Not Getting An iPhone 4, Yet

I remember walking into the Apple Store at the Westfield shopping center in San Jose on June 29, 2007. It was around 7pm. On my way back to work I decided I had to get the iPhone. I called ahead to see if there were any available and how long the line was. The iPhone was in stock and the line was moving quickly. Fifteen minutes later I had my very own iPhone. It was the most I’ve ever spent on a phone but that sting quickly dissipated as soon as I touched the multitouch glass. When the iPhone 3G came out I upgraded and gave the original iPhone to my sister. I skipped over the 3GS and waited for the next one. And now the iPhone 4 is here.

There is so much to like. Being a display geek the best part about the iPhone 4 is the Retina Display (read Retina Display, Apple iPhone 4 Retina Display vs. Samsung Galaxy S Super AMOLED). It might be because my years at LG Display, but I consider IPS TFT LCD technology to be superior to any other LCD technology out there. I think Apple’s display engineers will agree. A three and a half inch IPS display with a pixel format of 960×640 in landscape mode. A display resolution of 326 PPI. Apple even fixed the under-the-cover glass dust issue that plagued earlier iPhone models. Because there is an air gap between the cover glass and the LCD over time dust would gather. To this day I am not aware of any methods to get rid of the dust that get trapped there. Apple used a method called optical lamination (read iPhone 4) to eliminate that air gap. Benefits include better clarity because light refraction is eliminated but I was more relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with stuck dust particles anymore. Optically, I am very sensitive. Just ask my wife who just happens to be an optometrist. The Retina Display on the iPhone 4 is simply fantastic. There is nothing like it anywhere else.

Then there is the multitouch experience only Apple has been able to offer so far. Touch any iPhone and it responds, immediately, without a hint of hesitation. This isn’t the result of insanely powerful hardware. Instead it is the result of artful tuning of all the components: semiconductors, the operating system, glass hardware and the user interface. There were delayed responses but those usually happened because of the unreliable data connection. Overall the multitouch experience on the iPhone is unrivaled so far. Google’s Android 2.2 is permeating through Android smartphones as I type and will most likely and soon give Apple some serious competition in this area.

The five megapixel camera is superb thanks to the backlight illuminated CMOS image sensor with photo diodes that are the same size as the previous 3.2 megapixel version in the 3G and 3GS. It is probably the best camera on a smartphone today (read MacWorld: iPhone 4 Sports Best Smartphone Camera, Derek Powazek: Awesome Photos Shot With iPhone 4, Apple iPhone 4 versus Canon S90). The iPhone 4 doesn’t just sport a decent camera, it also has a very good camcorder (read Video Quality Comparison: iPhone 4 vs. Flip Ultra HD). Again, there is so much going for the iPhone 4. Add to all of this the sexy design, hundreds of thousands of apps, all the great improvements in iOS 4, etc., etc., etc.

Even the iPhone’s Achille’s heel seems to be serious about upgrading its cellular connectivity capabilities (read AT&T Upgrades New York 850MHz 3G, Voice Quality Improves 47 Percent). But it may be this very reason, the weak data connections and dropped calls in strategic locations such as San Francisco and New York City, that had put immense pressure on Apple to find an out-of-the-box antenna design that could improve voice and data connectivity. And that brings us to our problems.

Uncomfortably, there are one too many. The yellowish spots (read Yellow Discoloration on iPhone 4 LCD), bars and bright dots, if I had experienced it, would have irritated me to no end especially since Apple would not have been able to provide a replacement unit. They simply don’t exist at the moment. Being particularly sensitive to display quality I would have been quite disappointed. I’m relieved to hear those yellow dots and bars eventually go away (read iPhone 4 Yellowship Discoloration Goes Away With Time?), but still the fact that they were there would have bugged me intensely. There is another related issue that is disconcerting. Dow Corning Z-6011 Silane, the chemical used to bond the layers of glass used in the iPhone 4’s Retina Display, needs to dry and if it isn’t given enough time to dry a yellow discoloration can occur. That’s not troubling; this is: if this chemical is exposed to moisture ethanol, a possible carcinogen, is generated.

There’s more. The antenna problem. Apple has not come forth with a definite answer to the question of why some users are experiencing signal attenuation when holding the iPhone 4 a certain way. Whatever the real reason may be behind this problem the simple fact of the matter is that there is a problem. I’ve written extensively about this reception issue. Even Steve Jobs is denying the very existence of this issue (read Steve Jobs On iPhone 4: “There Is No Reception Issue. Stay Tuned.”). There have been many postulations as to the cause of this problem by different experts, many more articles documenting the signal attenuation, and just as many videos showing the problem for all to see. There is a problem.

I came upon an interesting article titled More on the iPhone 4 signal issue written by Richard Gaywood who holds “a Ph.D in wireless network planning techniques from Cardiff University” and has “worked for Keima, a company writing commercial software that helps cellular operators design their networks for optimum performance.” In the article Dr. Gaywood concludes that it is unlikely that this might not be a problem at all, that 3G data transfer rates will slow down even in strong signal areas and there is no assurance that you’ll never be in a weak signal area, and finally he doesn’t feel it’s a software problem:

I think there’s some deeper problem here, and I await Apple’s formal response to the issue with interest.

The hyper-sensitive proximity sensor is yet another irritating problem. It causes accidentally face-touching of buttons while you’re on the phone. Great, huh? At least this problem looks like it could be fixed via a firmware update modulating the sensitivity.

Some people are trying to minimize the impact of these abnormalities by guessing the number of iPhone 4’s exhibiting these aforementioned problems to be very small. Although no one has the numbers to prove or disprove how widespread these problems are, I believe the iPhone 4 required at least more real life testing and fine-tuning of the firmware. I have a feeling the green light for volume production was rushed. I’m not going to get an iPhone 4 just yet. I’ll get one when Apple admits these problems and fixes them.