Best thing to come out of Antennagate? Apple's "antenna testing chamber" porn.


Reporters who attended the "Antennagate" presser today in Cupertino were invited to tour the company's "$100 million antenna designing and test facilities." They're blinding us with science! Bonus: When I right-clicked to save this jpeg from the Apple website, I noticed that the original file name included the words "Stargate Chamber." The hell with your free bumpers, Mr. Jobs, I want one of these suckers!

Related: Farhad Manjoo of Slate didn't go to the press conference, but he published a decidedly sour, not-impressed take on the day's Apple news. Wilson Rothman, formerly of Gizmodo and now of MSNBC, has a contrasting recap piece here.

(HT: Glenn Fleishman)


  1. Haha snap! Anechoic chambers rock (reeeeally quietly!)

    I’ve been inside a few at the Farnborough Aerospace Centre, UK. You could only hear the guy giving the talk when he was directly looking at you, a little to the side and there would be no reflection off the walls to hear.

    Also, you can hear your stomach churning food but I personally couldn’t hear the blood pumping around like others.

    Oh, and the dude told a story of a maintenance guy who came into the chamber (it was massive by the way) and there was a power cut, he spent a few hours in total darkness and no reverb. He totally lost his mind.

  2. I was saving up for an old pod chair, but now I yearn for one of these things. It’d look great in the living room.

    1. fireinwinter: “Can’t say I’m surprised that they’re testing iPhones on the Event Horizon.”

      I wish I could give you some sort of prize for that comment because it is full of awesome.

  3. Meh. I’m with Jobs on this one. The media has blown things way, way, wayyyyyy out of proportion. And I say that not as an Apple fan but as a physicist with more than an inkling of antenna theory.

    Disappearing signal bars? They don’t bother me because they don’t represent actual signal and the math behind them is wonky anyhow (when you let the marketing department start picking your math algorithms, watch out!)

    Dropped calls are the real issue, and if Apple was truly being transparent with their numbers/stats today, then it’s really not much of an issue to the vast majority of their customers.

    I live in Canada – I’ll reserve final judgement until I actually get my hands on an iPhone 4, but I think that not having to deal with AT&Ts crappy network will make all the difference. As it stands, I’ve never had a single dropped call on either my iPhone 3GS or my Nexus One up here.

    1. One bit I missed in my previous comment: the real clincher for me is going to be if I can replicate the “one-finger download kill” maneuver on the phone. If I can duplicate that here in Canada, then I’ll stick with my iPhone 3GS.

  4. Well, there’s the problem! Dude was holding the phone with his right hand!

    I wish I knew about anechoic chambers before I had kids.

  5. There was a time when the phrase “18 PhD’s working on this” impressed me. Then I started doing research in an Electrical Engineering department. 18 PhDs sounds impressive, but it doesn’t mean much. Every company that designs electronics has probably 10x that many PhDs working in various areas of development.

    I don’t think this antenna issue is by any means a reason to not get an iPhone4 (I would if I had AT&T). But I agree with the Slate article in that Jobs really should have just said “It’s a design flaw, we’re sorry, here’s a free case to fix it.” End of conference.

    The pictures of the room are sweet. I’m dying to know if those cones on the wall are soft and foamy; like a Twinkie.

    I hope they are.

    1. They’re not. They’re stiff and coarse, and impregnated with nasty black dust that gets all over your hands and clothes and such. At least that’s how it was back when I worked at a defense contractor’s antenna lab back in the 80s. But perhaps the state-of-the-art in microwave-absorbent cones has advanced in the direction of Twinkieness since then.

    2. Well, essentially, he did exactly that, while also pointing out (with ample evidence) that the exact same issue exists in every major cell phone on the market today. I find it bizarre that curmudgeonly tech reporters find fault with that somehow.

      1. No, not really. Steve went out of his way to not find fault with the design of the phone. He won’t admit that there is a problem with the iPhone 4 until he unveils the iPhone 5 next year.

      2. While it does happen to all smartphones, Anandtech did an amazing overview of it ( and showed that yes, it does happen to other phones (they showed the 3GS and Nexus One) but also that it’s a much larger issue on the iPhone 4.

        It’s an antenna design flaw. That’s it. Every scientist and engineer in the world has done them dozens of times on everything they’ve ever designed. Instead of Steve Jobs saying “it’s a design flaw,” he passes it off as, “it happens to every phone”? That’s not saying it’s a flaw in THEIR design. And that’s what it is.

