Image: Steve Jobs
Paul Sakuma  /  AP
Apple CEO Steve Jobs uses the new iPhone 4, at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.
updated 7/2/2010 10:56:22 AM ET 2010-07-02T14:56:22

Apple Inc. said Friday that it was "stunned" to find that its iPhones have for years been using a "totally wrong" formula to determine how many bars of signal strength they are getting.

Apple said that's the reason behind widespread complaints from users that the latest model, iPhone 4, can show a sudden plunge in signal strength when they hold it in a way that covers a small black strip on one edge of the phone. Users online have jokingly called this the "death grip" for the phone.

That drop seems exaggerated because the phone can wrongly display four or five bars of signal strength when it shouldn't, Apple said.

"Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place," the company said in a letter to users.

Apple launched the iPhone 4 on June 24 in the U.S. and four other countries.

Some outside engineers and users have blamed the iPhone 4's apparent reception problems on the novel design that incorporates its antenna into the case. But the company said that any phone will show reduced reception if held in a way that covers the antenna, usually mounted at the rear and bottom of a phone. It maintains that iPhone 4's wireless performance is better than previous models. And it said the incorrect signal-strength formula existed in the original iPhone, launched in 2007.

Apple, which is based in Cupertino, Calif., said it will fix its signal strength formula to conform to other AT&T phones through a free software update for iPhone models 3G, 3Gs and 4 within a few weeks.

"We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see," Apple said.

Despite recurring complaints about dropped calls and slow data service, particularly in the U.S., the iPhone is a standout success, with each model selling faster than the previous one. Apple said it sold 1.7 million iPhone 4s in its first three days, essentially running out of stock.

AT&T Inc., the exclusive iPhone carrier in the U.S., has faced much of the users' blame for dropped calls and poor wireless performance. Apple apologized to customers Friday "for any anxiety we may have caused."

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Video: Apple-ology: Company admits flaw in iPhone 4

  1. Transcript of: Apple-ology: Company admits flaw in iPhone 4

    KATE SNOW, anchor: There was a stunning admission today from Apple about its latest high-profile product, the iPhone 4, the one that's been practically walking off the shelves. But as you've probably heard, there have also been widespread complaints about the phone's signal strength when users hold the phone a

    certain way. Apple's initial response: Hold the phone another way. Today Apple admitted there is a problem and said there is a fix, but it's not as simply as it sounds. Here's NBC's Mike Taibbi .

    MIKE TAIBBI reporting: Right from launch day there were complaints about dropped calls and data access on Apple 's latest iPhone , most blaming the newly designed external band antenna .

    Mr. JESUS DIAZ ( Senior Contributing Editor): It turns out that whenever you touch it, the connection drops.

    TAIBBI: Steve Jobs had praised the antenna design at the rollout. And now, after a class action lawsuit claiming the new iPhone is defective, an unusual

    move: Apple defending the phone, but also admitting it had made one mistake.

    JIM GOLDMAN reporting: This is a company that isn't conceding any kind of hardware issue, but it is in fact admitting to a software problem.

    TAIBBI: Software, Apple says, that sometimes shows signal strength bars that "were never real in the first place ." Not an antenna problem, just inaccurate displays, and on all iPhones going back three and a half years. But what about all those buyers who've complained about antenna performance -- more than 4,000 complaints to one tech Web site alone? And what did it mean that Apple 's Web site showed job openings this week for antenna engineers?

    GOLDMAN: Turns out that the help wanted sign for antenna engineers at Apple was actually posted well before iPhone 4 was even released.

    TAIBBI: In fact, tests by some experts this week have not confirmed an antenna defect.

    Mr. LANCE ULANOFF ( PC Mag tested this, and it does work really well.

    TAIBBI: And Consumer Reports said the iPhone 4 "performs much better" than past iPhones. Apple itself says it will make software available to fix what it insists is just a graphics problem or will offer a full refund. The brand's fans aren't worried.

    Unidentified Man: It's a good enough explanation for me. I haven't had any problem making calls.

    TAIBBI: Fans still snapping up Apple 's latest next big thing. Mike Taibbi , NBC News, New York.


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