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Wireless experts weigh in on iPhone 4 reception issues

post #1 of 376
Thread Starter 
Reception issues with Apple's recently released iPhone 4 have gone under the microscope, with two new in-depth reports testing a variety of methods on how to hold the phone, and the effects those positions have on signal.

Anandtech: Antenna is improved, but bumper is needed

Authors Anand Lai Shimpi and Brian Klug did a barrage of tests on the iPhone 4, as compared to the iPhone 3GS and Google Nexus One. They found that the new model gets the best reception of any iPhone, holding on to one bar with voice and data for longer than its predecessor.

"With my bumper case on, I made it further into dead zones than ever before, and into marginal areas that would always drop calls without any problems at all. It's amazing really to experience the difference in sensitivity the iPhone 4 brings compared to the 3GS, and issues from holding the phone aside, reception is absolutely definitely improved."

But despite the improved antenna, the analysis found that reception could be significantly degraded depending on how users hold the phone. When cupping the phone tightly, the iPhone 4 had the worst signal attenuation of all devices with 24.6 dB, followed by the HTC Nexus one at 17.7 dB and last year's iPhone 3GS at 14.3 dB. When holding naturally, the story remained the same: The iPhone 4 was worst with a highest attenuation of 19.8 dB, followed by the Nexus one at 10.7 dB and the iPhone 3GS at 1.9 dB.

Though the maximum impact on reception from holding the iPhone in the lower left corner is 24 dB, the effect it has on reception and bars depends largely upon how the iPhone reports signal strength. Apple's iOS allots nearly 40 percent of reception levels to five bars, from -51 dB to -91 dB. But the distance from four bars to one bar of reception is much less, from -91 dB to -113 dB.



"In locales that have less signal, but where iOS still displays 5 bars, the drop of 24 dB is visualized much differently," they wrote. "For example, at another test location, signal without holding the phone is -89 dB, which is still displayed as 5 bars. Cup the phone, and you'll fall all the way to -113dB. All the bars dramatically disappear one after the other, people think they've dramatically lost all the signal, and you know the rest."



Apple publicly commented on the antenna issues last week, stating that any mobile phone will lose some reception when held in the hand, depending on the placement of the antennas. The company advised customers to avoid gripping the device in the lower left corner, or use one of many available cases, including its own "bumpers" which cover the metal external antenna band.

Some have argued that Apple should give away free bumpers to alleviate the issue for customers, though the company has informed its AppleCare representatives that it is not "appeasing" anyone with a free case.

"At the end of the day, Apple should add an insulative coating to the stainless steel band, or subsidize bumper cases," Anandtech wrote. "It's that simple."

Ph.D weighs in: Fantastic device, lousy phone

Richard Gaywood, who has a Ph.D in wireless network planning techniques from Cardiff University, also explained how signal bars on a cell phone work. Calling it a "magic formula" that is "basically made up by the design engineers as they see fit," he said the signal bars themselves are "almost meaningless and should not be relied upon."

"The bars only indicate how well your phone can listen to the cell tower," he said. "They don't tell you anything about how well the tower can receive your phone, but that's a pretty important part of making a call. Similarly, the phone doesn't know anything about what's going on in the cell provider's network past the tower; if you're on a really busy cell it might not have any spare outgoing circuits to direct your call to, so even if the radio is working fine, you might still not be able to get through."

Gaywood tested the iPhone 4 in three manners: flat on his hand, held in a usual manner, and then held with a piece of cloth protecting his skin from the phone. Touching the point in the bottom left of the device where the cellular antenna meets the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS antenna can result in signal degradation or cause dropped calls, as a person's skin acts as a conductive agent bridging the two antennas.

The tests were conducted both in a "marginal" signal area, as well as a location where signal strength is strong. With marginal signal, holding the phone with one's bare hand had a significant effect on reception, dropping all the way down to EDGE speeds and at one point preventing the device from transferring data.

"This is a factor that doesn't apply to other modern cell phones, because other modern cell phones don't have electrically active components in contact with their bare skin," he wrote.



