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  • So is the iPhone 3G Really a Defective Product?

    August 12th, 2008

    Well, despite the recent well-deserved rise in Apple’s stock price, it seems they can’t get a break. There are widespread reports in recent weeks of various and sundry problems with the iPhone 3G. On the plus side, this hot new gadget is selling out almost everywhere it’s on sale, and some 60 million iPhone apps were downloaded during the first month.

    At the same time, teething pains are legion. Slow keyboard responsiveness, system hangs and application crashes are only part of the picture. That situation was at least partly resolved with the recent 2.0.1 software update and a slew of updates from third-party companies.

    But is that enough?

    That’s a good question, because I’m reading a number of troubling reports about problems with AT&T’s 3G network. Although download speeds are, as Apple claims, up to two or three times faster than the older EDGE or 2.5G system, it hasn’t come without glitches. Sometimes 3G download speeds are little better than EDGE, even though that setting sucks up twice the power on the iPhone 3G.

    Worse, AT&T’s widely-advertised claim of “fewer dropped calls” isn’t always fulfilled. I have had some issues, but nothing significant, and probably no more than I encountered with my previous wireless carrier, Verizon Wireless. But the larger issue is whether some of the problems emerge from AT&T’s network or the iPhone 3G, or perhaps a combination of both.

    Understand that the mobile phone system is first and foremost a two-way radio technology and highly imperfect. As you travel from one cell tower to another, the signal is passed off seamlessly. In theory, this scheme should work quite well, and it really does considering the billions of conversations that are handled every single day.

    But since this is two-way radio, it also means that there’s lots of room for mischief. Buildings and natural obstructions can combine to impair signal quality. Moving your phone from pocket to your car may also change things for the worse.

    I know that I have always had difficulty getting good signals in large stores, such as a Best Buy or a Wal-Mart, although even then the carrier’s signal fidelity counts too.

    Another problem is more mundane. Carriers have invested billions of dollars in building cell towers, but at the same time, they will do what they can to compress the the signal to a fare-thee-well, which means that your calls may be immersed in a sea of digital haze. I often suggest that holding two tin cans, separated by a simple string, might deliver better sound. But so does an old-fashioned rotary landline phone.

    Even where the carrier is making a genuine effort to add more cell towers, local zoning laws might intervene, and approval can be locked up in a bureaucratic nightmare that takes months or years to unwrangle. Consider that people in a neighborhood might regard the towers as unsightly, so the carrier has to promise to camouflage them somehow. Years ago, I covered local government affairs as part of my job as a broadcast journalist, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that deliberations can often get messy.

    But enough political talk. Despite all the obstacles against the smooth transmission and reception of the cell phone signal, it really does work quite well most of the time. Some carriers are better in a particular neighborhood, of course, but it’s not as if you can just switch as the need arises.

    I know AT&T is pretty decent here in Arizona, while I know signal quality might be pathetic in other locales. So while the iPhone 3G is a downright sexy smartphone, there may be very sensible reasons why it’s not for you, at least until AT&T improves its network in the areas you visit most often.

    But what about the iPhone 3G? Is there something wrong with the chipsets or firmware that makes it function worse than other phones in the very same location? I can’t say that I have a definitive answer to give you. My son uses a Motorola RAZR with the AT&T network. Traveling with him, it doesn’t seem as if the signal quality he experiences is significant different from what I observe.

    No, it’s not as if we’ve actually done an intensive investigation of the reception situation. More to the point, I live just south of an area that is anathema to good cell phone signals from every provider I’ve tried, and that also includes Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Driving through that area, or just visiting one of the fast food restaurants that fill the many strip malls, is sufficient to put me in a significant dead zone.

    Well, maybe that’s a good thing. Sometimes I fret over the loss of privacy in this wired world of ours, and it gives me a little time to have a pleasant meal, catch up on reading, and not have to concern myself with email and phone calls.

    As far as a latent defect in the iPhone 3G is concerned, I really don’t know. Reception is actually slightly better than the first generation iPhone it replaced. In areas where I would sometimes miss a call, it usually rings almost every time — except in that dead zone of course, where all bets are off.

    I’m also certain that if there are glitches in the firmware or in AT&T’s network, they will be addressed soon. Both Apple and AT&T have an awful lot of money invested in the iPhone, and there are those 30-day guarantees to be concerned about. If new customers aren’t satisfied, they can return their iPhones and go elsewhere.



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    14 Responses to “So is the iPhone 3G Really a Defective Product?”

    1. Bryan says:

      I have found i have dropped less calls since 2.0.1 then i did before. The one problem area seems to be GPS, is much more in accurate.

    2. I have found i have dropped less calls since 2.0.1 then i did before. The one problem area seems to be GPS, is much more in accurate.

      That is true. Is it as good as it could be? I don’t have enough information to go by.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Richard says:

      Is it as good as it could be? No. Is it as good as it should have been? Not even close!

