Apple's explanation for the widely reported iPhone 4 reception issues is, literally, stunning.
"Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong," the company said in a letter to iPhone 4 users.
The company implies that there never was a drop in reception:
We sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don't know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.
Fixing the Display but Not the Problem
Apple said that it is working on a fix that will improve the way they display signal strength but "the real signal strength remains the same." They will fix the way they meter and report signal strength, but not the signal itself. The "fix" is expected within a few weeks via a free software upgrade.
So, going forward, users will be able to figure out that they can't use the phone by looking at the screen instead of trying to make a call. This would be like an airliner having a faulty fuel gauge that says the tanks have fuel when they're actually about empty. The good news is that pilots would know they're about out of fuel. The bad news is that they would be running on empty.
It Took Three Years to Discover the Problem
What's really amazing about this is Apple's admission that "this mistake has been present since the original iPhone."
I find it astonishing that a company that prides itself on having the world's best software engineers could -- for three years -- have a software problem as basic as not reporting a phone's signal strength. It's especially puzzling considering the enormous interest in the product and the millions of people who use it, including many of the world's most technically savvy people.
For more, see "Poking holes in Apple's iPhone 4 antenna explanations" (CNET News)