Steve Jobs's attempt to close the door on criticism of Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) latest iPhone ignited another debate: Are competing smartphones just as prone to reception problems or does Apple have a unique design flaw?
Mr. Jobs, in a news conference Friday, conceded that reception on the new iPhone 4--which has antennas housed in an exposed metal band around the phone's outside edge--can be degraded by the way a user holds the device. He also said the new iPhone drops slightly more calls than its predecessor.
But Mr. Jobs insisted that the problem, which occurs in areas with relatively weak cellular coverage, affects few users and is shared by other smartphones.
Apple showed videos of tests it conducted that indicated similar signal drops when phones by Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM), HTC Corp. (HTCXF, 2498.TW) and Samsung Electronics (SSNHY, 005930.SE) are grasped by users.
His arguments were swiftly rejected by competitors, including RIM and Motorola Inc. (MOT), which said they have deliberately avoided Apple's approach of locating antennas on the phone's edge. Some other cellular-industry veterans also called Apple's antenna design a mistake, noting that it creates a uniquely sensitive spot on the lower left side that causes signals to degrade when touched with a hand or a finger.
'The proof of that [it being a flaw] is that it is so easily fixed,' said Martin Cooper, an engineer who helped lead Motorola's development of handheld cellphones in the 1970s. He noted that Apple has said adding a case largely addresses the attenuation issue, and predicted the company will find a simple way to isolate antennas in future models to eliminate the problem without a case.
Antenna experts agree with Mr. Jobs's statements that all cellphones are affected to some degree by a user's touch. For that reason, designers typically go to considerable lengths to minimize the antenna's contact with the hand, in some cases adding duplicate antennas to reduce the potential signal weakening that engineers call attenuation.
But some experts and competitors questioned the validity of Apple's tests of competing products, which it posted on its website. They said the science behind the tests wasn't clear and the visual evidence--a drop in coverage bars on the phones' screens--isn't very meaningful since the software that measures signals isn't standardized.
Jason Lohn, a professor of electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said the competing phones Apple used in its videos 'don't have the antenna's bare metal exposed to the hand, so I'd be surprised if the effect of the hand would be as pronounced as it was on the iPhone 4.'
Sanjay Jha, Motorola's co-CEO, said Sunday his company's tests showed that the amount radio signals decline on the iPhone 4 when a user's hands touch the sensitive spot on the phone's edge is significantly greater than the attenuation when other smartphones are held.
Not all experts think the iPhone 4's design is a bad idea. Haim Harel, president and founder of wireless chip maker Magnolia Broadband, said Apple may have created a design 'breakthrough' if it can perfect external antennas for cellphones.
The approach, which saves space for other functions in a phone, was also praised by Franz Birkner, CEO of antenna technology maker Rayspan Corp. 'But the challenge of innovation is it inevitably comes with risk,' he said.
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment Sunday, referring back to Mr. Jobs's comments Friday. The CEO said the problem had been 'blown out of proportion' by the media, stating that about one half of 1% of users had complained about it. Still, Apple offered free cases or 'bumpers' to alleviate the problem.
Concern about the iPhone 4's reception was elevated last week when Consumer Reports said it couldn't recommend the product after conducting its own reception tests.
After Mr. Jobs's presentation Friday, the organization called the offer of free cases 'a good first step' but said it isn't a long-term solution, and that it still didn't recommend the phone.
Attensity360, which studies consumer sentiment on blogs and other social media, said Mr. Job's press conference appeared to be a qualified success. In the two days after the press conference, the amount of negative conversation about the iPhone 4 on such English-language sites fell 30% compared with the prior seven days, the firm found.
But some consumers aren't satisfied. Jason Wong, a 29-year-old college math lecturer in Southern California, said he plans to return his iPhone 4. 'I feel it is kind of stupid to have paid $200 for a phone that I can't hold in the natural way,' he said.
Don Clark / Niraj Sheth / Geoffrey A. Fowler
布斯(Steve Jobs)企圖終止外界對蘋果公司(Apple Inc.)最新版iPhone的批評﹐卻引發了另一場爭論：其它智能手機也像iPhone 4一樣易於出現信號接收問題嗎？還是iPhone存在獨有的設計缺陷？
他的言論迅速遭到競爭對手的反駁。RIM和摩托羅拉(Motorola Inc.)等公司說它們在設計手機時謹慎地避免採取蘋果的方式﹐避免把天線置於手機邊緣。手機行業的部分資深人士也稱蘋果的天線設計有誤﹐並指出這一設計 讓手機的左下方產生了一個獨特的敏感點﹐用戶用手或手指接觸這個點時會導致信號減弱。
於 上世紀70年代幫助領導摩托羅拉公司手機開發業務的工程師庫珀(Martin Cooper)說﹐這種設計是一種缺陷﹐證據在於它很容易修正。他指出﹐蘋果公司曾表示添加一個保護套能夠在很大程度上解決信號減弱的問題﹐並估計蘋果公 司將找到一種簡單的隔離天線的方式﹐以便在未來的機型上不用保護套也能消除這一問題。
蘋果公司在其網 站上公佈了對競爭機型的測試。但部分專家和競爭對手對蘋果公司測試的有效性表示質疑。他們說﹐不清楚這些測試是否科學﹐而且手機屏幕上顯示的信號強度減弱 這一表面證據的意義也不太大﹐因為測量信號強度的軟件並不統一。
卡內基-梅隆大學(Carnegie Mellon University)電子工程教授羅恩(Jason Lohn)說﹐蘋果在其視頻中使用的競爭手機天線裸露的金屬並沒有暴露在手裡﹐所以﹐假如手對它的影響會和對iPhone 4的影響一樣明顯的話﹐會大出我的意料的。
摩托羅拉聯席首席執行長傑哈(Sanjay Jha)週日說﹐摩托羅拉的測試顯示﹐當使用者的手接觸手機邊緣的敏感部位時﹐iPhone 4的無線電信號衰減量比其他智能手機拿在手裡時的衰減量要明顯大的多。
並非所有的專家都認為iPhone 4的設計不好。無線芯片生產商Magnolia Broadband總裁、創始人阿雷爾(Haim Harel)說﹐假如蘋果能夠將手機的外部天線做到完美﹐可能就在設計上取得了重大突破。
這種設計為手機中的其他功能節省了空間﹐也受到 了天線技術生產商Rayspan Corp.首席執行長伯克納(Franz Birkner)的讚揚。他說﹐不過﹐創新行為的挑戰在於它不可避免地會伴隨著風險。
上週 ﹐《消費者報告》(Consumer Reports)說﹐在它進行了信號接收測試後﹐無法推薦這款產品。對iPhone 4信號接收問題的擔憂隨之升級。
研究博客和社交媒體上消費者情緒的Attensity360說﹐喬布斯的新聞發佈會看起來取得了相當大 的成功。該公司發現﹐在新聞發佈會後的兩天中﹐英文網站上有關iPhone 4的負面討論數量較發佈會前七天減少了30%。
不過﹐一些消 費者並不滿意。29歲的南加州數學講師Jason Wong說﹐他計劃退掉買的iPhone 4。他說﹐我感覺花200美元買了一部我無法用合乎常理的方式拿著的手機真是太愚蠢了。
Don Clark / Niraj Sheth / Geoffrey A. Fowler