When Apple announced the iPhone 4 earlier this month, the company revealed that the metal band around the outside of the device has breaks in it to allow the multiple antennas inside the device -- for cellular service, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and more -- to establish connections. The larger metal piece on the right side of the phone serves as the GSM/UMTS cellular antenna, and the smaller portion on the left side is responsible for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS.

Gaywood's tests also found a performance penalty for the iPhone 4 when held with a bare grip, although signal did not drop to the extent that he did not have a data connection as it did in the marginal reception area. The results suggest that customers in a strong signal area may never notice any issues with the iPhone 4. He also noted that the issues don't "feel like a software fault," suggesting Apple could not fix users' reception woes with an iOS update.

Finally, he concluded with a personal note: "I'd say that iPhone 4 is a fantastic device but a lousy phone."
post #2 of 376
WOW. I never thought AI had it in 'em to post an article that paints the iPhone 4 in such a negative light.

At least AI isn't acting like people are creating a mass "hysteria" anymore.
post #3 of 376
Interestingly enough, Gaywood says that nail polish alone could dramatically improve reception. If Apple added some kind of coating around the metal I'm sure the problems would disappear.
post #4 of 376
Yesterday I'm called out by name on Daring Fireball, today I'm being discussed on AppleInsider alongsite Anand Lai Shimpi! I'm really rubbing shoulders with my blogging heros...
post #5 of 376
How do you explain Anand Shimpi's findings on the Nexus, when you are quoted as saying no other phones exhibit this behaviour?

Quote:
Originally Posted by RichardGaywood View Post

Yesterday I'm called out by name on Daring Fireball, today I'm being discussed on AppleInsider alongsite Anand Lai Shimpi! I'm really rubbing shoulders with my blogging heros...
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post #6 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichardGaywood View Post

Yesterday I'm called out by name on Daring Fireball, today I'm being discussed on AppleInsider alongsite Anand Lai Shimpi! I'm really rubbing shoulders with my blogging heros...

Thank you for your insight.
post #7 of 376
Dick Gaywood?
post #8 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post

How do you explain Anand Shimpi's findings on the Nexus, when you are quoted as saying no other phones exhibit this behaviour?

I don't think the other phones were affected enough to create dropped calls and/or loss of 3G connectivity.
post #9 of 376
I must be doing something wrong. With full 5 bars my phone shows 2.2Mb down and 1.2Mb up. Then I short the gap with a METAL COIN! In 5 min the bars drop to 4. But it sill shows about 2Mb down and 1 Mb up.

As far a "lousy" phone - the phone clarity and connectivity is much better than my previous 3G.
post #10 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plagen View Post

I must be doing something wrong.

No, you're just lucky enough to be in a strong signal strength area to begin with.
post #11 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plagen View Post

I must be doing something wrong. With full 5 bars my phone shows 2.2Mb down and 1.2Mb up. Then I short the gap with a METAL COIN! In 5 min the bars drop to 4. But it sill shows about 2Mb down and 1 Mb up.

As far a "lousy" phone - the phone clarity and connectivity is much better than my previous 3G.

Maybe he meant lousy in the sense that it's seemingly so easy to attenuate the signal and as a result significantly affect the iPhone 4's ability to make and receive calls.
post #12 of 376
Damn I was going to make reference to the fact this guy is called Dick Gaywood but now he's here, I should be polite about it.

The testing is interesting but people seem to be reaching wildly different conclusions from it being not a problem to it making a lousy phone. One guy on Engadget commented that out of all the phones between him and co-workers, the iPhone 4 was the only one that could make a call 20ft underground. Others are reporting much fewer dropped calls than previous iPhones.

Then there are those reporting the exact opposite. I guess this is the magic that Johnny Ive keeps going on about - it exceeds your ability to understand how it works and when it doesn't, they don't know how to fix it.

It didn't even seem to hold up too well inside the case when held wrongly.
post #13 of 376
Well, it looks like this is a hardware problem that won't be fixed with a software update. I don't think this will end well for Apple considering they plan to ignore the problem completely.
post #14 of 376
What has me concerned is that this is going to turn into Apple's Toyota moment.

