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  • Apple: No Death Grip, Bars Displayed Wrong


    Apple is finally acknowledging the Death Grip, but saying it's - in effect - an optical illusion: a bug in how the software displays signal-strength bars on the screen. In a "Letter From Apple" posted on their website this morning, the manufacturer claims that the iPhone 4 "mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should" and that people who see drops of 4 or more bars must just be in a weak signal area. Though Apple says a software fix will be forthcoming in "a few weeks," it will only incorporate a formula recommended by AT&T for calculating bars while "[t]he real signal strength remains the same."

    After a week during which Apple steadfastly denied the very existence of the so-called Death Grip, today's "Letter" is the first admission from the company that "iPhone 4 can drop 4 or 5 bars when tightly held in a way which covers the black strip in the lower left corner of the metal band." The letter goes on to say that "[a]t the same time, we continue to read articles and receive hundreds of emails from users saying that iPhone 4 reception is better than the iPhone 3GS" (as if this is somehow in contradiction to the prior statement), and asks rhetorically "What can explain all of this?" The answer, Apple says, is software, claiming that they were "stunned" to find that the formula that calculates bars is "totally wrong," that it causes the iPhone 4 to "display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars," and concludes that people who report reception problems "most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don't know it… their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place."

    This response stinks in a number of ways. In the first place, the so-called "formula" is no more than a mapping of signal strength readings to bars. Anandtech noticed in their testing earlier this week that the fifth bar has an absurdly broad range, from -91 dBm up to -51 dBm, so that you can lose as much as 40 dBm and still show five bars. So that may be the "formula" they are talking about changing, but what about people (including this writer) who have noticed real loss of sound quality and dropped calls due to the Death Grip? What about Anandtech's testing showing an average 20 dBm drop in signal? Apple is silent on these points.

    Perhaps they are hoping the complaints go away when people see more bars (and bigger ones - the first three will apparently be taller) on their screen. Or perhaps there's another fix in this software rev that they're not talking about. After all, why should it take "a few weeks" to implement and test a change to one formula? There seems to be a lot we're not being told here, but we'll most likely have to wait for the update to find out what.

    Thanks to everyone who sent this in.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Apple: No Death Grip, Bars Displayed Wrong started by Paul Daniel Ash View original post
    Comments 229 Comments
    1. Faxmonkey's Avatar
      Faxmonkey -
      Quote Originally Posted by yahoowizard View Post
      Hm. If this doesn't work, I'm not sure how much trust Apple will get after it. Then again, the guy in the famous iPhone gripping video got the bars to disappear to "No Service", so I'm not sure how making the bars bigger will do anything. I think the only thing to result from this is that it's going to show more bars when there's less service, or less bars when there's actually a lot, so gripping will start to increase the service of the phone =D.

      EDIT: Actually, then again, they're fully acknowledging that the bars do drop if you grip it, even normally. They just try to make it appear normal by saying every phone does it, but gripping my iPhone 2G with both hands has no effect whatsoever. Wish I had more phones to test though.
      They're mincing words and hoping people will be too lazy to parse them properly. They say "all phones do that", but they don't say "all phones do that to the same degree". Turns out the iPhone 4 loses far more signal than a typical phone does when held. Even if the iPhone 4 does have better reception when not held than an iPhone 3gs, there's no question that is has worse reception than a 3gs if both are held. There's ample tests done showing that this is not merely a display issue.

      Looks like MSN was totally lazy and swallowed it:

      Latest Dispatches- MSN Money

      Seeing that made me sad.

      In the end, this isn't a huge deal. If Apple would just swallow a tiny loss of profit and give away bumpers, they could make this all go away. They almost nothing to make; all Apple loses is the extra 30 bucks for phone they could have got by getting us to buy their mandatory accessory.

      Please correct me if your situation is different but ya the bars go down but I have yet to drop a call or have my internet speed slow down when I apply the "death grip." So really what everyone is crying about is much to do about NOTHING!
      Yeah, this one time I was walking down the street and I saw this guy who got hit by a car. He was all crying like "Waaaaahhh, it hurts, poor me" and I was like "Dude, what are you crying about? I've never been hit by a car. Stop crying about nothing." This made perfect sense to me, because its a proven fact that things that have not happened to me cannot happen to anyone else, ever.
    1. gadjet0's Avatar
      gadjet0 -
      This is all quite funny, reading all the arguments for and against, for me it's simple, when was the last time a major phone manufacturer had such a big problem with reception that it got them on the major news?

