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Today's iPhone 4 freakout: calling while left-handed

Hey, everybody who lined up to buy Apple's iPhone 4 yesterday: Your shiny new device has a fatal flaw!


For those of you sick of the "OMG iPhone 4!" storyline, moving on to an "OMG iPhone 4 reception breaks during left-handed calling!" storyline may be even more annoying. But it appears real.

The problem apparently occurs if you hold an iPhone 4 in your left hand, covering a spot on its lower left corner where the antenna surrounding the device has a gap. As my co-worker Mike Shear demonstrated on Thursday in the Post's newsroom, the phone's screen will show a loss of signal, falling from four bars to one or zero; returning the phone to the other hand should allow the signal to return to full strength.

(The phone loaned by Apple's public-relations department didn't exhibit this issue, but that may only speak to the lack of conductive material in my hands or of Apple PR's exacting standards.)

You can inspect evidence of this phenomenon at third-party sites collecting reports from skeptical wireless users, passing on observations from wireless engineers, and relating comments from Apple spokespeople. And there's at least one online petition imploring Apple to "listen to it's most loyal customers."

Update, 2:45 p.m.: An Apple publicist sent along a copy of the company's statement: "Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases." Apple chief executive Steve Jobs apparently e-mailed a pithier version of that advice to one iPhone 4 user: "Just avoid holding it that way."

The tragedy here is that all of this would have been prevented if Apple engineer Gray Powell hadn't lost a prototype iPhone back in March. He's left-handed, you know... well, he was until March.

(Note for the sarcasm-impaired: I am neither implying that Powell is a southpaw nor that Apple severs hands from offending employees.)

Look... I don't mean to belittle concerns about this issue. But in the context of people who live with greater or lesser flaws in other gadgets that don't land on the front of news sites, it only seems fair to ask iPhone 4 owners freaking out over this particular item to a) deal with it and b) take a spot in line with everybody else coping with flawed electronics, some of whom paid much more for their gadgets. These things aren't perfect and never will be, otherwise there wouldn't be the chance for dramatic upgrades every year that spur perfectly sane people to wait, and wilt, in line in 95-degree heat outside stores.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 25, 2010; 11:13 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Gripes , Mobile  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: iPhone 4: First-commute impressions
Next: Can you tell an iPhone 4 photo from a 'real' camera's?


"These things aren't perfect and never will be, otherwise there wouldn't be the chance for dramatic upgrades every year that spur perfectly sane people to wait, and wilt, in line in 95-degree heat outside stores."

(Note for the sarcasm-impaired: Rob Pegoraro has been terminated by the Apple PR Department)

Posted by: gannon_dick | June 25, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Why is this necessarily a problem with left-handed people? I'm right-handed, but hold phones in my left hand so that I can use my "main" hand for other tasks. For touch-screen phones, this seems even more important -- hold it with the left, operate it with the right.

Posted by: misere | June 25, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I just tested mine, holding it in my right and left hands and the bars actually increased when I held it in my left hand.

Posted by: jtsw | June 25, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

The problem with being a pioneer is that you take all the arrows...
With any new technology (automobile, computer, cellphone, operating system) it's ALWAYS advisable to let the "paying beta-testers" do the bugcheck.

Posted by: OttoDog | June 25, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Just daintily handle your iPhone 4 with your left pinky in the air.

Posted by: maus92 | June 25, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

What is the deal with Personal Tech Live? I it says Friday 12 pm but there's nothing there, and nothing from today in the archives.

Posted by: jethro1 | June 25, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I happen to be deaf in my right ear, so I HAVE to hold the phone in my left hand. Thanks for the heads up. I'll be watching for more comments.

Posted by: Furgs | June 25, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Rob, does the iPhone 4G antenna problem make you reconsider the issue of delaying purchases in case of potential hardware problems?

Posted by: jethro1 | June 25, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

The iPhone was not build for the sinister.

Posted by: kevnet | June 25, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Normally I agree, no technology is perfect. But this antenna problem isn't something that people should have to deal with at this price point. Combine that with the AT&T problems and this thing just seems like a entertainment device that can also do phone instead of a phone that can also do entertainment.

Posted by: Booyah5000 | June 25, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Easy fix - just buy the Tinfoil Rabbit Ears app.

Posted by: MStreet1 | June 25, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

No problem, just use the iphone time travel app to go back to 2003 and buy one of those "as seen on TV" cellphone signal booster sticker things...

Posted by: ozpunk | June 25, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Just put a small piece of Scotch (TM) tape across the gap to insulate it from your hand. Problem solved.

Posted by: jethro1 | June 25, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

I don't think I have owned a cell phone yet that has not had a signal problem when held certain ways except for my ancient star tac. Maybe Apple should go back to extendable antennae? Although people would probably rip those out and blame it on shoddy design by Apple too.

