You Tell Us: Did Apple Just Lie?

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By now you've probably heard that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is addressing the outcry over the "death grip" signal-strength loss in its iPhone 4 by offering free cases for all buyers. But there's something much more important going on here: Somebody is lying.

During Friday's press conference, CEO Steve Jobs played a video showing the effects of left-handed grips on various other smartphones based on operating systems from Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android, Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) , and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows Mobile. In each case the signal strength dropped four or five bars, and then returned to full strength when released -- nearly identical to what happens with the iPhone 4.

Over the weekend, the phone makers fired back. Samsung, HTC, RIM, Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) , and Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) all released statements more or less denying what the video showed.

So, somebody's lying: Apple, or everyone else. Together, we can find out.

Here's how you can help. We'd like to know what happens with your smartphone. Please view the Apple video here (the demonstration begins at the 6:30 mark). Note how the phones are being gripped, and try to replicate that grip on your device. Let us know what happens in the comments box below.

For example, my report is below -- it would be helpful if you use the same format.

Model: First-generation iPhone
Carrier: AT&T
Before/after death grip: 5 bars before, 5 bars after (no change)

Hopefully, we can get to the bottom of this. I'll compile the data and report back with another story in the next couple of days.

Fool analyst Rex Moore certifies that no smartphones were harmed in the making of this experiment. Microsoft and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (37) | Recommend This Article (25)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 1:17 PM, XMFTom7 wrote:

    Model: iPhone 3G

    Carrier: AT&T

    Before/after death grip: 5 bars before, 5 bars after (no change)

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 1:28 PM, nomaddmh wrote:

    Model: Blackberry Curve 8310

    Carrier: AT&T

    Before/after: 5 bars before, 3 bars after about 5 seconds of death grip. Goes back to 5 bars within about 10 seconds after not holding anymore.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 1:29 PM, Paleblackness wrote:

    Model: iPhone 4

    Carrier: AT&T

    Before/after death grip: 5 bars before, 5 bars after (no change) Same with and without bumper, in Maryland.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 1:29 PM, shanghaid wrote:

    I don't think they lied. I did a test with my new Blackberry Curve at home. AT&T service, 5 bars outside and on the main level of my house with a gentle grip around the top of the phone. Down in my basement I cannot get the coverage to drop below 4 bars out of 5. Then the death grip in the basement, and a drop to 1 bar. But does it drop a call? Yes. My wife has an iPhone 3GS, but I have not had a chance to test it.

    In my master bedroom, with 5 bars showing I can with time - a la the hysteresis suggested by Jobs for the slower declining bards on some phones - the Blackberry Curve - eventually will drop 2-3 bars with the death grip.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 2:01 PM, hary536 wrote:

    I think, that's not a fair comparison of Apple's comments and others.

    You shouldn't compare about how Steve Jobs held the phones, but you should ask customers to hold the phone the way they want in their left hand/right hand like the way they make calls.

    Also, the problem is not about left-handed only, it depends on where the phone's antenna is. So iphone4 has antenna connection at the bottom left, but everyone doesn't have the same design.

    I have Nokia 5800, if i hold it in my left hand any normal way you like, it doesn't drop the bars to zero like iphone, but if i press it very tight(which one does not do in real-life), it may drop 1 or 2 bars,but not permanently, they do come back up even though i am still holding it like that.

    Nokia said exactly what i experienced, that if you hold it tightly(not a practical life case), it may attenuate the signal, but not to the level of zero bars or no coverage or dropped calls unlike iphone4 which has that problem.

    So i believe, Apple is trying to manipulate people and diver them to others to take their mind off Apple's issues.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 2:04 PM, jasoncb31 wrote:

    Model: Blackberry Bold 9700

    Carrier: T-Mobile

    Before/after death grip: 5 bars before, 5 bars after (no change) Same with and without bumper, in New York City.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 2:08 PM, Emperor2 wrote:

    You state, "Samsung, HTC, RIM, Motorola (NYSE: MOT), and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) all released statements more or less denying what the video showed." That is NOT what they said. None of them has specifically denied the videos were false. If you read, or re-read, the publicity releases, they just tell how wonderful they are and they walk on water. But they DO NOT say the videos are false. Just thought you might wasn

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 2:14 PM, demodave wrote:

    Model: iPhone 4

    Carrier: AT&T

    I didn't notice the problem before I made the "upgrade" to iOS 4.0.1. Yesterday, I testing pinching the "X marks the spot" spot. I saw the signal drop from 5 bars to 1 or 2 bars. I wasn't activily in a call at that time. I have had some reception issues to/from a land line in Maine.

