The iPhone 3G was supposed to be Apple's latest media darling, the successor to the device Time magazine called the "invention of the year". In some effects the iPhone 3G has achieved this mercurial success -- but perhaps in sales only. It quickly sold 1 million phones and oodles of applications and has cruised comfortably to sales of 3 million phones worldwide.
However, problems have prevented ever since launch. The launch was muddled by problems connecting to Apple's servers. Then there were reports that the new iPhone's plastic casing, part of the price cutting measures that had slashed the iPhone's price from $399 to $199, was defective and cracking.
Now more tough news has come for Apple with reports that the iPhone 3G is committing the cardinal sin of cell phones -- being unable to make a good connection consistently in covered areas. The Apple message boards are ablaze with angry users complaining of dropped calls or poor call quality even with relatively good signal strength.
One user, Mr. Yarbrough, a 34-year-old accountant, describes, "I was driving down Folsom Street in San Francisco, and I got a dropped call 10 times. I get dropped calls just standing in one place. I'm extremely annoyed, but I'm hopeful a software update will fix it."
It is unclear exactly how widespread the problem is as the message boards are a poor way to ascertain levels of failure. The main thread on the Apple boards had 746 comments, when it was locked by Apple, allegedly because it, "was too long and some browsers were timing out." Further adding to the difficulty of coming to any such metrics is the fact that Apple is denying that anything out of the ordinary is going on.
AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel states, "How a device performs in individual situations depends on circumstances like where you are in the 3G coverage, how close you are to a cell site. Things like terrain and buildings all come into play. I'm not denying that people are having a less than satisfactory experience, but overall, the phone is doing great."
So what exactly is causing the problems? Some users say that the problem is with faulty SIM cards. They say after replacing the card their quality improved and problems disappeared. However, one analyst, Richard Windsor of Nomura, is entirely convinced that the Infineon chipset on the phone is the source of the problems. He says the dropped calls, service interruptions, and abrupt network switches resemble problems that phones with Infineon-based 3G chips had when first launching in Europe.
He writes, "We believe that these issues are typical of an immature chipset and radio protocol stack where we are almost certain that Infineon is the 3G supplier. This is not surprising as the Infineon 3G chipset solution has never really been tested in the hands of users. Some people will not experience these problems as it is only in areas where the radio signal weakens that the immaturity of the stack really shows."
He says that no firmware update will fix the flawed phones. However, he adds the problems may be limited to a specific batch of phones or certain build of the phone. Who is to blame? Mr. Nomura says to blame Apple. He says, "this shows the risk of not going with a tried and tested solution."
Infineon says it’s looking into whether Mr. Nomura's comments on the chipset never before seeing deployment was true.
In the meantime problems continue to pile on from around the world. T-Mobile Netherlands, frustrated by similar connection issues, has issued a statement acknowledging that problems exist and blaming its partner Apple for them. The company posted a blog in Dutch, which crudely translates to, "The 3G coverage of T-Mobile is as good as the competition, there can therefore not lie (sic). We suspect that it is a hardware / software specific issue of the iPhone itself."
It appears that T-Mobile is currently the only partner to have acknowledged the problems.