Skip Links

Antenna guru: 'Get a bumper and learn the Vulcan iPhone Pinch'

Spencer Webb answers many iPhone 4 questions except one: 'What was Apple thinking?'

By , Network World
July 16, 2010 10:05 AM ET

Network World - "The public will be more 'antenna-aware': that's the good thing to come out of this. They'll walk into an AT&T store and say 'lemme see that pink phone and what kind of antenna does it have?' That hasn't happened since we bragged about our newest rabbit-ears [antenna] for our old TV sets." -- Spencer Webb, president of AntennaSys, an antenna design and consulting firm, on the iPhone 4 antenna imbroglio.

Spencer Webb isn't exactly the Susan Boyle of antenna technology, but he's experienced something of her Internet celebrity effect over the past week or so. He wasn't well known outside of a pretty small circle, which includes what he calls his "nerd friends." Then after talking to a reporter who called him to get some expert opinion about signal reception complaints for Apple's just-released iPhone 4, he decided to blog about it.  

What should Steve Jobs say at the iPhone 4 press conference today? Have your say in our online poll.

Literally overnight, the daily unique visitors to his modest AntennaSys Website jumped from about 11 (as in "eleven") to 89,000.

"It was a bit of a shock," he says.

Since then, Webb has done a series of online posts that are a rare combination of lucidity and wit to unravel for those visitors the arcane mysteries of RF, antennas and the iPhone 4 reception issue. But he admits that he still has no answer to the question: "What were they thinking?"

Webb got his start as an analog design engineer, a task at which he was "merely adequate," he says. He was also a ham radio operator and as he was constantly fiddling with the antenna, he decided to learn about them. "One day, I woke up and I 'got' it," he says. Since that fateful dawn, he launched his own custom antenna design and consulting firm, based in Pelham, N.H. Besides extensive design and consulting work on embedded antennas, he has also worked for law enforcement and intelligence organizations operating with small battery operated devices…not unlike today's cell phones.

But Apple CEO Steve Jobs did not call him to consult about the iPhone 4 antenna design. Apple will hold a press conference Friday at 1 p.m. EST, during which executives are expected to discuss the antenna issue.  

We talked with Webb on Thursday, via his brand-spanking-new iPhone 4 (replacing an original 2G iPhone), complete with rubberized bumper ($29 via Apple) and what he calls the "Vulcan iPhone Pinch" or VIP (holding the phone between thumb and first two fingers, with remaining two fingers lifted off the phone)  

You saw the keynote speech by Steve Jobs, introducing the iPhone 4, and he called attention to the antenna design. What was your reaction?

It was instant. "They've got a problem." I said in one blog post something like "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 tried to talk you out of it and find a better solution."

So…what were they thinking?

I ask that question with just a single question mark not several exclamation points. It's not an "error" [by Apple]. I have designed antennas on devices that get implanted in the human body. The point is…you can design an antenna to take into account the body's 'loading effect' on the antenna. But having that work and [also] having it work just lying on a desk are two very different problems.

Our Commenting Policies
Latest News
rssRss Feed
View more Latest News