    I can't comment on the veracity of any other cell phone manufactuer's statements. Haven't owned one since I bought a 3G two years ago, btu the 3G was an improvement over the former phone that I owned. I have no interest in trying another phone or network, because I a self-admitted Mac fanatic.

    I do find the denial by other device makers interesting given the commentary that some phones come with "don't touch me here" stickers or notes in their user's manuals.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 2:15 PM, Emperor2 wrote:

    Rex, as a good journalist, why don't you contact the aforementioned companies and specifically ask them these questions. 1. Do you think the phone in the Apple video were really yours? Did it look like yours or did Apple falsify the video and show another companies phone and say it was yours? 2. If the phone was yours, could what Apple showed in their video really happen to your phone. Contact Samsung, HTC, RIM, Motorola (NYSE: MOT), and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and see what they say. As Shakespeare said, "Me thinks they doth protest too much."

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 2:50 PM, usjayfan wrote:

    Pone; Blackberry 8310

    Carrier; Rogers Canada

    Bars: constant 5

    Never trusted any salesman that slammed the competiton. They never had anything better and almost always had an inferior product.

    If Jobs says that no one is complainig and there really isn't a problem, then he must ber tone deaf or can't be trusted.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 3:21 PM, starpark88 wrote:

    Model: HTC Evo

    Carrier: Sprint

    Before: 5 bars and 4g

    After: 5 bars and 4g

    I think AAPL's take on this is a crock of !@#$.

    That said, the bigger issue with AT&T is not signal reception, but whether there is capacity on the network. To get your signal bars, all your phone does is send a little ping to a tower. Yet if the tower is over capacity, as they are in many cities, then you get the dropped calls and slow data exchange. But regardless of overcapacity, that ping will get through so you may have 5 bars, but you may also have no data exchange occurring. Signal bars are a strawman argument in this scenario.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 3:27 PM, plange01 wrote:

    BREAKING NEWS! apple has finally run out of the b/s hype it feeds the millions who line up to hear it!!!

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 3:27 PM, Ingalls2001 wrote:

    Model: HTC Tilt 2

    Carrier: AT&T

    Before/after death grip: 5 bars before, 4 bars after

    "Death Grip" actually entailed completely surrounding the edges of the phone with my hands. Grip shown on the video had no affect after 30 seconds, or so.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 3:39 PM, velocipedist wrote:

    Model: Blackberry curve

    Carrier: Verizon

    Before grip - 5 bars; after grip - 3 bars

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 3:41 PM, Turfscape wrote:

    Model: Blackberry Curve

    Carrier: AT&T

    Death Grip Bars: drops from 4 to 2

    Unit drops calls pretty consistently...I used to blame AT&T. Perhaps I've been unfair to Ma Bell?

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 3:44 PM, MaBellIsDead wrote:

    Your test is flawed, because the closer you are to your serving cellular tower, the less the hand position change will be. If you are close enough you may see no change.

    All cellphones are subject to signal attenuation due to hand position.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 3:50 PM, sk8ertor wrote:

    BlackBerry Bold 9700. Full signal almost all the time and I NEVER drop any calls.

    I think Apple is trying to confuse everyone here. The iPhone is dropping calls when simply held normally. Apple is introducing this "death grip" BS to confuse everyone. Stop doing these stupid tests because you are bending and damaging the antenna inside your device!!!!! Apple wants you to intentionally damage your phones so as to pass blame on others. Apple needs to stand up and admit this new design is in fact a flaw and recall all phones.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 4:27 PM, jwmeigs wrote:

    Nexus One


    3 bars to 3 bars no change

    Full 2 hand palm wrap 3 bars to 2 bars

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 4:30 PM, WBroadway wrote:

    T-Mobile Blackberry 8900 Curve.

