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Wednesday
Jul072010

The iPhone 4 SmartModule

Apple has produced the world's first and best SmartModule. It's called the iPhone 4.

Let me explain.

I enjoy photography, and have had a professional-grade Nikon SLR in my hands since I was about 13. When you buy a camera like that, you really aren't buying a camera. You seperately purchase the body, the lens, a more comfortable strap, perhaps a corrective eyepiece or even a different focussing screen. Then, you have a nice "camera", and are ready for serious photographic action.

Apple has introduced the same philosophy with the new iPhone 4 SmartModule. Don't be fooled, it's not a phone, its a module. Because, you need to add a case, and perhaps an earpiece to make it a phone. But, then it's really a crazy-good product.

After living with the iPhone 4 for a little while, I cannot imagine what the heck Apple was thinking about when they placed the antennas where they are. It's a bold, risky move. However, if you had come to AntennaSys and said, "We'd like to put the antennas in the place with the highest probability of being covered with a hand!", I would have sat you down and calmly explored exactly why it is you felt you must do this. The fact is I would have tried to talk you out of it and find a better solution. Either it is genius or just plain dumb. Time will tell.

When I first thought about and later played with the iPhone 4, I didn't see where the problem was hiding. In fact, I wrote about how I held the Primordial iPhone for years with the Vulcan iPhone Pinch in order to avoid blocking the antenna at the bottom of the case. I tried the same techniques with the iPhone 4 and it worked fine. What was the fuss about? Then, I tried the Grip of Death, and could not kill a call in my office; though I recognize we could have killed that call if we were in a marginal area. And, I have ignored data transfer while concentrating on voice calls.

Then, I received my very own iPhone 4. And lived with it. And finally saw the light.

It was a small light, on a dark background. At first it was fuzzy and distant. It grew closer and brighter and....... I finally found my glasses on the nightstand. Oh, yeah, I saw the light. It said, "No Service."

With the iPhone 4, a true VIG (Vulcan iPhone Gripper) won't drop a call due to the antenna placement. But, anyone who uses the phone for... say.... email, or texting, or Googling, will isolate themselves from the cellular world while doing so. This is because it seems impossible to hold the phone vertically in one's left hand (Lefties, please forgive me), while typing with the right index finger, without putting that fat fleshy part of our palm, right below our hyper-evolved opposable thumb, smack dab over the "hot spot" of the stainless-steel-rim-interruption-fed cellular antenna.

No worries, we're adaptable, right? Just rotate the phone to horizontal mode. Hold the phone in your left hand from the top. Not so fast! While calendar, email, texting and contacts will rotate in text-entry mode, some apps won't. Use the Vulcan iPhone Grip while trying to do text entry? That's a sure path to physical therapy.The Data Interaction Grip

The Primordial iPhone did not have this problem. Previously, I alluded to the fact that Apple moved the "antenna action" from the back of the case to the sides of the case. This is the root of the problem. Grab your iPhone. If you don't have one, grab a deck of cards. Now, place a call on your CardDeck5 SmartPhone. Freeze! Where was your hand while dialing, or looking up the number? C'mon, take a look. Was your hand gripping the sides of the case or the back of the case? I am betting that you were gripping the sides of the case, and the back of the case had a little semi-circular air space between it and your palm and fingers. Am I right?

The Semi-Circular AirspaceThis little space is what gave the previous generation iPhones, and many other cell phone designs, a fighting chance to work. The antenna's got to breathe! That little, natural, air space greatly reduced detuning the antenna, but won't do much for attenuating the radiation heading for your hand. But, it is the prevention of detuning the antenna that allows the RF energy to transfer into and out of the antenna in the first place! And with the iPhone 4 antenna placement, especially without a case, we're detuning the antenna every time.

Sure, once a call is established, we switch to the Vulcan iPhone Grip and all is well. But, during a "data interaction" with the iPhone 4, we may be killing the cell antenna. That lower-left break in the band (as we are looking at the screen) is its feedpoint. And we are smothering it in lean, trim, sinewy muscle as strong as steel bands. Or so.

In preparation for testing (the results of which will be reported here), I am off to the Apple Store to pick up an Apple Bumper case for my iPhone 4 SmartModule. Perhaps it will then become a SmartPhone.

As Leo Laporte told me when I appeared on TWiT #255, "You shouldn't need a freaking manual to learn how to hold a phone!"