Apple Updates iPhone 4 Signal Software

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Apple has released iOS 4.0.1, a new OS version with it says will fix the software side of the iPhone 4’s problem

Apple has released iOS 4.0.1, a new version of the iPhone operating system which includes a fix for the software issue the company has blamed for the iPhone 4’s signal problems.

The new software release comes before a press conference to discuss the iPhone 4 at Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters later today.

New software improves signal strength formula

According to an onscreen window accompanying the update, iOS 4.0.1 “improves the formula to determine how many bars of signal strength to display.” Updated devices include not only the iPhone 4, but also the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS.

Although the iPhone 4 has proven a substantial marketplace success, selling some 1.7 million units within its first three days of release, the device has been dogged by reports of poor reception whenever the exterior antenna rim is touched. While Apple initially tried to downplay the issue, with CEO Steve Jobs reportedly telling one irate customer to “Just avoid holding it that way,” media coverage has continued nonstop.

On 2 July, Apple issued a statement suggesting that the iPhone 4’s issues were software-related, not hardware.

“Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrote,” Apple wrote on its corporate site. “Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays two more bars than it should for a given signal strength.” That means, the company suggested, that an iPhone is liable to display four bars’ worth of signal strength when it should, in actuality, be displaying as few as two bars.

At the time, the company also promised a software fix, which turns out to be iOS 4.0.1.

Outside groups, however, have continued to insist that the issues are hardware-related, and not software. The hoopla seemed to reach something of a climax on 12 July, when Consumer Reports wrote that it would be unable to recommend the iPhone 4 because of what it termed “signal strength issues” related to users touching the exterior antenna rim.

However, placing a rubber bumper around the device seemed to mitigate the issues, blogged Consumer Reports’ Paul Reynolds on 14 July: “With the bumper fitted, we repeated the test procedure, placing a finger on the bumper at the point at which it covers the gap below… The result was a negligible drop in signal strength—so slight that it would not have any effect, in our judgment.”

But the publication felt that the fix, no matter how simple, was not enough to let it recommend the iPhone 4 again.

“The Bumper solves the signal-strength problem. So does a piece of duct tape, as we reported earlier, or just being careful with how you hold the phone,” Reynolds wrote. “But these options all put the onus on consumers to solve or pay for a fix. We’re still calling on Apple to provide an acceptable free solution to the iPhone 4’s signal-loss problem.”

While the announcement of a full recall during today’s press conference seems unlikely, Apple could attempt to satisfy any unhappy iPhone 4 owners with a number of other measures, including free bumpers. Apple has been predictably tight-lipped about conference details.

Apple also issued iOS 3.2.1 for iPad, which includes tweaks to the tablet’s WiFi connectivity, video playback, and copy-and-paste for PDF attachments; it also adds Bing as an option for Safari search.

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