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Jul 05 2010

Apple’s Avoidable iPhone 4 Problem

Here at Allion, a company dedicated to product design, validation and testing, it’s always difficult to watch when product defects aren’t discovered until after the product enters the market. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to Apple: Shortly after the iPhone 4 made its stunning entrance on the consumer market, stories began emerging of problems with the iPhone’s antenna.

The iPhone’s revolutionary external stainless steel antenna system – one half dedicated to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS, the other half to UMTS and GSM – is separated by a small black line. Consumers have found that when they hold the phone with their left hand, which most right-handed people are likely to do, their hand can bridge the two antennas, causing the phone to lose reception.

Now, Apple did field test the iPhone 4 prior to launch. However, the prototype phones, made famous by the lost phone picked up by Gizmodo months before the phone’s official unveiling, all had a plastic cover to make them look like a standard iPhone 3; this cover may have prevented Apple from uncovering the problem prior to launch. The lab tests of the antenna were also successful, but they only accounted for the presence of a user’s head, not hands. Apple says that the problem can easily be fixed either by readjusting your hand position or purchasing an iPhone case, but many users are still concerned that the design didn’t take into account real-world use.

Fortunately, these types of design errors are avoidable. Third-party testing can help to uncover the flaws that in-house testing can miss, and also help in the redesign process. The process can not only improve product quality, but also speed development time; manufacturers enjoy faster time-to-market and a product that has been thoroughly validated, and customers receive a product free of defects. This testing can help protect a product’s image from a preventable problem.

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