Apple and Toyota

Screen shot 2010-07-15 at 10.43.40 AM

I've had an iPhone 4 for about three weeks now, and so far I've found better reception and fewer calls dropped when compared to my previous 3GS iPhone. I do have one area of poor reception at home where calls dropped about half the time on my old phone, but it hasn't happened once with the new one.

I've seen a youtube video or two of people that can produce a drop in their reception by touching the lower left of their phone, but I can't reproduce it. I've heard news of class action suits, official responses from Apple, and even an upcoming news conference at Apple tomorrow.

The whole thing reminds me of what Toyota has went through in the past year over their Prius. Right from the start, the story sounded fishy to me, that cars were suddenly accelerating uncontrollably. As Toyota officials got hauled in front of congress I wondered if there really was a technical issue with the cars or if it was more about American lawmakers scoring points with constituents by knocking down a foreign-owned #1 car company (remember Gung Ho?).

Early on, someone noticed that a majority of affected Prius owners tended towards very old, where driver error becomes increasingly common and I was surprised to find it didn't really gain much traction in the whole story of the Prius recall. In the end, driver error was the culprit in all but one case.

I'd argue that after decades of the Ford Taurus being the #1 car sold in America shifting to the Toyota Camry, there was a lot of pent-up resentment with Toyota's success. The Prius is certainly a success in its own right, showing that American consumers wanted better economy so badly they were willing to sit on six-month long waiting lists to get their new Prius, and they were willing to pay $25-30,000 for a sparsely appointed economy car that without hybrid technology probably could have sold for $15k.

Same goes for Apple. The iPhone has taken over the mobile market, eating up profits from other makers over the last few years. Apple has been steadily gaining market share in the laptop market as well, and the same decades-old lingering annoyances with all things Apple (pretention, absurdly high costs, "cooler than thou" factor) feels like it's resurfaced with the iPhone 4. The moment the opportunity to strike against Apple presented itself, people pounced.

I'd say there are likely a small number of iPhone 4 handsets in certain areas of low reception affected by how they are held in such a way that the phone can drop calls. Maybe it's 1%?Maybe it's 5%? It's the best phone I've ever owned and likely the best phone made to date, but headlines declaring "Product Maker releases good product" don't sell pageviews as well as "iPhone 4 antenna FAIL!!!"

4 Comments

  • My iPhone 4 arrives tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to pairing it with the Bluetooth in the Prius and driving around waiting for a call to drop while suddenly accelerating — lawsuit bonanza!

  • On the iPhone 4, it genuinely has an issue when you bridge the isolating gap between the two antennas, as demonstrated by the second page of Anand’s review: http://www.anandtech.com/show/3794/the-iphone-4-review/2
    Ignore the 24dB one, it’s the grip of death (and other phones exhibit similar — though slightly better — issues). The big problem is with the 20dB fall labelled “holding naturally”.
    Note though that a bunch of factors can mitigate this. The conductance of your hands for instance (if they’re squeaky clean, they won’t be anywhere near as good electrical bridges). The currently broken “bars” display as well (first part of Anand’s page).
    You can see a pretty similar analysis at http://www.antennasys.com/antennasys-blog/2010/7/14/iphone-4-meets-the-gripofdeathinator.html
    Doesn’t mean the iPhone 4 is a bad phone by any mean, but for the people hitting this issue, it tends to be chronic.

  • Thank you! I got mine on launch day and my reception is awesome. I can’t reproduce the “death grip” problem almost no one is really complaining about but won’t go away in the media. A couple things I find funny/annoying are that any time you give a comment on a story about the bad antenna saying that someone needs to say that its not most of the phones, someone jumps down your throat.
    Second, this just plays into people wanting to hate the top dog in a ridiculous manner. For instance all the “Iphone sucks, get a droid” people. Oh really? Iphone sucks? If it weren’t for the iphone, you wouldn’t have your rip off Android because we’d still be in the dark ages of smart phones. Plus, your Android doesn’t do ANYTHING that the iphone doesn’t do better in most cases. I can’t stand these people. It’s either their favorite or it sucks.
    Also, can google get back to being a search engine and stop trying to show me what a better job they can do of wiping my ass than I can. No google, I don’t want you as my phone, my social network, my kitchen appliance, my tv, my news, my internet police, my DNS provider, my browser, my osm my email, my maps, my financial information, my docs, my only source of traffic even if I want to pay for it. They scare me how much control they have and I worry that this blip on apples screen is just what they need to take the whole thing over because I seem to be the only one that realizes that relying on one company for everything is a bad idea.
    Rant complete. Ugh.

  • “A couple things I find funny/annoying are that any time you give a comment on a story about the bad antenna saying that someone needs to say that its not most of the phones, someone jumps down your throat.”
    And I wouldn’t be surprised if these comments are posted by operatives for competing companies, using the cover of a news site to carpet bomb their competitors.
    I’m glad you made the comparison, Matt. When the Toyota story came out I recalled seeing people in the papers claiming they had faulty cars only to have the analysis of the computers find that the idiots floored it and then tried to blame the company. I thought Congress’ “investigation” smelled of grandstanding and bigotry.

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