Reports started to surface that there were problems with Toyota's automobiles.
Toyota said, dismissively, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with our cars.
There were a few instances of unintended acceleration and again Toyota says not our fault.
Unfortunately for Toyota the media latched onto the story and Toyota ends up with a black eye.
Most, but not all, of the unintended accidents were driver error. A few of them were a floor mat problem or a sticky gas pedal.

I think Toyotas mistake was that they appeared arrogant and that they didn't care about their customers safety. If they would have responded quicker and seemed a little more sympathetic they could have kept the publics trust.

I think that Apple's fetish for being secretive and their aloof attitude is going to come back to haunt them. Even though it looks like the phone is working as designed by Apple there are enough people ignorant of the whole story that I think this issue is going to continue to get bad press. When a company as successful as Apple seemingly makes a mistake the press and pundits will pile on them big time. Its part of human nature.

Schadenfreude.
Derived from the German words for harm and pleasure, it means the joy we sometimes cannot help but experience when we hear about another's misfortune.

And Apple suggestion to improve reception people use a case or better yet...buy a Apple bumper is truly a fail.
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post #15 of 376
Put a small piece of tape over the seam. Works for me.
post #16 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plagen View Post

I must be doing something wrong. With full 5 bars my phone shows 2.2Mb down and 1.2Mb up. Then I short the gap with a METAL COIN! In 5 min the bars drop to 4. But it sill shows about 2Mb down and 1 Mb up.

As far a "lousy" phone - the phone clarity and connectivity is much better than my previous 3G.

Network data rates (2.2Mb) are not linked directly with signal strength. You should start receiving too many erroneous packets, which can not be handled by error correction algorithm, to see noticeable data slow down. 5 bars indicate the signal strength, which is much better, than a threshold of guaranteed reception.

We mean Apple no harm.

People are lovers, basically. -- Engadget livebloggers at the iPad mini event.

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We mean Apple no harm.

People are lovers, basically. -- Engadget livebloggers at the iPad mini event.

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post #17 of 376
Hats off to AppleInsider for this forum post and thread. Both reports from these independents describe my problems exactly since I unboxed my beloved iP4 1 week ago.

iJobz cannot keep insulting us with his denial and useless rhetoric forever!

Fix this freaking problem!
post #18 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Reception issues with Apple's recently released iPhone 4 have gone under the microscope, with two new in-depth reports testing a variety of methods on how to hold the phone, and the effects those positions have on signal.

Anandtech: Antenna is improved, but bumper is needed

So there you go, buy a case for the iPhone 4. Done.

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post #19 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by ivan.rnn01 View Post

Network data rates (2.2Mb) are not linked directly with signal strength. You should start receiving too many erroneous packets, which can not be handled by error correction algorithm, to see noticeable data slow down. 5 bars indicate the signal strength, which is much better, than a threshold of guaranteed reception.

I guess, you missed the part where I intentionally dead short it with a metal coin and still don't have a substantial drop in the connectivity. So, all the theories of 'shorting' the gap with skin don't hold water.
post #20 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleStud View Post

Dick Gaywood?

Depending on your views of homosexuality, I would say that is a better name than Microsoft.
post #21 of 376
So, assuming the idea proposed that if you could "coat" the metal band in something, like thin skin of plastic or laquer, perhaps Apple could somehow implement this into thier current production so that phone on the assembly line can be called back, have the metal bars coated and placed back on the line without a hitch?

Sound like a pretty simple solution to me, I hope Apple read these articles!
post #22 of 376
Perhaps those that have an iPhone 4 could help assist in identifying the source of the issue by providing some basic, anecdotal, non-scientific, attitudinal information. But possibly consoling for some no matter what side of the fence they are on.

Certainly it could help to determine whether it is an idiosyncratic reaction, e.g., as in medicine, a adverse reaction to a medication of 1/10,000, to wide spread across the 5 countries in which the iPhone 4 is currently available.

