Posted by: Taylor Hoff | July 7, 2010

The Perils Of Early Adopters

Apple’s Clean Hands May Have Dirtied iPhone 4 Signal

This would also explain why certain users experience the problem, while others — who may have washed their hands more recently — can’t seem to replicate it.

A rubber case sold by Apple for $29 solves the problem by interrupting contact between the hand and the antenna, though Apple customer support has apparently been told not to offer them for free to complaining users. So, how should Apple address the issue, if this biochemist is right?

The company need not redesign the antenna, he says, but should add “an electrically insulating organic hydrophobic layer atop the bare metal,” such as the thin layer of plastic that encases soda cans.

If the problem can be solved by spraying a thin, dampness-blocking coating on the metal antenna, perhaps Apple could offer to apply it for free at its retail locations, which would sure beat a product recall. A group of iPhone 4 owners sued Apple and AT&T over the iPhone 4’s signal issue, seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, which would apply any remedies to all U.S. purchasers.

We’ve asked Apple whether it is examining this as a potential cause of the issue, and hope to have an update soon. In the meantime, here’s the e-mail the biochemist apparently sent to Steve Jobs and two Apple staffers:

Subject: HowToFix for minimal cost — hydrophobic organic thin film layer

Hi,

In truth, Apple’s explanation for iPhone 4 signal reception problem is inaccurate at best and disingenuous at worst. iPhone users are in some of the hottest and most humid parts of the country this summer and have salty, damp hands especially at events such as baseball games, barbecues, or other outdoor activities. having bare metal antennae purposely handled will absolutely short the signal. This problem will be difficult to reproduce in Apple’s labs because the engineers are required to wash their hands before touching devices, which also strips off the natural hand electrolytes that are ever-present in the field on a hot day.

Anyway, the solution is not a redesign of the phone, but rather an electrically insulating organic hydrophobic layer atop the bare metal. a variety of plastics will work, such as polyethers, polystyrenes, or nylons. you could even use the plastic labels ever-present on aluminum soda cans, which likewise have an electrically insulating effect when holding said cans. these plastic coatings can be very very thin films which do not ruin the aesthetics of the device, and would require a minimal change of your production line. More importantly, this coating in no way affects the ability to recycle the aluminum — the organic thin film layer will burn away cleanly during the aluminum remelt process. Phones that have already shipped could easily be coated with this new layer at any Apple retail store or with a simple kit you could send to your customers.

In summary, this is a problem of electrochemistry, and certainly NOT a problem of software design, nor one that can possibly be solved by a software update.

Apple needs to hire some chemists.

Best regards,
XXXXXXXXXX, Ph.D.

It’s kinda funny that Apple needs a class action lawsuit before it’ll fix anything. Exploding electrical chargers, iPad 3G fiasco, etc etc… Normally I’m all for early adoption of new technology, but this time around I think I’ll hang back. These reception problems need to be fixed before I’ll touch the new iPhone with a 10 ft pole (or dirty hands, for that matter).

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