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Antennagate: Thoughts

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When big news from Apple is released, many of the pundits come out, speak their mind, and rattle off some piece of nonsense that’s more linkbait than anything. Frankly, it’s a bit annoying. On Friday, I heard the news, read some of those pundits, and instantly had several curse words come to mind that I felt were accurate descriptors for the people who penned them. Instead of my jumping down their throats like I wanted to, I decided instead that it was best that I take a moment and think about things before I made a decision.

Now, it’s been a few days, and I’ve thought a lot about this whole Antennagate issue. I’ve got a few thoughts, but this time, instead of speaking the lord’s English, I’ve decided to get a bit more colorful because that’s how I really feel about it. As a result, from the jump on, this post is NSFW. Proceed at your own risk.

Chad is one of my best friends. I’ve known him for quite a long time now, and he was even the best man at my wedding. He’s good people. He is also a software developer, as is his wife, and they both work for a medium-sized company with lots of techie people. Neither him nor his wife own iPhones, but he says they both will once it goes to Verizon. On Saturday, Chad and I met for lunch. Over a burger, he says to me, “So what’s this Antennagate thing all about?”

“Antennagate,” I said, ” is bullshit.”

But to really understand why it’s bullshit, we have to go back a little further, before the iPhone ever existed.

In 2006, if you wanted a cell phone, you went down to your provider and picked one up. The phone wasn’t an essential part of your life back then, even if it was a BlackBerry or Palm. Sure, it could handle e-mail well and do some casual web surfing in an emergency, but it wasn’t an integral part of what you do every day. And if it was for you, then you were most likely in the minority, or a BlackBerry user.

The iPhone changed things, but not right away. At first, it was just a phone. It was nice and pretty with that Apple feel that we all love, but there wasn’t anything that was ridiculously spectacular about it. The touchscreen was revolutionary, yes, but people complained about the lack of a tactile keyboard and MMS. Slowly though, it began to take off. The mobile web became a phenomenon, more so than in any RIM or Nokia device, making it easy to surf the web instead of a giant inconvenience that took a decade to perform.

Now at that time, the phone was just a phone. I was one of the many who would purchase a new one every six months because I got bored with it or the thing broke. I had friends who hated their phones so much that they destroyed them in a juvenile fit of rage – and because it was so cheap to get a new one. $1? Free? Sure, I’ll break the old one. The phone was important for talking, but it was the communication itself that was important, not the phone.

Another issue was the system. Apple’s iTunes infrastructure made it easy for iPhone users to buy songs, movies, and later, apps. Ever try buying a program for your BlackBerry? I tried in 2007, and I lost. The more people that owned iPhones and iPods, the less likely they were to switch over to a BlackBerry that didn’t have the same compatibility. It became comfortable for iPhone owners to stay within the Apple ecosystem, instead of starting fresh every six months with a new phone. Remember what a pain in the ass it was to transfer all your phone numbers? I haven’t had that problem since 2008. As a result, people stopped ditching their current phone to buy a new one from another brand, and just purchased the latest release of the iPhone.

With the iPhone, the phone became less disposable. Now, people took care of the phone because it was something of value. And if it broke, there was an outlet for them to get it fixed: The Apple Store. If your BlackBerry Curve took a shit on you, then you had to go back to T-Mobile and send it in, and hope they had a trade-in model for you to borrow. Apple associates were friendly and helpful, whereas going back into the cell phone store was akin to taking a second tour of duty in Vietnam. If your phone broke, they didn’t care. No one cared at the other companies, because it was designed to be disposable. Fuck your antenna problems, who cares? Buy a new one so the CEO can get that Porsche he’s had his eyes on. But the iPhone was different. The phone itself became more important than the communication.

Three years later, Apple has changed the game. Now, not only is the mobile web an integral part of almost all cell phone service, but it’s also standard to have some kind of hardware or software keyboard because of the rise of text messaging. More importantly, you know that Apple cares about its customers, enough so that it takes care of them whenever there’s a problem. As good a phone as RIM puts out, it’s a lot easier to make an appointment with a Genius than it is to send your phone in to Verizon for service. It’s made the rest of the cell phone world step their game up or get lost in the dust.

