Apple erred in thinking different and shunning the industry standard for calculating carrier network signal strength, complaint claims.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

November 4, 2011

2 Min Read

Slideshow: Verizon iPhone 4 Teardown

Slideshow: Verizon iPhone 4 Teardown

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Slideshow: Verizon iPhone 4 Teardown

During the same week that Apple's "batterygate" issues flared, last summer's "antennagate" crisis has stepped back into the spotlight. A lawsuit filed in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday claims that Apple misled iPhone customers by displaying a stronger carrier signal than was actually available.

The allegations arise from "antennagate," the public relations crisis last summer precipitated by then-CEO Steve Job's dismissal of complaints about call reception issues following the iPhone 4's 2010 launch. Though Apple largely undid the damage and helped make the iPhone 4 a phenomenal success, its mea culpa is being used against it. The company's public letter, which acknowledged that "the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong," forms the basis of plaintiff Daniel Donohue's lawsuit.

"...Apple's design of the [Signal Strength Meter] drastically and surreptitiously inflated reporting of excellent reception and under-reported instances of poorer reception," the complaint states. "The Meter thus conveniently promoted a positive, if not euphoric customer reaction to the iPhone, which inures to Apple's benefit at the expense of Plaintiff and other purchasers."

The complaint further states that Apple's penchant for secrecy prevented its carrier partner, AT&T at the time, from learning about the reception formula error and that Apple perseveres in this secrecy. "Indeed unlike makers of other cell phones, Apple has begun programming its iPhones so as to block users from accessing data showing how its Signal Strength Meter is calibrated."

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The lawsuit does not seek restitution for call quality or reception troubles, presumably because AT&T bears most of the responsibility for that. Rather, it seeks recompense for the effect the faulty signal calculation method ostensibly has on the iPhone's resale value. "The value of an iPhone with a fatally flawed Signal Strength Meter is less than the value of the same iPhone without the flaw," the complaint states.

Evidently, it would be too much trouble to download the iOS update that fixed the erroneous signal strength formula.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment. The company recently acknowledged that iOS 5 contains a bug affecting iPhone battery life, and plans to issue a software update to address the issue shortly.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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