      It has become clear that Apple blew it on the iPhone 2. Inadequate real world, end user testing would have shown some of these shortcomings and may have averted the looming crash of the iPhone. CNET is reporting chipset problems that would affect ALL iPhones produced, but not necessarily all users as the problem might only appear in certain problem areas of the network. There are such obvious shortcomings, such as the lack of voice dialing, that it raises the question “Has Steve Jobs stayed too long?”

      I think he just may have. His abusive management style discourages subordinate pointing out obvious omissions or just plain mistakes. Leopard has been anything but a smooth introduction. One of the great “features” of the dot two release was the ability to undo the feature that no one requested or wanted, the colored menu bar. It still has persistent functional problems. Other products are showing the result of his micromanagement style when the breadth of the work exceeds his grasp.

      As one who waited for the iPhone 2 in the expectation of getting one, I must say that it is increasingly unlikely that I will do so as it appears to be a sub-par voice device and Apple have chosen to cripple many capabilities. Oh, did I mention that no one in their right mind fails to include user interchangeable batteries in a device such as this?

      Mr. Jobs is simply out of touch, having fallen victim to his own reality distortion field.

    4. While I would agree there have been problems with the iPhone, don’t give CNET too much credibility. They are known to exaggerate little events and make them into major catastrophes.

      TIme will tell just how serious the iPhone problems might be.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. auramac says:

      “Mr. Jobs is simply out of touch?!”

      Do you really believe that? If so, someone indeed is out of touch with a very distorted sense of reality, and it’s too bad you think it is Steve Jobs.

    6. Conrad says:

      Why is no one comparing 3G performance on the iPhone in other countries where ATT isn’t the carrier? If it’s the iPnone that’s at fault, you’d hear reports there; if it’s ATT that’s at fault, you won’t. I’ve got no complaints here in London with O2…

    7. PFV says:

      Conrad makes more sense than all the pundits combined.

    8. Why is no one comparing 3G performance on the iPhone in other countries where ATT isn’t the carrier? If it’s the iPnone that’s at fault, you’d hear reports there; if it’s ATT that’s at fault, you won’t. I’ve got no complaints here in London with O2…

      BusinessWeek is now reporting that Apple is working on a firmware update to address some connectivity-related issues. So it goes.

      Peace,
      Gene

    9. Richard says:

      Gene,

      USA Today is picking up on the same sources as the CNet article, which suggests a recall will be required.

      http://news.yahoo.com/s/usatoday/20080815/tc_usatoday/droppedcallsplagueiphone3gandnotjustinus

      If there is a recall, you can just bet that the stock will take a “whipping”. It would be interesting to watch the short sales of Apple.

    10. Gene,

      USA Today is picking up on the same sources as the CNet article, which suggests a recall will be required.

      http://news.yahoo.com/s/usatoday/20080815/tc_usatoday/droppedcallsplagueiphone3gandnotjustinus

      If there is a recall, you can just bet that the stock will take a “whipping”. It would be interesting to watch the short sales of Apple.

      Actually, more responsible published reports suggest that it’ll be a software update of some sort to address these issues and that it’ll either come with the 2.1 upgrade or appear earlier, perhaps before the end of the month.

      I do not, by the way, regard CNET as an especially credible source.

      Peace,
      Gene

    11. Richard says:

      Gene,

      Why you are fixated on CNET is not clear. I understand that you don’t care for CNET, but none of these reports originate with CNET…none, not any, not one. CNET merely reported other articles, as has most everyone else. CNET has nothing to do with it.

      Apple is supposedly working on a firmware/software fix for the problem. I do not blame them at all, because, if they are lucky, and resolve the problem for enough users to avoid a recall there are millions of dollars on the table. If, as multiple sources suggest, it is a hardware problem and a recall is in order, Apple stock would, understandably, be “beaten down”.

      Speculators are the ones who would be involved in short sales of the stock. If there are large numbers of short sales, it might suggest that some of those people believe that a recall will be required. Agree with them or not, they will be putting large amounts of cash at risk.

      Cheers,

      Richard

    12. I am concerned that CNET’s standards of journalism can be supremely low, which is why I take what they say with a large grain of salt. Some years back, before one of their cutbacks around 2000 or so, I wrote for them, and had to battle constantly with some editors who wanted to tailor my work to conform to their personal and highly questionable world views.

      So my opinions have, so far as I am concerned, a former insider’s slant, for better or worse. Mine.

      As you say, the prevailing opinion about the iPhone is that the fix will be delivered as a software update. I hope that’s true, because a hardware swap would be awfully expensive for Apple.

      Peace,
      Gene

    13. Gary says:

      Most of the coverage seemed to originate with Richard Windsor of Nomura investments, who is famous for last year’s “technical” exposé of the iPhone’s touch screen, also based on conjecture, which turned out to be completely false.

    14. Dion says:

      I have to agree with your commentary and believe there is something wrong with either the iP 3G or Att 3G technology. Also from the PHX area. Had a iP first gen and had no call drop issues. With iP 3G I drop calls frequently and call quality is horrible while travelling. I can actually hear calls fad out and then back in as I switch towers. Also noted that 3G isnt always quicker than what I experienced from EDGE.

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