for this qtr and up ad rates.

    Where are the two million new iPhone4 owners in the streets up in arms?  A company that sells two million electronic devices in a matter of days - the normal production defect rate is magnified. A company sells 2 million electronic devices over a year - the same production defects exit - and folks take the device back to store for replacement. No one “notices”. 2 million in a few days - it looks like a bad device. And the news, reporters etc that want to take Apple down a rung glom on for ratings, hits etc…

    The issue is not the iPhone, but how poorly Apple responded. Whats going on there? Is it arrogance? If it is, then Apple is going to have future product issues IMO. Maybe part of the people that are upset, true iPhone 4 owners are more concerned because of the way APple responded than their phone even having the antenna issue. All of a sudden they “think” they may be experiencing it?

    mozart11 had this to say on Jul 14, 2010 Posts: 35
  • After seeing the first reports of signal drop off I tried to reproduce it with my iPhone 4G and couldn’t. Sweaty palm or dry, right hand or left, holding it for taking a call or using it for data - it didn’t matter. Only when I pressed my thumb over the gap did I see anything.

    I have no doubt the issue is real for some people - probably it is a matter of hand size and shape and I don’t have the right configuration. I have little doubt that even as I type Apple is researching an inexpensive fix - probably applying a protective coating to the antenna. I also have little doubt that we’ll soon see Apple offering free bumpers or some kind of a coupon to anyone with an original iPhone 4. It just makes good PR sense.

    The ironic thing for me is that I am able to make calls from locations I never could before and I’ve not dropped a single call - something I couldn’t say about my previous two iPhones.

    davidwb had this to say on Jul 14, 2010 Posts: 32
  • you forgot fact #3: the effect disappears if you simply get a case for your phone. which maybe a majority of people do ANYWAY.

    Alfiejr had this to say on Jul 14, 2010 Posts: 18
  • To paraphrase Steve Jobs, “Antennas are a bag of hurt!” Antenna problems are the main selling point of the Cable TV industry. If you ever used a television with “rabbit ears”, then you understand. Cable works better.

    The telephone industry is moving in the opposite direction; people are giving up their “cable phones” (i.e. landlines) in favor of “radio phones” (i.e. cellular). Cellular connections have one (huge) advantage over landlines, and there is a trade off. If you have used a cell phone more than twice, then you understand.

    Here’s the thing: if you really think about some of the things you do to improve cellular reception, you will realize that adjusting your grip on the phone is the easiest. Much easier than spinning around in a circle, moving about a room, going outside, driving around, etc. Much easier than getting out of your chair to adjust the rabbit ears, too!

    Steve W had this to say on Jul 14, 2010 Posts: 10
  • The list of facts seems incomplete.. going back to what you accuse Apple of doing with uncertainty smile

    * “Any iPhone 4 user who is dissatisfied with their iPhone can return it within 30 days.” true.
    * “Apple has stated there is a software glitch that over-reports signal strength.” - true to a point. This software glitch is important in that it should make it clear that the signal loss is only one bar, never 3 or 4 bars!

    3) Every phone’s signal is blocked by hands to some degree, depending on how and where it is held
    4) Touching an antenna directly blocks a little more signal.
    5) Bridging the wifi and 3G antennas by touching the black line (the original criticism afaik) significantly affects signal, so avoid doing this. Note: although this is still an issue when wifi is off, it may make a difference - so perhaps a software update could turn off wifi while making a call in low signal areas (or just before a call drops).

    I’m under the impression that even with 3 & 4, the iPhone4 reception is better than the 3GS. #5 causes the biggest problem and is worse than 3GS. But every article just sensationalizes the whole thing and gives little useful information to make that guess.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Jul 14, 2010 Posts: 228
  • While I don’t experience the ‘Death Grip’ problem when using my iPhone 4 with a strong signal from Tmobile (uk), I have seen it happen with a weaker o2 signal. The problem does exist, but it affects people differently depending on their exact circumstances.

    But I really wanted to comment on Hadley’s tone in this article; it really seems as if you’ve gone back to the “old” mentality of Apple against the rest of the world. Everyone seems to be railing against them and you love being the ‘defender’, willing to accept seemingly ‘minor’ faults since you can appreciate the beauty of Apple’s vision. But times have changed, Apple is no longer the minor league player, they’ve sold >2 million of these things to a very mainstream population, and not everyone will accept faults such as signal dropping on the “best smartphone ever”. It’s Apple’s fault for not testing it properly. It’s Apple’s fault for releasing it if they knew it may encounter such problems. And it’s certainly Apple’s fault for creating such overblown reactions by not releasing a proper statement much earlier and even appeasing customers with free bumpers weeks ago. So what, they take a minor hit of a few million dollars in these plastic things costing them cents to produce in China, and they quell the growing anger. Problem: mostly sorted.

    01jamcon had this to say on Jul 15, 2010 Posts: 5
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    jhon had this to say on Jul 13, 2011 Posts: 2
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    reds88 had this to say on Jul 17, 2011 Posts: 3
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    john had this to say on Jul 20, 2011 Posts: 22
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