For example:

Store Purchase
\t

  • Date:
  • Name:
  • \tLocation (City/State/Country):

Pre-Order
\t

  • Date of Confirmation:
  • \tDate Delivered:

Usage
\t

  • Primary Location (City/State/Country):
  • \tSignal Attenuation: 5=Excellent; 4=Very Good; 3=Goof; 2=Fair; 1=Poor; 0=Inoperable

\t\t

  • Cupping Tightly
  • Holding Naturally
  • On an Open Palm
  • Holding Naturally inside Case
  • \t\tComment:

Action
\t

  • Contacted Apple Store Genius
  • \tCalled Apple Support
  • \tSoft Reset
  • \tHard Reset
  • \tiTunes Restore
post #23 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigdaddyp View Post

What has me concerned is that this is going to turn into Apple's Toyota moment.

Reports started to surface that there were problems with Toyota's automobiles.

. . .

Schadenfreude.
Derived from the German words for harm and pleasure, it means the joy we sometimes cannot help but experience when we hear about another's misfortune.

One very big difference is that Toyota took a very long time to address their issue (years?). Apple is being pilloried because it hasn't solved the problem in a week.

Defining the words you use, assuming other readers of this forum are not as literate as you, is presumptuous and demeaning. Use the best word, as you did, and let others decide whether to look it up if they need to.

Otherwise, I agree with your sentiments.
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post #24 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Glockman View Post

iJobz cannot keep insulting us with his denial and useless rhetoric forever!

Fix this freaking problem!

As much as I love Apple (and I own many of their products), I have to admit that I'm baffled at their (Apple's) lack of a real response (so far) and apparent indifference on this issue.
post #25 of 376
Quote:
Dick Gaywood?

wrote "AppleStud"...

Things that make you go "Hmmmm?"
post #26 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plagen View Post

I guess, you missed the part where I intentionally dead short it with a metal coin and still don't have a substantial drop in the connectivity. So, all the theories of 'shorting' the gap with skin don't hold water.

Well that's it folks. Plagen says there isn't a problem! Time to pack it up and move on!
post #27 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob55 View Post

As much as I love Apple (and I own many of their products), I have to admit that I'm baffled at their (Apple's) lack of a real response (so far) and apparent indifference on this issue.

Apple almost never responds unless they have a fix ready.
post #28 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plagen View Post

I guess, you missed the part where I intentionally dead short it with a metal coin and still don't have a substantial drop in the connectivity. So, all the theories of 'shorting' the gap with skin don't hold water.

Shorting it does have an impact, but it depends on where you are among other factors. I personally think it is a total non-issue. Get a case, or coat the metal...done. Apple should offer to coat it for you if you don't have a case and don't want one, but I personally think the new design needs a case for other reasons anyway.
post #29 of 376
OK, I need to point something out no one else has. The Anand article does something else unexpected... it shows how much better the iPhone 3GS is to the Nexus One as a phone. Not bad consisdering the 'consensus' on blogs like Gizmodo and Engadget is the reverse.

Everyone's focusing on Apple because of their success, but if the same amount of scrutiny was put on some of the HTC handsets, iPhone would look a lot less troubled by comparison.

Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others.
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Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others.
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post #30 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plagen View Post

I guess, you missed the part where I intentionally dead short it with a metal coin and still don't have a substantial drop in the connectivity. So, all the theories of 'shorting' the gap with skin don't hold water.

I did not miss anything in your post. It has been already explained thousand times, that in zones of 5 bars reception the loss of connectivity, which you can only achieve by loading the UMTS antenna with either GPS/Bluetooth input circuits or your own body can not influence the integrity of received data.

Care to read more about discussed issues before you post.

We mean Apple no harm.

People are lovers, basically. -- Engadget livebloggers at the iPad mini event.

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We mean Apple no harm.

People are lovers, basically. -- Engadget livebloggers at the iPad mini event.

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post #31 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by John.B View Post

So there you go, buy a case for the iPhone 4. Done.

Yes, that means there isn't a problem that needs to be fixed. And of course, it should be up to the consumer to correct a manufacturing/engineering/design problem.



Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post

How do you explain Anand Shimpi's findings on the Nexus, when you are quoted as saying no other phones exhibit this behaviour?

Just read what he wrote and you will find your own answer.
Quote:
These two pieces of advice conflict because there are two underlying mechanisms at work here that damage the iPhone 4’s ability to receive a signal. The first is the commonplace attenuation that happens when a user holds the phone by the antenna; the second is the iPhone-only effect presumably caused by placing an electrically active antenna on the outside of the case. The attenuation on other cell phone models isn’t changed at all by using a case on them.

