It seems Apple has a real problem with bars, and not just the kind in which its software engineers leave supersecret iPhone prototypes behind. No, it's the bars that indicate signal strength on the iPhone 4 that appear to have Apple flummoxed.
For a week or so, the blogosphere has been abuzz with stories about the iPhone 4's signal problems (aka "death grip hysteria"), prompting a handful of well-publicized email replies from Steve Jobs essentially stating a) there is no problem, you're just imagining it, b) there is a problem, and it's because you're holding the phone incorrectly, and/or c) why don't you just stop bugging me and get a life?
[ Also on InfoWorld: Cringely wonders who will get the last laugh in "Apple's iPhone 4: The joke's on us." | Stay up to date on all Robert X. Cringely's observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]
Now Apple has finally come clean (kind of), publishing a letter to iPhone 4 users admitting there are indeed problems with the iPhone 4's reception (of a sort) and are planning to issue a fix (well, almost). Turns out the problem isn't the iPhone's reception, it's your perception of its reception.
Here's the money graph:
We have discovered the cause of this dramatic drop in bars, and it is both simple and surprising.
Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.
In other words, your iPhone reception still sucks. But at least you know your hand is not the cause. And, more important, neither is Apple, technically speaking. Blame AT&T.