      All the hype and publicity swings both ways "he who live by the sword dies by the sword"

      I've read enough, off to buy a Samsung Galaxy S.
    1. justinpotter81's Avatar
      justinpotter81 -
      F U Apple!
    1. mj0528's Avatar
      mj0528 -
      not that I'm defending Apple, but has anyone seen the videos of all types of cell phones losing reception when held. I for one was oblivious to this until now but it certainly doesn't affect only the i4.
    1. nicksti's Avatar
      nicksti -
      Quote Originally Posted by mj0528 View Post
      not that I'm defending Apple, but has anyone seen the videos of all types of cell phones losing reception when held. I for one was oblivious to this until now but it certainly doesn't affect only the i4.
      But don't you think there are some people on here that the only change they made was their phone? That they live in the same area, used AT&T, but jumped on the hype of the iphone and now they are having this issue?

      Yes, this is something that happens to phones but it would appear that in many new iphones this problem is more severe.
    1. KartRacer's Avatar
      KartRacer -
      I'm swinging towards believing Apple on this one. In the town I live in, Beaufort SC, getting a good signal is a roll of the dice. Whenever I do the 'death grip' I lose bars, lose connection, lose data, and call quality takes a dive right before I lose connection. I'm in Atlanta visiting my parents, and when I do the 'death grip' here (anywhere in Atlanta and the metro area) I lose all bars like clockwork but I DON'T lose any data speed, call quality DOESN'T suffer, I DON'T lose connection and the only thing that happens is it displays lower bar numbers. In the town I live in signal is crap, data speeds hover around 5-10k download and calls/data don't work indoors. In Atlanta where signal is fantastic all I get is the bars disappearing everything else doesn't suffer one bit. I'm thinking it's AT&T. Where you have bad signal it dies, where it's good it doesn't. All that said I miss being somewhere that has good service because it doesn't seem to affect data or calls here in Atlanta one bit. I believe Apple.
    1. mj0528's Avatar
      mj0528 -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksti View Post
      But don't you think there are some people on here that the only change they made was their phone? That they live in the same area, used AT&T, but jumped on the hype of the iphone and now they are having this issue?

      Yes, this is something that happens to phones but it would appear that in many new iphones this problem is more severe.
      This is true but it is a completely different phone and with any new phone, that's a chance you take in regards to reception. It stinks that it's worse for some, but in Austin the only time I get affected is if I'm in a big building no where close to windows that I had the same issue with the 3gs. Seems location and the death grip are hand in hand. Hardware is the key in all of this, but software is certainly at fault just as much.
    1. KartRacer's Avatar
      KartRacer -
      I wanted to also say that data doesn't really work that well in alot of places outdoors in Beaufort and it's almost impossible to have a conversation when driving anywhere within a 60 miles radius of Beaufort. They must point the cell towers straight at the ground there because cell coverage is extremely bad there. Funny though, sprint, verizon, tmobile, and all tell have ZERO problems there. All even offer 3G while I'm stuck on 2-3 bars of EDGE. AT&T sucks there.
    1. mudrock1000's Avatar
      mudrock1000 -
      I call crap on this. Steve Jobs, just admit that you screwed up. JUST admit it. I highly doubt it is going to stop anyone from getting an iPhone. If they can deal with ATT then I'm sure they can deal with that.

      My nexus get's pretty piss-poor reception at times but Google owned up to it and haven't stopped selling them. The iPhone 4 is great but if you screwed up just say it. .
    1. bschucher's Avatar
      bschucher -
      Im more insulted by Apple and their response to this issue than anything else. They clearly think we are all idiots. Just applying software changes to the display of the bars does nothing to fix the fact there is a clear and true LOSS OF SIGNAL when holding the phone the "wrong way". Run the speed test app while doing comparisons holding and not holding.. the performance decrease is REAL. I lose more than HALF my download speeds... regardless of how great my signal was to begin with. If im in a less than great area its just that much worse...
    1. Moosestache's Avatar
      Moosestache -
      Quote Originally Posted by mj0528 View Post
      This is true but it is a completely different phone and with any new phone, that's a chance you take in regards to reception. It stinks that it's worse for some, but in Austin the only time I get affected is if I'm in a big building no where close to windows that I had the same issue with the 3gs. Seems location and the death grip are hand in hand. Hardware is the key in all of this, but software is certainly at fault just as much.
      That is true, except for the fact that apple has stated again and again that this phone had the best reception by far of any previous iphone.

