iPhone Competitors Challenge Steve Jobs' Antenna Defense

Before announcing on Friday that Apple would address the antenna reception issue by offering iPhone 4 buyers a free bumper, a defiant Steve Jobs emphasized the problem was not unique to Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL).

He specifically mentioned the BlackBerry Bold 9700, HTC Droid Eris, and Samsung Omnia II, saying they all dropped signal somewhat when gripped a certain way. But those vendors were quick to distance themselves from Jobs' claim.

"Apple's attempt to draw RIM into Apple's self-made debacle is unacceptable … RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage," said a joint statement by RIM co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie.

Samsung told The Korean Herald: "The antenna is located at the bottom of the Omnia 2 phone, while iPhone’s antenna is on the lower left side of the device. Our design keeps the distance between a hand and an antenna. We have fully conducted field tests before the rollout of smartphones. Reception problems have not happened so far, and there is no room for such problems to happen in the future."

HTC told The Wall Street Journal: "The reception problems are certainly not common among smartphones … [Apple] apparently didn't give operators enough time to test the phone."

But Nokia released a statement that at least backed up Apple's claim to a degree: "In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand," the company said in a statement.

Apple did not return requests for comment.

Analyst Avi Greengart said both sides have a legitimate argument.

"Yes, you can [harm reception by holding it a certain way], but that's not what people are complaining about with the iPhone 4," said Greengart, research director for mobile devices with Current Analysis.

"HTC and Nokia and RIM were particularly vocal about it and are correct in saying they don't put an external antenna on the devices where it's possible to attenuate the device by putting your hand over the antenna and change the signal," he said.

He notes that the old Motorola Razr phone came with instructions not to hold it at the bottom because that's where the antenna was. That phone sold 100 million units even though people would frequently hold it a certain way and drop a call. But at least that antenna was inside the phone. Apple's problem is the iPhone antenna is outside the phone.

"Do phones have antennas? Yes they do. If you cover the antenna, will it block the signal? Yes it will. But no one has stuck an antenna on the outside without shielding and said try not to hold it in your left hand," said Greengart.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


iPhone, Apple, Nokia, RIM, antenna