Apple's iPhone 4: The joke's on us

Hold your iPhone the wrong way and it won't work, say users. There is no problem but stay tuned for a solution, says Apple. 'Death grip hysteria' is getting wackier by the minute

Guy walks into an Apple Store, goes to the Genius Bar. He says "My iPhone doesn't work when I hold it like this." The genius says, "Don't hold it like that. Next!"

Ba-dum-bum. Thank you, ladies and germs, I got a million of 'em.

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This little slice of vaudeville was brought to us last week by our favorite email correspondent, Steve Jobs. In response to a message from an iPhone fan asking why his phone lost reception when he held it in his left hand, Jobs replied "Just avoid holding it in that way."

Yep, that's what he said. You can imagine the reaction. Or you can Google it. But I'll save you the trouble.

When asked for an official response to reception problems with the iPhone, Apple produced this slightly less terse but functionally identical answer:

Gripping any mobile 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. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 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.

So now you have two options. You can hold the iPhone in a Manner Officially Approved by Apple (MOABA), or you can buy a handsome "bumper" from the Apple Store for only $29, plus shipping and handling. Any more questions?

It gets more absurd from here. The blogosphere exploded with what became known as iPhone "death grip hysteria." (Hey, it was a slow news week.)

Almost immediately, a Tumbler blog appeared with photos showing Steve himself, along with several actors from Apple's iPhone TV ads, holding their iPhones the wrong way.

Independent testers confirmed that reception did indeed degrade when a user's fingers touched the iPhone 4's unique external antenna. (Other testers, like the New York Times' David Pogue, were unable to re-create that effect.) Because lefties are more likely to cover that section of the phone with their fingers, Lauren Milsom of The Left-Handed Club accused Apple of prejudice against southpaws.

And eSarcasm served up several suggestions on the right and wrong ways to hold an iPhone, including Apple tech support's suggested grip: between your butt cheeks.

I'm still waiting for the "Just avoid holding it in that way" T-shirts to show up.

Yesterday, according to MacRumors, Jobs allegedly added seven more words to the mix in yet another terse response:

There are no reception issues. Stay Tuned.

See, nothing to worry about. But hang on tight anyway, just in case. (And while you're staying tuned, try not to touch anything conductive with your fingers -- just a precaution.)

Today, AppleInsider is reporting that Apple's non-reception non-issue might be patched by a firmware upgrade some time this week. AI's source: readers who reported a discussion on the Apple Support Forums, which mysteriously disappeared shortly thereafter.

To wit:

The fix is expected to address a issue in iOS 4 related to radio frequency calibration of the baseband. Readers who saw the original forum discussions say that the issue is believed to occur when switching frequencies; because the lag is allegedly not calibrated correctly, it results in the device reporting "no service" rather than switching to the frequency with the best signal to noise ratio.

Yes, this is a lot of silliness over very little (except, of course, for those left-handed iPhone fans who are afflicted). But at least it gives us something to think about other than that massive wound in the earth's crust under the Gulf. And it's nice to know vaudeville isn't completely dead yet.

Also: I bought an iPhone in my pajamas. How it got into my pajamas, I don't know.

Has Apple done anything that ticks you off or tickles you? Post your thoughts here or email me: cringe@infoworld.com. And please remember to tip your waitresses.

This story, "Apple's iPhone 4: The joke's on us," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog.

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