New iPhone 4 Antenna Design Not So Handy

If you’re having reception problems with your new iPhone 4, the answer could be in the palm of your hand — literally.

It’s now looking suspiciously like the design of the new model means the antenna is compromised when the phone is held in the hand. That’s because rather than being a small block unit, the antenna is actually made of the metal frame surrounding the phone.

Widespread reports suggest that there is a clear pattern of calls being dropped, or signal strength degrading when the phone is in the hand, as opposed to being laid flat. It’s also apparent that the specific problem is the bottom left hand corner of the device (which raises the question of whether left-handed people and right-handed people are suffering equally).

The problem appears not to be that the line of “sight” is blocked, but rather than the antenna is actually being touched. It appears this means that some of the energy of the antenna is converted into heat on the skin, thus weakening the signal.

Given that it seems inconceivable that such an issue wouldn’t be picked up in the manufacturing and testing process, there appear to be a couple of possible explanations. One is that the actual effect is exaggerated by a bug in the way the phone displays signal strength. Another is that the effect is minimal and only makes a serious difference in areas which already have weak reception.