Posted by: ThatGuy1 | June 25, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

WHAT, the perfect phone is PERFECT!!?? iPhone SUCKS!!!

Posted by: riceldi | June 25, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

It's amazing the lengths that Rob will go to make excuses for Apple's products. What a disservice to readers who don't know any better. I keep saying it and he keeps doing it -- hold Apple to a different standard than everyone else because he's enamored of the Steve Jobs' marketing machine.

Let me qualify again by saying I own a Mac, I love my Mac but I also value the truth. Rob would never give Microsoft a pass on something like this. He'd whine and moan about Microsoft's inferior products but with Apple you're just supposed to "deal with it." Considering the premium Apple charges for their products they should be held to an even higher standard, not lower.

Posted by: scarper86 | June 25, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Trouble using your iPhone in the approved hand at the approved angle holding the approved surfaces? There's an app for that!

Droid :P

Posted by: Moonwolf | June 25, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

I have had my Palm Pre for a year now and never noticed this problem. And yes, since I am right handed I hold the phone with my left hand all the time. It sounds as though having an IPhone is much like having a really cool sports car that does everything except run !

Posted by: danceblade | June 25, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

>"I don't mean to belittle concerns..."

i think that is exactly what you meant, the antennae issue on the iPhone 4 is serious , very real and not fun at all.

American customers are being ripped off and then maid fun of by Apple which is telling them "you don't know how to hold a phone !" which is basically like Apple is tellig customers : "so what? we scammed you, what are you gonna do about it?", and all the press is doing today is trying to minimize the issue and trying to ignore it altogether.

the press has done a very poor coverage of this issue, if it wasn't for those tiny websites who documented and proven the existence of the issue.

you guys at the press work for the people not Apple ! or don't you?

Posted by: sorlag | June 25, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

"It sounds as though having an IPhone is much like having a really cool sports car that does everything except run !"

Actually I've never had a problem with mine since getting it three years ago.

Posted by: lightgrw | June 25, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Come on people!!!!

Enough with the blows:
"There's an app for that"

Its only funny in your little empty heads.
Cant you think up something original or at least some substance!

I have the new iPhone 4 and yes this is a design flaw but its a small price to pay for the fantastic gadget that it is!

I for one dont care. The rubber bumper case will remove this issue altogether and to protect my iPhone4 investment I was going to buy one anyway!

Also, when you are the first to try new ideas and technologyies you take that risk.

An external antenna to save space inside to deliver greater battery life? WoW!!!

Yes, wow is my thought! Thats genius! And even though its the first release they have a work-around solution that over 90% of iPhone users will use anyway!

Yes, i am talking about the case. Almost everyone i know with an iPhone buys a case to protect it.

Lastly, what the deal with all these idiots reering to Apple customers as fanboys? Serously... SHUT UP!!!

Why do you think about us so much???

Is it because your credit is so poor you cannot qualify for ATT service?

You cannot afford an iphone and you feel the need to put others down to make you feel better about your loser-self?

Wait, I know... You have a complex and your remedy is attacking iPhone owners and others who ignore you because of you worthless existance!!!!

Yeah, there we go.

Really tho... I dont see an Apple customers reffering to other smartpone users as "hey DROID boy" or "hey You drank EVO juice"!!!

LoL!!!!! Damn losers!

Posted by: BayAreaCAMale | June 25, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Steve Jobs just made my decision for me when he arrogantly responded "Just avoid holding it that way" to a customer who was concerned with the dropped reception when a hand comes in contact with the edges of the iphone 4. Are we supposed to be so honored that he blessed us with his creation that we must completely change the way we do something like hold a phone because of a flaw in his device? An Apple rep had to try to clean up Jobs' mess by following up with a suggesting that every phone has this problem (none that I've ever owned) and that people should just hold the phone differently (like a teacup?) or buy a case for it. Excuse me, but your product is flawed; I shouldn't have to give you more money for a case to get around your product's flaw. You should fix it, and in the meanwhile provide us a free case. Besides, I like a bareback phone. Cases add unnecessary bulk and the rubberized ones make it difficult to get the phone in and out of my pocket (and are lint magnets). Never again will I own an iphone. Droid X will be my next phone.

Something else this review failed to mention is that the glass back on the new iphone, which was supposed to improve reception (fail) also doubles your chances of destroying your phone. The "gorilla glass" used on droid & iphone screens is shatter and scratch resistant, but not shatter/scratch proof. It can shatter if you drop it on the screen. When you drop the phone you have a 50/50 chance of it falling either screen-side down or back-side down. If the back is metal or plastic, it's fine. However, the new iphone has glass on both sides, essentially doubling your chances of destroying your phone if it drops. There are already videos out there of 4G iphones with shattered screens from falling from a 3ft height.