      I found this problem the first day when I started dropping calls in places none of the other 4 iphones I have had dropped calls.
    1. DeMoN100's Avatar
      DeMoN100 -
      I've always had full service in my house because my area has a perfect AT&T coverage but this is the only phone where it says I have 1 bar up until I did the sim alignment. Now it says I have 5 bars and it's not dropping at all.
      I have walked around my area which is widely covered it's still 5 bars sometimes drops to 4 but goes back to 5. Since I've done the fix. I really do not believe it's a firmware problem that is misleading the signal bars. Il start picking away at the firmware. If people are really going to believe that it's a firmware problem. When I use to go out of the area with my 3GS in a not so good area it use to say I had 5 bars but when I called the calls would not even go threw and it would always tell me call failed. But you could make that signal booster chip.
    1. eg6motion's Avatar
      eg6motion -
      Quote Originally Posted by Happy Noodle Boy View Post
      I'm a realist. The phone has an issue. A very real issue. I have two options about it:
      1. Return the phone, go back to the 3G
      2. Work around it

      The fist I can't do as I've already mailed it to my parents. They actually got it today, woop. The second one there's a couple of ways to go about it. As I already held the phone, I get a about 3 bars drop, however my calls aren't affected or dropped, so while the issue is present it doesn't really affect me. So I don't even have to work around it to begin with come to think of it.

      Others have resorted to tape to avoid bridging the antennas, covers, sim card voodoo trickery.
      Tape won't help, antennas are technically connected already...
      [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUF8t_IqwCg&feature=youtube_gdata]YouTube - iPhone 4 Antenna: Black Bars do what now?[/ame]
    1. Dolo85's Avatar
      Dolo85 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Faxmonkey View Post
      They're mincing words and hoping people will be too lazy to parse them properly. They say "all phones do that", but they don't say "all phones do that to the same degree". Turns out the iPhone 4 loses far more signal than a typical phone does when held. Even if the iPhone 4 does have better reception when not held than an iPhone 3gs, there's no question that is has worse reception than a 3gs if both are held. There's ample tests done showing that this is not merely a display issue.

      Looks like MSN was totally lazy and swallowed it:

      Latest Dispatches- MSN Money

      Seeing that made me sad.

      In the end, this isn't a huge deal. If Apple would just swallow a tiny loss of profit and give away bumpers, they could make this all go away. They almost nothing to make; all Apple loses is the extra 30 bucks for phone they could have got by getting us to buy their mandatory accessory.



      Yeah, this one time I was walking down the street and I saw this guy who got hit by a car. He was all crying like "Waaaaahhh, it hurts, poor me" and I was like "Dude, what are you crying about? I've never been hit by a car. Stop crying about nothing." This made perfect sense to me, because its a proven fact that things that have not happened to me cannot happen to anyone else, ever.
      Lol you bafoon if you are going to compare situations, at least use the same common variables. I would also of had to been hit by the car but I didn't get hurt. Think harder next time funny man.
    1. Happy Noodle Boy's Avatar
      Happy Noodle Boy -
      Quote Originally Posted by eg6motion View Post
      Tape won't help, antennas are technically connected already...
      YouTube - iPhone 4 Antenna: Black Bars do what now?
      Whoa that's just weird. So we're not really bridging anything but holding it...
    1. eJunkier's Avatar
      eJunkier -
      Based on the test data from "Apple's iPhone 4: Thoroughly Reviewed" posted on AnandTech, there is a real antenna issue when iPhone4 is held by user naturally. The attenuation is much worse for iPhone4 than it is for iPhone 3GS and Nexus One, 19.8db vs 1.9db vs 10.7db.

      According to the test data from AnadTech, we may see call drop or not be able to make call when the signal strength is lower than -93.2db not held in our hands(4 bar) if we assume iPhone4 works reliably at -113db. If iPhone only displays three bar not held in hand, it won't be pretty because no phone will work when signal strength is -120db (-101db - 19.8db) or lower. Assume, we are not holding when we look at signal bar and holding naturally when we make phone call.

      I don't believe there will be a software fix, software only can mask the problem as it is said in AnadTech's article. For all user of this version iPhone4, the best solution will be getting a pretty case and enjoy our beloved iPhone4.

      Happy Holiday everyone!
    1. BSmith's Avatar
      BSmith -
      ^ The Nexus One had a huge problem with this and is only dropping half the amount. LOL

      My superbowl prediction is this:

      Verizon picks up the Iphone. Because it is different radio technology and Apple has to make a new phone anyways, the phone will be designed to not have this problem. Apple says "Look, Verizon doesn't do this." Verizon customers buy the phone. To get on Verizon for current ATT customers they have to sell their current Iphone 4. Sales go through the roof between the new market and the switch market. Everything is good again. AT&T doesn't complain to Apple because the Iphone still sells a whole bunch and they can say "Take it to Apple."
    1. unison999's Avatar
      unison999 -
      ^^If you believe in switching to Verizon, can this be a screw you AT&T and good by from Apple? Accentuate the bad reception with the fare well phone, then go to a new network with another phone and say "there is no problem with our phone it was the network!" Have people buy the phone all over again, get them to switch network so they can earn extra bucks. I would not put past Steve Jobs and Apple for trying something like this.
    1. dsg's Avatar
      dsg -
      lol at this
    1. mj0528's Avatar
      mj0528 -
      that's funny! now bars 1,2, and 3 will give you some peace of mind since they look so big now! lol