Behind bars? Apple issues apology for overstating iPhone signal strength

Apple Inc. has issued an apology to iPhone 4 consumers for a software glitch that overstates phone signal strength -- an error the technology giant says has been there since the first iPhone.

In an open letter to iPhone 4 consumers, Apple says it was "stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong." That formula displays two more bars than it should.

The iPhone 4 reception issue is compounded when users grip the phone in a way that covers the black strip in the lower left corner of the metal band. Some consumers complained to Apple that their iPhone 4s can drop as much as four or five signal strength bars when the phone is held that way. The company says those complaints led it to find the software formula error.
In its letter released Friday before the long holiday weekend, Apple tried to downplay the reception problems that arise from consumers holding the phone in that way, pointing out that Nokia, Research in Motion phones as well as phones that use Google's Android software also have reception problems when held a certain way.

Apple says it will use AT&T's formula for figuring out signal strength and incorporate it in a free software update to be released within a few weeks. The update will also be available for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G: "The real signal strength remains the same, but the iPhone's bars will report it far more accurately, providing users a much better indication of the reception they will get in a given area," Apple states in the open letter. Apple also will be "making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see."

Since its release June 24, the iPhone has drawn criticism over its antenna design that wraps a steel frame around the phone. The Los Angeles Times reports a class action lawsuit pointing to what it calls a defective antenna was filed in U.S. District Court in northern California last week. The lawsuit asks that Apple be required to give consumers a phone case and also seeks monetary damages.

Despite this -- and the overall poor performance of AT&T as a wireless carrier for Apple -- the company maintains that the new iPhone is the best it has ever released. "We have gone back to our labs and retested everything, and the results are the same. ... For the vast majority of users who have not been troubled by this issue, this software update will only make your bars more accurate."

Apple says that as of June 26, it has sold more than 1.7 million iPhone 4s. For a review of the iPhone 4, check out WalletPop's look at the OS 4 software.
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