These guys saying this is no big deal have taken the place of Joseph Goebbels if he was alive in 1934. lol

Can we say fanboy!

If the iPhone was released and it couldn’t make phone calls, guys like this would buy one and have an excuse as to why that isn’t a big deal. Followed by tech details of why Skype is a preferred way to use voice calls.

Posted by: sw_gunnman | June 25, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

I actually have a multi-network 3G phone from AT&T. It's the only kind to have due to the nature of their network. It is not an iPhone and was bought for use on their network. I use my phone as an actual phone so Apple can keep their iCrap. The biggest flaw of iPhones is the wasted time used fiddling with it rather than doing something useful.

Posted by: rmtaylor2 | June 25, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

My cheap Samsung flip phone doesn't have this problem LOL.

Posted by: congsec51 | June 25, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

"Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone.....

mine doesn't....i use verizon

Posted by: earthling | June 25, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Sadly, I can report that anyone who is left-handed can NOT use a new iPhone. The one I picked up dropped every single call and could not even keep data connections because of this problem.

It's truly baffling that a company like Apple could make a colossal mistake like this. As a loyal iPhone user, I know that AT&T already made these difficult to own. But a phone that can't be used by lefties? It's simply a useless piece of junk.

Posted by: thecheddar | June 25, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Gee - Apple (don't gripe if we are proprietary and won't even let you change batteries) and ATT (Customer service? What's that?). I'm just SO surprised!


Posted by: fr3dmars | June 25, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Occasional defects happen, sure, but this defect—attaching the antenna to an exposed metal surface—was sold to the world as a "feature" that would improve reception by Jobs in his speech at the WWDC.

Nobody else did this before Apple because, well, it turns out, everybody but Apple had engineers who understood basic principles of radio wave transmission.

Posted by: ehrbar | June 25, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Rob, when a device is promoted as magical and awesome both by Apple and the press, it's only logical that people are amazed that an obvious flaw like this was allowed in the shipped product. And when the grand overlord himself response is "hold the phone a different way"....well come one dude, that's just not good enough. For an organization that's routinely praised for it's attention to detail, this is shoddy work.

BTW, where's your expose on the tendency of the iPhone to shatter? Crack?

Posted by: tundey | June 26, 2010 7:15 AM | Report abuse

No thanks Rob. I'll take a pass on the iPhone 4. I don't want a phone that I have to worry about how to hold to get the right signal. Moreover, I couldn't recommend such a phone to a loved one. In an emergency, I wouldn't want them to have to think about this issue when dialing 911. Frankly, I'm a bit concerned that more tech journalists aren't taking a tougher stand on this phone. This phone has a defect that impacts the safety of the consumer.

Posted by: leakypen | June 26, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

My favorite Apple haters are those who claim to have "picked up their iPhone4", then immediately returned it because it is worthless.

A couple of my new preferred gripers are right her on this thread. One challenges the media to report on the iPhone4's glass shattering. Another declares the iPhone4 "unsafe", in that someone may be unable to place a 911 call because of the antenna issue.

I'm an iPhone user, and until a better phone comes out, I'm sticking with Apple!

(Keep the funny stories coming, haters. I enjoy the envy.)

Posted by: evasdaddy | June 26, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

evasdaddy = superfanboy

It's good Apple has customers like you. That way they can do what ever they want and get away with it.

Now that there is competition out there Apple is in trouble, they are sticking to one carrier and one phone.

nVidia is also launching tegra2 which will soon be on Android phones.

I wonder just how long have you used an Android phone, I'm betting never. If you get one from AT&T they are all locked down. No unsigned apps. Have you loaded a custom ROMs on you Android device and loaded custom themes? Do you know what that means and no it's not the same as jail breaking.

I don't see how you could compare the two without a common frame of reference. You must be relying on other Appleheads that review the phones who don't load ROMS either.

And just to put the nail in Apple's coffin nVidia is entering the arena. Tegra2 has dual GPUs running a 2Ghz Dual Core ARM cortex CPU comming soon to a dealer near you.

Apples dominance is almost over for good in the cell phone arena and Appleheads all know it and are in a frenzy. Appleheads are always in a frenzy over mp3 players, phones and computers. They are #2 in computers and fixing to be #2 in phones.

You put down other peoples opinions with your statement. You're blind and crass. There is no envy. None at all. I can buy any phone I want to, I have owned an iPhone and did not like it at all. Envy lol.

Enjoy what ever you think you have over everyone. Soon it will be gone. Android and nVidia will see to it.

By the way I didn't mention that tegra2 and Android are launching their tablets this summer. oops looks like the iPad is going to be #2 as well.

So laugh it up fanboy!