    In left hand held lightly, 5 bars. In death grip, 3 bars. Returns to 5 after a couple of seconds.

    In right hand, 5 bars held lightly. but it does not need a death grip to drop to 2 or 1 bar. All that's required is to be touching the metallic band in one of the lower corners, especially the lower right corner. It returns to five bars in a couple of seconds.

    The lower corners of the metal band are the key, especially the lower right corner.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 4:40 PM, CPACAPitalist wrote:

    This won't destroy Apple or anything, but its going to hit their image pretty hard, which was one of their main assets. The die hard Applites out there will defend it to the death, but in reality their moat just got a little less impenetrable.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 4:50 PM, TMFRhino wrote:

    Model: Motorola Droid

    Carrier: Verizon

    Death Grip Bars: Can drop from 5 to 4 bars.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 5:19 PM, TMFKaren wrote:

    Iphone 4.0

    Carrier: ATT

    Before/after death grip: 5 bars before, 3 bars after

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 6:25 PM, aegean88 wrote:

    Blackberry Bold: Drops 3 bars after a few seconds and comes back almost right away once grip released.

    Carrier: Rogers/ATT (Canada)

    Apple/Jobs did not lie.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 8:32 PM, dougmatlock wrote:

    Model: iPhone 3GS

    Carrier: AT&T

    Before/after death grip: 4 bars before, 4 bars after

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2010, at 11:44 PM, JayInJapan wrote:

    Model: iPhone 4

    Carrier: Softbank

    Before/after death grip: 5 bars before, 5 bars after (no change)

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2010, at 12:55 AM, BR14 wrote:

    The problem is using the frame as an antenna.

    All phone manufactures know that human contact with an antenna can cause problems with reception.

    Apple made a design compromise because not having to have an internal antenna gave them room in their design.

    It appears they made that decision because that was probably the only way their engineering could shoehorn desired components.

    Other manufacturers, for whom phone reception is more important, are naturally annoyed that Jobs misrepresented the issue.

    He was perhaps economical with the truth.

    All phones have reception issues. But Apples is evidently worse and caused by a design compromise other manufactures were not prepared to make.

    In the end it probably makes little difference to the consumer provided you use a case.

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2010, at 11:39 AM, thanatos2 wrote:

    Model: Motorola Droid

    Carrier: Verizon

    Death Grip: 4 bars before, 4 bars after. (The Droid only has 4 bars, so that is full strength)

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2010, at 10:22 PM, Acorn17 wrote:

    Nokia 5800

    Carrier: Overseas Carrier in Asia

    No change in signal - even 2 hands trying to cover the outside edge of the phone. Never had a dropped call except inside an elevator in an underground parking deck surrounded by concrete. Don't think there's any problem at all with this phone!

  • Report this Comment On July 22, 2010, at 12:52 PM, Pastabird wrote:

    Model: iPhone 4

    Carrier: AT&T

    I changed from a Blackberry Curve 8310 (Verizon) because In my basement office I couldn't make a call with the BB unless I stood by a window at the far end of the room (very inconvenient). Upstairs & outside the phone was fine. A couple of months ago A client with an iPhone 3Gs made a few calls from my office & got good reception in all parts of the room so I decided to make the switch. With the iPhone 4 I get the same performance that he got with the 3Gs. The signal is on the weak side - 2 bars - with or without the death grip, but the reception is fine & I've yet to experience a dropped call. Upstairs & Outside I get 5 bars without the D.G. If I squeeze really hard for about 5 seconds at the famous spot in the lower left I can get the bars to go down to 3, but it takes a real effort to get that to happen. I wasn't able to test that out with the BB since I had closed down my contract at the same time I made the switch. So far I'm very pleased with the iPhone. The other features, especially the screen and video capability are so far above what the BB had to offer that I don't think I'll have any regrets. By the way I did have some fears about switching to AT&T from Verizon, but so far that's been fine too.

