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Apple knew about iPhone 4 antenna design flaw

Early in the iPhone 4's design stages, Steve Jobs was told by Apple's senior antenna expert that the antenna would cause problems, yet the concerns were ignored, according to a source who spoke to Bloomberg News.

Early in the iPhone 4's design stages, Steve Jobs was told by Apple's senior antenna expert that the antenna would cause problems, yet the concerns were ignored, according to a source who spoke to Bloomberg News.

"Last year, Ruben Caballero, a senior engineer and antenna expert, informed Apple’s management the device’s design may cause reception problems, said the person, who is not authorized to speak on Apple’s behalf and asked not to be identified," Bloomberg said.

"A carrier partner also raised concerns about the antenna before the device’s June 24 release, according to another person familiar with the situation."

Apple criticized the account, with a spokesman telling The Wall Street Journal: "We challenge Bloomberg BusinessWeek to produce anything beyond rumors to back this up. It's simply not true."

The news comes amid a furor about the iPhone 4's antenna woes, with Apple planning a press conference tomorrow to talk about it. On Monday, Consumer Reports said it could not "recommend" the fourth-generation iPhone because there is "a problem with its reception" caused mainly by the antenna being wrapped around the phone's casing.

On Wednesday, the publication said use of a rubber bumper around the phone "does remedy the issue," as would a piece of duct tape "or just being careful how you hold the phone. But these options all put the onus on consumers to solve or pay for a fix." The publication said it is "still calling on Apple to provide an acceptable free solution to the iPhone 4's signal-loss problem."

Caballero, the senior engineer, shared his concerns with Jobs, Apple's CEO, according to the source who spoke to Bloomberg. Caballero told Jobs that the antenna design might lead to dropped calls and presented a serious engineering challenge, the source said.

"The metal bezel surrounding the handset would need to be separated in sections to create individual antennas capable of handling particular ranges of the radio frequencies for different wireless networks," the source told Bloomberg.

It was known that "if a user covered one of the seams between the sections, their finger would act as a conductive material, interfering with the signal, the person said."

So far, the company has not acknowledged the antenna problem other than to say:

"Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone."

The company said that those iPhone 4 users who have the problem should "avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available (phone protector) cases."

Allen Nogee, In-Stat analyst who specializes in wireless communications equipment, and who has a bachelor's degree in engineering technology, said as cell phones have become smaller, "it becomes harder and harder for manufacturers to place antenna in phones," especially at a time when phones are housing more and more wireless radios — including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS — that need antennas.

While the iPhone 4's antenna design idea "was good in that the antenna is low on the phone, and not covered by the iPhone's metal back, it can cause other problems as we have seen, as people hold the phone they can cover and 'short-out' the antenna, if you will, with the conductance of their skin," he said.

"In addition to all that there is another problem: Phone makers have tried to reduce the radiation that users experience when they hold the phone next to their head, so this typically means that phone makers have generally moved antennas to the bottom of the phone, because the top contains the earpiece that goes next to your head," Nogee said.

"With the iPhone, placing the antenna is even more difficult because most of the back of the iPhone is a metal plate, and you can't enclose an antenna in metal and expect it to work well."

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Apple and AT&T, exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the United States, over the iPhone 4's antenna reception.