Posted by: sw_gunnman | June 26, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

It still amazes me just how much Apple can get away with given their massive PR clout... Apple is like the 8th wonder of the world in my book. The antenna issue on the iphone 4 is an almost amateur-like design flaw. If any other phone brand pulled something like this they would have had to shut their doors in about a week.

What's also mind boggling are the number of people excusing such a shotty design flaw by saying a $30 rubber bumper will fix the problem. What is wrong with people?? Have we become so impulsive and lazy as a society that quality and pride are no longer important?

It is quite sickening. Apple needs to fess up to their obvious mistake and recall this phone. It is the right thing to do. And I know Apple won't do it. That should tell you something.

Posted by: ryanst530 | June 26, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

The so-called 'how to hold the iPhone' problem will not even be discussed a month from now. It is an effort to find something to gripe about that started with (surprise!) Gizmodo. The iPhone has improved by leaps and bounds over the years. The iPhone 4 promises to be the best yet.

Posted by: query0 | June 27, 2010 2:12 AM | Report abuse

Next up: Rob's response to the oil spill. "Just deal with it."

Great response, Rob. Nothing like being a shill for Steve Jobs.

Posted by: Jayne | June 27, 2010 6:40 AM | Report abuse

"It is quite sickening. Apple needs to fess up to their obvious mistake and recall this phone."

Amazing that you should be so upset about the way that I and other iPhone 4 customers spend our money. Since you don't know me and all the other iPhone owners personally, I'm guessing that something else is "quite sickening" to you -- your envy. My iPhone 4 has the "antenna problem," but there is no need for an Apple recall because this issue is very easily solved. (One thing that most who write about this issue don't know, for example, is that the number of bars is not indicative of adequate signal strength.)

What a psychological gold-mine it would be to study why people who don't even own an iPhone are passionately writing about its shortcomings.

Posted by: scsmits | June 27, 2010 11:55 PM | Report abuse

Easy. Use the earphones or hands-free device. Don't hold the phone at all! No problem.

Posted by: kmj2b | June 28, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Incredible. Jobs puts two antennae in a metal band enclosing the device, separated by a spacer so as not to gum up the signaling. It is brilliant engineering. Reception is better, and upload/download times significantly faster. So, if you bridge the divide with a finger, especially a moist one, you've "connected" the two antenna. Yes, it was unfortunate that Jobs said "don't hold it that way," especially when he is shown "holding it that way" at the WWDC unveiling! His better advice was to buy a case. Who owns one of these beautiful products and doesn't protect it with a case anyway (apart from people who just have to have everyone notice what they're carrying around, and poo on them)? So....

Get a case, and get a life. Or don't buy the iPhone, and get a battery-sucking Droid. They're a plenty of us out there with a little common sense who would like availability of the thing (and a case to go with it).

Posted by: cdolander | June 28, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Having received my iPhone on the 23rd and used it several times everyday I have not encountered this issue once. I use my iPhone from either hand as the situation requires.

The only reception issues on a phone call I've encountered so far are building attenuation reducing signal to unusable levels or some far end reception problems in callers from fringe areas.

Frankly the hubbub seems mostly hyped out of proportion complaining. Is it an annoying behavior, sure. But, when a Motorola phone exhibits the same kinds of behavior or some misbehavior... no one seems to scream the sky is falling and the media certainly don't rush to press about the sky is falling.

Every bit of technology is not perfect and requires some level of user accommodation. An iPhone is no different. The good side of this issue is that there are effective workarounds out right now. (Unlike some products from another famous software company that leaves users hanging with broken features and no prospects for a fix for years to come.

So, seriously... get a sense of perspective. The phone's been out... what... a week an a half... Holy Crap! You've learn that there's an adjustment you'll have to make. Damn! That's tough... A phone that works great except when you do something specific... and only if you don't have a edge cover for it. We've all lived with worse bugs in Microsoft Word for years before (and if) a fix was delivered. One week and you're freaking out? Oy!

Posted by: sonofthor | June 28, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

And to think I have something to look forward to when I upgrade the 3GS I just got to replace my original iPhone. All the issues will be identified and I will be able to deal with them in a calm and relaxed manner because the 5, 6, or 7 will coming on the market and all the nay sayers will then be whining about the latest version.

Posted by: Batman56 | June 28, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Man, the anti-Apple astroturfers are making a mint these days commenting on how Apple is evil and greedy and doesn't deserve anyone's money.

I have noticed the problem and it's a bit annoying, yes. But I was planning on getting a case, which will completely fix this problem. The phone is such a phenomenal piece of hardware otherwise that it's easy to overlook an easily fixed problem such as this.

For you Apple-haters, get lives, will ya? Or a hobby. I hear pulling the wings off flies helps some people cope.

Posted by: leicaman | June 28, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

I attempted to duplicate the test described above with to attenuation noted whether covering the area with my thumb or the entire heel of my left hand.

Posted by: wcrandall | June 28, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

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