The big achilles heel in this process has always been AT&T. The week before I got my iPhone 4, I dropped several calls on my 3GS. As usual, I blamed it on AT&T, because why would I consider the phone to be the problem? Technically, it could be the iPhone, but my money was on the big corporate monster without a face, not the nice Apple people who always solved my problem.

Which brings me to the antenna thing. As reported Friday, three million people have bought the iPhone 4 since its launch. The Droid can’t compete with that, and neither can the Evo 4G. The iPhone is now the big kid on the block, like it or not, no matter how fucked up AT&T is.

The big difference with the iPhone 4 isn’t the placement of the antenna. It’s that the antenna was touted as a design feature and an improvement. Once the phone got into people’s hands, this design feature was now open for discussion, and if it was flawed – which many people theorized before it was even released  – then it could be chastized. This could be the way to knock Apple off their high horse.

This brings me to Gizmodo. I had noticed that for weeks the talk about the iPhone 4 all seemed to be negative. Then, once it was actually released, more and more negative talk about the phone that previously brought them millions of hits (and I assume tons of money) from the reveal of the device a month or so prior. It spread like an infection across almost all of the Gawker sites, and there were days that 10 or more stories hit about the crappiness of the iPhone. Whether it was the glass faces, the tinted screen, the software, the tethering, or whatever it happened to be. It was like they were bitter and had a vendetta.

Of course, they had a reason to be bitter. Apple had pushed forward with the law and had caused one of Gizmodo’s writers to have his home raided by the police. The result was that Gizmodo has seemingly been blackballed from all Apple pressers, and have become the butt of jokes made by Jobs himself. This probably did not sit well with Gawker.

On June 24, I heard about the antenna issue for the first time on Gizmodo. I wasn’t having problems with my phone, so I figured it was a selective issue that only some people were having. But Gizmodo didn’t stop, and for the next few weeks, it was a constant topic of conversation. I went through and researched this, because it didn’t seem like it could possibly be true. But from June 24 through July 7, there was a post about the iPhone antenna issue EVERY DAY. After that, it was still pretty consistent, with just a few gaps. To be a bit more scientific, I went through both Engadget’s posts about the iPhone 4 and Gizmodo’s, between June 24 and July 16, and I counted any and every post that even mentions the antenna or reception issues. The results?

Engadget: 16 posts.

Gizmodo: 34 posts.

Eventually, if you make enough noise, someone is going to listen.

Other sites started picking up on the issue, and next thing you know, it’s the butt of jokes on Letterman and Tosh.O. The issue went from a minor problem that some people were having, to talk of a recall because all of the phones were defective. That just isn’t the case.

But let’s not idly demonize Gizmodo, because although they seem to have been the loudest voice in this matter, they’re not the only ones. ZDNet had this linkbaiting article titled, “My iPhone 4 is a Lemon, Oh My!” and there are many other people saying the same thing, hoping pageviews will jump.

Let’s make something clear here: This is a legitimate problem. There is no doubt that there is a flaw in the design of the iPhone that causes some people to have antenna interference issues. But this is not the end of the world; this is a hiccup in an otherwise excellent device. From my perspective, some sites have been stirring the pot to try to knock Apple off their high horse, and have been pretty successful. It’s ridiculous.

What drives me nuts about this issue is that we wouldn’t even be discussing this with a BlackBerry device, or a Nokia, or  any Android-powered phone. Why? Because 1.7 million people didn’t line up to buy any one of those devices within three days (although admittedly, the Droid X did sell out in a day this past weekend. Granted, we don’t know how many they made, but still). Apple’s iPhone isn’t the phone that your geeky cousin has, and it’s not the phone that your IT guy recommends; it’s the one your best friend and his girlfriend have, plus your grandma, and the geeky cousin and IT guy. It’s the phone for everybody, not just some specific segment of people who know tech well.

