Today in Apple history: Apple admits Antennagate is a thing

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Antennagate
"Antennagate" was a major controversy in Apple history.
Photo: Apple

July 2: Today in Apple history: Apple addresses Antennagate and iPhone 4 reception problems July 2, 2010: Apple opens up about “Antennagate,” addressing iPhone 4 reception problems for the first time publicly.

In a letter to customers, Apple admits to being “surprised when we read reports of reception problems, and … immediately began investigating them.” However, the company’s findings do little to dispel the growing Antennagate controversy.

The iPhone 4 was a great handset. When it launched in early June 2010, it became a giant hit, smashing records for preorders and opening-weekend sales.

The “Antennagate” issue reared its head when some customers reported dropped calls. The glitch occurred when a user held the iPhone 4 in their left hand, with their palm covering the handset’s tiny antenna gap.

iPhone 4 reception problems: A software fault?

Jony Ive’s decision to remove the previous iPhone’s plastic antenna band caused the problem. In its letter to customers, however, Apple placed the blame on a software fault.

“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. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, 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.”

Apple said it would fix the problem with a free software update that incorporated the corrected formula. “Since this mistake has been present since the original iPhone, this software update will also be available for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G,” Apple noted.

The Antennagate aftermath

Unfortunately for Apple, that did not put the issue to rest. A few weeks later, Antennagate hit critical mass when respected trade publication Consumer Reports said it would not recommend the new Apple smartphone.

To calm the media firestorm, Steve Jobs flew back early from a family holiday in Hawaii to stage a press conference. He stood by the iPhone 4 (even playing a fan-made song defending it). However, he addressed Antennagate honestly — and offered customers free iPhone 4 bumper cases that solved the problem. Future versions of the iPhone also corrected the device fault.

In the end, it took until 2012 (and the resolution of a class-action lawsuit) for Apple to finally bring the controversy to a close.

Do you remember Antennagate? Were you an iPhone owner at the time? Let us know in the comments below.