        What this really showed is that because Apple became popular as a part of the counter-culture, the hip rebels fighting Microsoft, IBM, and “The Man,” they’re not used to being The Big Dogs. They were always the ones trying to tear down the bigger companies. Their entire advertising campaign was built on it. Now Jobs says that the reason people are badmouthing Apple is that “when companies get big, people want to tear them down”? They’ve superseded those companies they were competing against and they have no idea how to handle being the company that people are actually looking at and going “Uhm, there’s a flaw in this…”

        They admitted the flaw exists by giving away free cases. But they never actually admitted it. Just like an alcoholic has to admit they have a problem before they can get better, Apple needs to admit they made a mistake. And they won’t.

        1. Just like an alcoholic has to admit they have a problem before they can get better, Apple needs to admit they made a mistake.

          If I get involved in a traffic accident and follow the advice of any lawyer or insurance company by not saying anything which could be construed as an admission of liability, do I have to sign up for a twelve-step program too?

      3. One more thing to add:

        From Engadget’s LiveBlog of the event today:

        Q: Are you doing anything else to address the issue? Perhaps changing hardware?

        Steve: You know, the 3GS has the same problem. We’re getting reports from customers that this is better than the 3GS. So I don’t know changing the antenna design would help — I don’t know what our next antenna design will look like.

        The question was posed asking, essentially, “is this an antenna design flaw” and Jobs responded “I don’t know” instead of a simple “Yes.”

        That’s not admitting or acknowledging the problem. That’s dancing around it.

        As Agies said, he won’t admit there was a flaw in the design until the iPhone 5 when he tells us how much the iPhone 4 sucks compared to it. (And how much better the antenna is!)

        1. As others have said, he’s choosing his words very carefully. With threats of class-action suits floating around, if I were Steve, I’d admit the design flaw in a roundabout way as well. They took great pains to say that their phones aren’t perfect, pointed out exactly where the problem is on the phone, gave data points on dropped calls and dropped bars, and then showed all the other major phones on a graph alongside the iPhone, ALL with dropped reception when antennas were covered. So yes, he absolutely admitted that there’s a design issue, but not in the words that people want to hear. But that’s Steve.

      4. I think they pounced on the story because “it happens to everyone else too” is hardly up to Apple’s standards. They built their brand on being exceptional, not comfortably average.

    3. It’s pretty trippy in one of those anaechoic chambers. Really creepy. We had one at the printer company I worked for. Also–there weren’t 18 PH.Ds running around. Only one or two.

  6. I had trouble figuring out what to do with the Companion Cube, but this was one of the more rewarding levels I played in Portal.

  7. This is what I sort of expected from Apple – doing all their testing in a controlled environment totally unlike anything in the real world.

  8. He can’t openly admit the flaw in the design without handing the class action law suit against apple all the evidence they need for a win.

    1. Sadly, that’s probably correct. If he says it’s a design flaw then they risk a lawsuit.

      It’s sad we live in a world where people can no longer openly accept responsibility or admit fault due to the risk of legal lawsuits. I can understand what you’re saying, and you’re probably correct.

      It’s still sad.

  9. Are those pics of the room He (aka: Steve Jobs) goes into to think?

    Only kidding! I would never consciously speak ill against The Jobs lets I be ready to be iStoned to death by his Geniuses.

    Praise be Steve!

  10. It’s sad we live in a world where people can no longer openly accept responsibility or admit fault due to the risk of legal lawsuits.

    This should be applied to the U.S. only and not the world. The rest of the world still understands the difference between personal responsibility and legal malfeasance. The U.S. is lawsuit central.

    If you want to see a stark difference in mentality and culture, check out the auction listings on Yahoo! Japan Auctions compared to eBay listings in the U.S.

    Yahoo! Japan Auctions has more pictures, more details, disturbingly detailed descriptions with even closeup pictures of things to note about the item such as damage or missing parts.

    What do you get on eBay? A few pictures if you are lucky and barely and description.

    I’ve purchased tons of stuff from Japan this way and have never been disappointed. eBay has not been that bad, but the bad examples are so headache inducing I wonder why I even bothered.

  11. meh, all those pics were shown to awe the ifans (“that’s where we fill them up with magic”) and awed they were indeed.

  12. “We were testing our Taranis unmanned aircraft, then this crazy guy with a phone comes in…”

  13. The Toronto Science Centre had a walk-through chamber when I was a kid. Don’t know if they still do, but the exhibit they’re currently advertising is — how I wish I was joking — Harry Potter movie props!

    Soon we’re going to have to invent super-science to differentiate from the fantasy-magic stuff that may have some overlap as fiction, but really needs to be purged from journals.

    Mark my words: we’re heading for another seventies-era almost-scientific study of psychic phenomena.

  14. One of the first anaechoic chambers I ever saw was on screen, in “The Man Who Fell To Earth”, back in 1975, used as a set representing the interior of a spacecraft.
    A photo appears on the cover of David Bowie’s great LP, “Station to Station”.
    A link to that antique music, and to that old photo:

    Odd that this crops up in the context of a comms problem, a difficulty in linking… from station to station.

