Why Apple Should Fix the iPhone 4

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In our reporting and a video yesterday, we made the point that the signal drop that iPhone 4 customers have observed when they hold their phones the "wrong" way is real — and we've called on Apple to do something about it. In an earlier statement, the company noted that attenuated performance is a "fact of life" for every wireless phone. Apple suggested owners mitigate the problem by holding the phone differently or purchasing a case. But those solutions put the onus on consumers and skirt Apple's obligation to offer a product that works consistently and reliably out of the box.

We think it's the company's responsibility to provide the fix — at no extra cost to consumers.

Our tests, conducted in our labs using controlled signals, confirm growing anecdotal indications that the iPhone 4's problems are anything but illusory. Our tests found that when your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone's lower left side — an easy thing to do — the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you're in an area with a weak signal. We tested several other AT&T phones the same way, including the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre. None of those phones had the significant signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4.

Ironically, aside from these reception glitches, our other tests placed the iPhone 4 atop the latest Ratings of smart phones. But we did not feel comfortable listing a phone with such a problem as "recommended," and therefore have withheld that tag.

Our stopgap fix for the issues of applying duct tape to the phone — while inexpensive and easily done — obviously isn't meant to be a permanent solution. The real fix, we believe, should come from Apple. The company has said it will issue a software update that will make the phone's bars more accurate, though it remains to be seen if fixing metering inaccuracies will address the problem of dropped calls. The company will also provide a full refund to users who return their iPhone within 30 days.