Was Apple pushed to release the 4G too early?

Apple used to be the hall mark for expensive well designed gear.

True, the Apple II used to catch fire but you at least felt it looked pretty as you watched smoke pour out of the top. Besides, catching fire was more common in those days.  

However, the iPhone 4G, which was released in the UK today, is starting to show signs that its release was badly planned and the design bodged.

Apple users are complaining that the phone’s touch screens have several brown smudges on them. These were undoubtedly dodgy panels, but there once was a time where Apple would have had enough quality control to spot this.  Now quality control is being done by a possibly suicidal Chinese teen working in a Foxconn “not really” sweatshop.

This would normally be fixed by Apple giving the user a new working phone, but these are a bit thin on the ground at the moment so early adopters are having to lump it.

Perhaps more alarming are complaints that the 4G reception is pants if you happen to do something like hold the phone in a funny way when you are talking to someone.

Dozens of videos posted to YouTube show that reception gets weaker if people hold it with their hand touching the metal rim around the phone that forms its two wireless antennae.

The design geniuses at Apple somehow failed to notice that the user’s hand creates a weak circuit of the two antennae which lie on a stainless steel band on the outside of the phone.

One American user who made a video of his problems, testing the phone against a data speed test site, said his phone would not start if he was holding it. The phone runs perfectly when he releases his thumb from the side.

This can only mean that the phone did not have enough testing in the paws of people who might leave them in pubs. This is exactly what happened when a tester left his iPhone 4 prototype in a pub and its details were revealed on Gizmodo. Our guess is that Jobs thought “sod it” and released the 4G without the extensive testing that the gear normally gets – perhaps in line with the much publicised release dates.

Jobs made a big deal about having the antennae outside the casing. It was a pretty radical idea as they have been shoved on the inside for at least a decade.

The reception problem might only apply to the lower 850 MHz frequency that AT&T uses where the thinness of the antenna could still lead to dropped calls. 

Apple is aware that it is a little vulnerable as it is offering “bumpers” to protect it – but they cost more dosh, as if the 24-month tariffs and handset prices were not enough.

But it highlights another problem that Apple has generally with wireless technology. It really is not that good at it. The iPad was hit by similar woes after its launch in May when users found it difficult to get connected to Wi-Fi computer networks. Apple’s airport is buggy too.

It is fairly typical of Apple to move into areas where it might have the design genius but lacks the knowledge about making reliable gear. In the 1990s it had problems when it tried to network its computers, when that technology was new-ish. Its early attempts at the internet were not that hot either. Now it appears to be wireless technology which is its bugbear.

This would be ok if Apple was at the bleeding edge of technology. But it isn’t. Most other outfits have been down that route and know how to handle it. There are certain engineering rules that have been established and yet Apple seems to want to break them for something as shallow as design.

That would be ok if it tested the gear properly before Steve Jobs signed off on it. It is starting to look like some things are not being thought through. Goodness knows what other bugs are going to come out in the next few weeks.