Apple Admits iPhone 4 Signal Issue, Blames it on Incorrect Signal Display. But Will Software Fix It?

Apple (s aapl) today released a statement on the widely reported iPhone 4 antenna issue, and plans to offer a software update within the next few weeks to address the problem. The Cupertino company says it was “stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong.” The upcoming software fix is expected to use a recommended formula from AT&T to properly calculate the visible bars of signal strength on any iPhone running iOS4.

Here are the details of the problem — which Apple says existed since the original iPhone — according to the Apple press release:

“Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.”

While the new stainless steel frame of the iPhone — which doubles as an antenna — may indeed be an improvement over prior designs, I see nothing in the press release indicating a software fix for a hardware problem. In other words, unless I’m misunderstanding the whole problem, the software fix will simply reflect a more accurate number of signal bars.

We’ll have to see what happens when the software update arrives — the iPhone 3G and 3GS will get the fix too — but my take: if you hold iPhone 4 in your left hand now have a problem with the signal today, you’ll still have it after the update. Unless you spend $29 on a stunning bumper, that is.

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