Unless you just flew in from a month touring the jungles around the Amazon river then you know about Apple’s iPhone 4 antenna problem.
It seems that when you grip the iPhone 4 a certain way—the death grip—the cell phone signal drops a few bars; sometimes sufficient to drop calls and data. It doesn’t happen to every iPhone 4 user, and it doesn’t even happen all the time. Could a similar antenna problem happen to your Mac’s Airport connection?
Apple’s iPhone Antenna Woes
Here’s what we know for sure about the iPhone 4’s antenna. It’s a problem for Apple. Some users report losing a signal, dropping calls and data, merely by bridging the two antenna bands with fingers or hands.
Apple says not to worry. The problem isn’t the antenna. It’s those pesky, inaccurate signal strength bars.
From my own experience, virtually all cell phones have some hand held attenuation problems when held a certain way, depending on how far the phone is from a cell tower, how many buildings are in between, time of day, sweaty palms, or color of your hair.
That got me to thinking about the complexity of the iPhone 4’s antenna and reception issue and I wondered if some similar design flaw affected the iPhone 3GS. Sure enough, it does. I can hold my iPhone 3GS a certain way, while driving the car through certain areas of town densely populated with tall buildings, and—bingo—the bars drop precipitously, which more often than not drops the call, too.
Just like Apple, I was stunned.
Apple’s Mac Airport Antenna Problem
Additional investigation revealed that Apple’s MacBook models have an unpublished antenna problem. Apply a similar death grip on a MacBook with WiFi, and do so in the right location, with just the right signal strength, and the signal disappears.
We live in a condo. Our unit has a DSL connection and two WiFi base stations. One in the DSL modem, and the other in Apple’s Airport Time Capsule. As is probably the case with most Mac users, my MacBook sits on a desktop not far from the WiFi base stations, so signal strength is very good.
However, my research indicated that it’s relatively easy to apply an iPhone 4-like death grip to my MacBook and make the once strong signal drop like a rock.
First, I opened and booted up my MacBook and checked the Airport signal strength by measuring the number of bars in the Menubar. Four bars indicates the strongest signal, right? Then, I took my MacBook in hand and walked away from the connected WiFi base station on my desk.
In this case, I walked out the door, down the hall, into the stairwell, and down at least a flight of stairs.
Along the way, the Airport signal strength—as indicated by the bars in my Mac’s Menubar—dropped from four to three to two to the very small blip at the bottom of the indicator. Second, I linked to a large file online and began a download. A slow download.
Additionally, I fired up Safari to load a few web pages. As I walked away from the WiFi base station and the signal strength indicator bars dropped, I was still able to maintain a connection. The file downloads and the web pages appeared in Safari.
To ensure that the death grip actually resulted in a drop of signal reception sufficient to lose the Airport connection, I had to take the bottom panel off the Mac and securely grip the Airport Express Card antenna inside (which helps to attenuate the signal, replicating the problem with iPhone 4’s external antenna design).
Finally, at the bottom of the stairwell, in the farthest corner, while I stood on a chair and held my MacBook with one hand, I was able to apply the so-called Apple antenna death grip to my MacBook with my other hand—and actually lose the Airport WiFi connection.
See? That’s proof positive that the MacBook’s antenna—like the iPhone—suffers from an inherent design flaw, probably in the MacBook Pro models, too.
A Solution To The Mac Antenna Problem
I was stunned to see my MacBook’s Airport signal reduced with such ease. Fortunately, additional research to obtain a solution to Apple’s obviously poorly designed antenna was just as easy. Using a modified email directive from Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, I decided not to hold my MacBook with the cover off, not to stand on a chair in the bottom of a stairwell so far from the WiFi base station, and not to apply the death grip over the exposed Airport Express Card’s antenna.
Instead, I simply placed my MacBook on my desktop and continued to work as I had for years—all without a single reception or signal problem.
Until Apple issues an update to Mac OS X which solves the Mac’s obvious antenna design flaw, I’ll continue to use my MacBook without applying the death grip. So far, it’s working perfectly.