  15. Toyota and Microsoft have both admitted to design/production problems and haven’t been subject to class-action suits (at least none that have gone anywhere). It seems to me that acting defensive and not admitting a problem is more likely to lead to suits than admitting there is a problem and providing a solution.

  16. The term -gate is overused; we should come up with something original for controversies such as this.

  17. Here’s an interesting question: how many people noticed, amidst all this thrashing, that Microsoft killed the Kin, its big gambit to create, market and distribute a cheap, social-network-friendly gizmo?

    *crickets chirp*

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. And that’s what drives Apple fanboys like me nuts, that a hardware problem that’s nowhere near as catastrophic as, say, the XBox 360’s red ring of death gets all this attention, while yet another example of MS’s failure to get a device out past its internal bureaucracy goes completely unremarked upon. (At least by most blogs; Gizmodo, for all I give them grief for milking the iPhone 4 thing for all it’s worth and then some, have actually done a decent job with this.) People really do treat Apple differently, whether they’re up or down.

    1. I think, in most cases, Apple wants to be treated differently. They want people to believe that their products, user experience, and customer service are better than anything you can get from another company. They’re empowering. They’re magical.

      Every time they they hide behind a statement like “it happens to everybody”, Apple weakens their brand and compromises their core values. They can only do it so many times before they will be just like everyone else. To me, it’s not the hardware problem that’s newsworthy, it’s Apple’s response. It may be unpleasant, but if it helps Apple remember why it’s such a successful company, then it’s worth it.

  18. So, Apple has a $100 million lab. Bully for them. Microsoft has a lab full of PCs they test Windows on, and just look at the spectacular results they’ve had.

  19. I thought the “extra calls dropped” comparison between iPhone3GS and iPhone4 was disingenuous. – it doesn’t measure the calls that the iPhone4 can’t initiate due to the faulty antenna.

    Does Steve Jobs know that and chose that particular measure for spin purposes, or is he deluding himself?

  20. @ danegeld

    The real “magic” though happened with the dropped calls themselves. His wording is as dishonest as it gets. He says iphone 4 “drops less than one additional call per 100 than the 3GS”. If you find that twisted and weird to make sense of it’s cause it is. It’s a sentence crafted to leave you with “less than 1%” more than the 3gs, after you try to understand how many more calls does the iphone 4 drop.
    so, for instance, if 3GS drops 1 call in 100, it means the iphone 4 drops “less than” 2. Which actually means almost 100% more dropped calls than the 3GS. That sounds rather scary, certainly a lot less reassuring than the less than 1 call per 100. But if you are a member of the church of apple “less than 1 in 100” and “every phone has this” (although ours is awesome and the best in history) and “we have one gazillion phd’s working on this in 100 million dollar testing chambers” are the things you’d want to hear.

  21. I don’t think that’s true at all, actually. Apple’s pointing out, accurately, that the antenna issue isn’t due to some unique fault of the iPhone 4, as Gizmodo and others are claiming. Every major phone on the market has the same issue, but nobody’s deriding the Droid X for its similar signal-strength issues, or the Blackberry. That’s in no way weakening their brand. If anything, it’s strengthening it, because Apple’s making a public show of providing a free fix for the issue, whereas the other phones with the same problem aren’t saying a single word.

    1. If that’s what Apple had done at the beginning of this story, then yes, they would have looked like a company with great integrity and customer service. But by waiting, prevaricating and snapping at the media for pointing out the fault, they drained a lot of goodwill out of the gesture. Now they look a little sullen. It’s like they’re doing it under duress.

      Apple is at their best when they distance themselves from their competition. Even if every other major phone on the market has exactly the same problem (something which I very seriously doubt. That kind of generalization is almost never true.) Apple gains nothing by dropping themselves to that level. This is a company that makes “magical” products. They want users to expect more from their products and services than they do from other brands’. And in this case their response landed them in the middle of the pack instead keeping them in front of the competition. For someone who respects the company and admires their innovations, this was very disappointing.

    2. But the the issue is unique to the iPhone 4. Sure you can reduce the signal strength on any phone by blocking the antenna, but no other phone directly exposes the bare metal of the antenna to skin contact. It’s a flaw that is unique to this phone. It’s disingenuous to say otherwise.

  22. The chamber at our university has a panic button installed in it, you know, because no-one can hear you shout.

  23. The “Stargate” test system is actually called that by its manufacturer: Satimo ( Also, your commenting account sign-up system stubbornly refuses to allow me to either validate the account I set up or reset my password. Each time I try I get an “Invalid Request” error.

    Hans Schantz
    Antenna blogging at

Comments are closed.