Spencer Webb of AntennaSys was one of the first experts to note that "shorting" the two metal segments of the iPhone 4's external antenna by touching them with your hand (which tends to happen when you're holding the phone during a call) could degrade the handset's reception, and now he's telling Computerworld that he believes there are both "business and technical" reasons for Apple to stick to its guns with the iPhone's controversial, stainless-steel antenna band.
Besides the fact that an iPhone for Verizon (which is still little more than a rumor, needless to say) wouldn't need an antenna redesign for operation on a CDMA cellular network (Verizon is a CDMA carrier, while AT&T runs on GSM technology), there's no easy way to insulate or otherwise protect the iPhone 4's external antenna from coming into contact with the human hand, Webb says in the Computerworld story.
That's not to say that Apple won't eventually come up with a solution, but for now, the antenna band is "architecturally fixed in the design, and it would take [Apple] a while to make whatever the design is," Webb noted to Computerworld's Gregg Keizer.
Well, what about some kind of coating or insulation for the exposed antenna band? Unlikely, Webb guesses, adding that there's "no coating that's thick enough to make a difference."
The "death grip" saga began even before the iPhone 4 officially went on sale, with users complaining that the handset lost reception while being held, especially when touching a tiny gap in the lower-left side of the phone that separates the two segments of the external antenna band.
It took weeks for Apple to address the complaints, first blaming the iPhone's reception display (a software patch tweaked the iPhone's "formula" for calculating how many bars of reception to display but did nothing to improve reception) before trotting out Steve Jobs himself to defend the antenna design.
Jobs announced that Apple would hand out free cases to iPhone 4 users to help improve reception, but while he apologized to anyone who felt they'd suffered reception problems and admitted that Apple isn't perfect, he also called the iPhone 4 "perhaps the best product" that Apple ever made and showed videos of other smartphones with apparent "death grip" issues (much to the annoyance of Samsung, RIM, and other phone makers).
Indeed, it's Jobs' performance last month that makes me believe that an upcoming Verizon iPhone -- if we do in fact get one early next year -- will arrive with exactly the same antenna design as on the current iPhone 4. (Same goes for the long-delayed white iPhone, which conspiracy theorists believe is undergoing antenna tweaks at Apple HQ.) Yes, Sir Steve acquiesced to demands for free cases for every iPhone 4, but he didn't look defeated or apologetic to me; if anything, he seemed exasperated, with a look on his face that seemed to say, "If free cases will make you happy, fine -- here you go."
Releasing a new Verizon iPhone or white iPhone 4 with a radically redesigned (or even marginally tweaked) antenna would be tantamount to admitting something went wrong with the "original" iPhone 4, and I just don't see that happening. Sure, Apple may eventually come out with an all-new iPhone design, but I'm in agreement with Webb that it won't happen for at least a couple of (face-saving) years, not in a few months.
All this is to say that if you're waiting for the white iPhone 4 or a Verizon iPhone because you're hoping for an improved antenna, well ... I wouldn't count on it.
Note: What about Verizon's plans for a fourth-generation LTE network, you ask -- might that involve an all-new antenna? Perhaps, but remember that even though Verizon's LTE launch is just months away, it could take years for 4G networks to spread to a substantial portion of the wireless population, and I seriously doubt Apple would release an LTE-ready iPhone that would only work for a small fraction of its user base. That's my guess, anyway.