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2010, at 11:55 AM, Guardius wrote:

    Apple plead their case and for the most part they were accurate. I am unable to reproduce their findings on any phone: HTC EVO, Verizon Droid, iPhone 3GS, nor iPhone 4 - but I am testing in an area where I generally have a strong signal regardless. So while Apple may not be distorting anything, your mileage will vary by phone, carrier, and proximity/availability of cell coverage.

    There's a reason why a ton of people out there are saying that the iPhone "issue" is not a big deal and that's because it probably isn't for most use cases. Its really if you are in a bad area of coverage and obsess about it that you can really reproduce the issue on ANY phone.

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2010, at 3:49 PM, HGautophile wrote:

    Model: Motorola Droid X

    Carrier: Verizon

    4 bars before, 4 bars during death grip (i.e. full strength).

    Perhaps I need to find a location which is on the edge of 3-4 bars to see a difference.

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2010, at 4:03 PM, gforangio wrote:

    Model: Blackberry Curve 8310

    Carrier: AT&T

    Before/after: 5 bars before, 5 bars after death grip - in my basement 28 miles from downtown Atlanta!

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2010, at 5:30 PM, mg21800 wrote:

    Phone Blackberry Curve 8310

    Carrier - sprint

    B/4 - 3 bars

    death grip - 2 bars

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2010, at 6:33 PM, Aeoran wrote:

    Any engineering student with two cents' worth of electromagnetic / RF schooling will be able to tell you that the naked external iPhone 4 antenna fundamentally flawed, and that Jobs' / Apple's explanation of "everybody else is like this too" is a bunch of crap.

    All antennae are affected by having absorptive bodies (like our hands - carbon-based bags of salt water) or materials of differing permitivity in proximity.

    Only the iPhone 4 has an antenna that can be detuned by having somebody simply hold the phone, and shorting the antennas and directly coupling our body and all of its capacitance (of a big carbon-based bag of water) into the antenna.

    Jobs is right to say that he can't fight physics. What he didn't mention is that he and his team at Apple don't understand (and doesn't care to understand) simple physics enough to build a good phone... from day 1.

    What they know how to build (and have built very well) is an iAppLauncherAndBrowser. They have never built a good phone. Most of the perceived problems with AT&T's network are really iPhone problems. And for most people, this is okay. But, if one needed to count on a smartphone as a matter of life or death - or a billion dollar deal - neither iPhones nor Android phones would be ideal.

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2010, at 6:16 PM, grtibbles wrote:

    Model: iPhone 3GS

    Carrier: AT&T

    Before/after death grip: 5 bars before, 5 bars after

  • Report this Comment On July 26, 2010, at 11:51 AM, indyjoneses wrote:

    On my iphone 4, I only see loss of bars in areas where I know the signal is suspect (typically going from 2 -4 bars, down to 1), without a cover (and a cover seems to help some, but nothing dramatic). Having switched from a Blackberry Bold (AT&T), I can now send & receive calls in places that my previous BB would consistently drop calls. One of these locations is my house, where my BB could hardly every maintain a call, my wife's iPhone3GS is OK if in the right place - the new iPhone seems to outperform both...

  • Report this Comment On July 26, 2010, at 11:44 PM, none0such wrote:

    A better experiment would be to determine how many cell phone towers there are in areas and then determine the network capacity associated with these areas as some people have noted here already. I live in Taiwan and the capacity is very good probably because they place cell towers high on just about any structure (the higher and less obstructed, the better the reception, period). Here, people applaud cell phone tower visibility as good and part of accepting this technology where as in the US any artificially high object, no matter how well disguised, is regarded as something ugly and bad to live next to and will lower the property value for all who can see the structure.

    I have owned several phones, all sony ericsson, I never saw the reception drop due to grip positioning and calls only dropped because I walked into an elevator, basement or similar obstructed environment.

    Might Apple be deflecting criticism away from the carrier they chose and NIMBYism in their customers? It is much easier to focus on the inherent drawbacks of wireless technology that all handset makers deal with than to address the issues of carrier network capacity and relative difficulty in improving it due to the reasons above.

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Rex Moore

Rex Moore spent his formative years in Texas, and fought beside Davy Crockett at the Alamo. He currently travels the globe for TMF, bringing back video reports on conferences and companies that matter for investors.

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