That’s exactly why this antenna issue isn’t a big deal. Regular people complain and take it up a notch. Tech people bitch. My mother had a few issues with her iPhone 4, so she took it into Apple, and got it handled in short order. If Apple hadn’t fixed it to her satisfaction, she would have bitched until it did, and maybe, if she got mad enough, told the media about it. That’s how regular people get mad at big companies and products. Tech people? We go on the internet and tell everyone how fracked up the product is and harp on it for months, calling any defenders fanboys. If the antenna was as big a problem as some tech sites were making it out to be, then people like my mom would be picketing the stores. They’re not. This is a legitimate issue that affects a small portion of the community that’s been turned into hyperbole.

And has everyone forgotten what a fucking horrible job AT&T is doing with their network? Was June 24 the day that AT&T’s network suddenly became good? Regardless of the antenna design, these phones are simply going to drop calls because of the network they’re attached to. It’s just the way it is. To suddenly blame every single signal drop on the antenna when the day before it was AT&T’s fault is just fucking ridiculous.

Were this four years ago and another company, it wouldn’t have reached these levels. If the same problem happened with the BlackBerry Curve, it never would have reached Letterman or even been a blip on most people’s radar. Because this is Apple – a seemingly flawless company to some – this is news, no matter how small the segment of affected people actually is. Ultimately, this is about trying to knock Apple down a peg, not about trying to fix a product. And it also seems like some people have made it their personal mission to try to make Apple look bad. Ultimately, it just leads me to one conclusion:

Antennagate is bullshit.

Kokou Adzo

Kokou Adzo

Kokou Adzo is a stalwart in the tech journalism community, has been chronicling the ever-evolving world of Apple products and innovations for over a decade. As a Senior Author at Apple Gazette, Kokou combines a deep passion for technology with an innate ability to translate complex tech jargon into relatable insights for everyday users.

7 thoughts on “Antennagate: Thoughts

  1. Very well said. The folks at consumer report did not bother to make real phone calls on the iPhone 4, but simply got their primitive brains fixated on the antenna being exposed for all to see. I have had no issue with this and I can state that I have noticed a huge improvement in the voice connection compared to the 3G iPhone.

  2. The other mobile phone manufacturers are lying when they say that they don’t have reception problems similar to the iPhone.

    For proof, watch these YouTube videos:

    * Nokia E71:

    * RIM BlackBerry Storm:

    * Samsung I9000 Galaxy S:

    * HTC Evo Signal Attenuation:

    * Samsung Galaxy 1:

    * Samsung Galaxy 2:

    * Droid Incredible:

    * Droid Incredible (With Network Extender in Room):…eature=related

    * Nexus One:

    * Nexus One vs. iPhone (start at 1:29):

    * Nexus One:…n_-_iPhone.m4v

    * Nexus One (after Google’s update to correct):

    * Nexus One:

    * Android G1:

  3. Look. Gizmodo and Engaget had every right to bring up this issue. It is a Huge Issue! People buy cell phones to use cell phones not to have their signal fade by touching them.

    Yes, they blew it out of proportion, but apple blows everything out of proportion. Its all business. I will also note that, I decided not to go Iphone years ago simply cause I would have had to switch cell phone companies. My old palm from 2003 was capable of playing simple games from black jack to Madden football. I had 200 songs on my Sd Card that apple didn’t even incorporate into their computers until 2009, and the phone option always worked.

    I love the iphone and I love especially how apple has been so innovative in the past 10 years now; however, I am also a bit disappointed in how they handled the iphone situation and the flash situation.

  4. The problem with iPhone4 antenna is clearly different from other brands of mobile phones antenna problems.

    A mobile phone has to have an antenna somewhere inside it. Covering it will shield the antenna from radio signal, therefore the drop in signal reception. It is something that simply CAN NOT be avoided, again because they have to have an antenna somewhere inside.

    iPhone4 on the other hand, the problem occurred when user touch the isolator, bridging the two external antennas, causing some kind of ‘short circuit’. This CAN be avoided by designing the isolator in the bottom of the phone, for example, or laminating the bare metal.

    So this is clearly a design flaw!

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