For the reading impaired: Some attenuation will occur with all phones, but the size of the differential between holding it naturally in your palm without a case and with a case is unique to the iPhone 4.

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...sometimes it's both
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"My 8th grade math teacher once said: "You can't help it if you're dumb, you are born that way. But stupid is self inflicted."" -Hiro. 

...sometimes it's both
Reply
post #32 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

One very big difference is that Toyota took a very long time to address their issue (years?). Apple is being pilloried because it hasn't solved the problem in a week.

Defining the words you use, assuming other readers of this forum are not as literate as you, is presumptuous and demeaning. Use the best word, as you did, and let others decide whether to look it up if they need to.

Otherwise, I agree with your sentiments.

Perhaps you are correct and I should have not posted the definition. I meant no offense.

I post under the assumption that the majority of people on here are smarter and better informed then I.
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post #33 of 376
Am both surprised and disappointed. And considering I was the 1st to report the problem to Apple tech support last week (on Wednesday before the launch) I am particularly interested in them owning up to it and getting it fixed permanently. I truly believe if they don't it will cast severe doubt on any future versions of our beloved iPhones! Timing is exactly wrong for Jobz to be this arrogant considering all excellent alternatives to his precious cash cow. Hopefully he will see the light soon...I keep refreshing iTunes for an iOS 4.01 update!
post #34 of 376
Looks like the issue might be beyond Apple's current 'engineering team'... http://www.blogcdn.com/www.engadget....-engineers.jpg
"Why iPhone"... Hmmm?
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"Why iPhone"... Hmmm?
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post #35 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

One very big difference is that Toyota took a very long time to address their issue (years?). Apple is being pilloried because it hasn't solved the problem in a week.

Defining the words you use, assuming other readers of this forum are not as literate as you, is presumptuous and demeaning. Use the best word, as you did, and let others decide whether to look it up if they need to.

Otherwise, I agree with your sentiments.

The difference, I think, isn't that Apple hasn't solved it. They are being pilloried because they won't even acknowledge it. Maybe Dick and Anand are wrong and Jobs is right and there is no problem. If, however, there is a problem unique to the design of the iPhone 4, then they deserve to be called on it, if they choose instead to simply deny the problem.

"My 8th grade math teacher once said: "You can't help it if you're dumb, you are born that way. But stupid is self inflicted."" -Hiro. 

...sometimes it's both
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"My 8th grade math teacher once said: "You can't help it if you're dumb, you are born that way. But stupid is self inflicted."" -Hiro. 

...sometimes it's both
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post #36 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Trajectory View Post

Well, it looks like this is a hardware problem that won't be fixed with a software update. I don't think this will end well for Apple considering they plan to ignore the problem completely.

Actually, there's a partial solution in software. Note that the bars are not "mapping" the availability of a signal properly. That's a simple fix.

For the rest, I agree that Apple needs to at least drop the price of the bumpers. At the same time, Apple needs to spread the word that the antenna's improved sensitivity has a price, namely, you have to be careful how you hold it.

BTW, does a "coating" or bumper inhibit signal? If you want to download an app, you'd want the best possible signal. How hard are these "bumpers" to take off and put back on, and do they get "loose" the more you do it?

In other words, this may be a question of "whose ox gets gored", the phone part or the download part....
post #37 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Onhka View Post

Perhaps those that have an iPhone 4 could help assist in identifying the source of the issue by providing some basic, anecdotal, non-scientific information. But possibly consoling for some no matter what side of the fence they are on.

For what it's worth, I pre-ordered on the 1st day and my iPhone 4 shipped on the 24th from China. It arrived yesterday morning (the 29th). Primary location is northern NJ. The overall signal strength where I live and work is good to excellent. I typically hold the phone in my right hand and currently don't have a case or bumper for my phone. I'm currently experiencing minimal or no noticeable attenuation based on the phone's signal strength display. As a result, I haven't felt the need to contact Apple to report a problem. However, it's only been 1 day and I'll see what happens over the coming week(s).
post #38 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris_CA View Post

Apple almost never responds unless they have a fix ready.

Then the fact that they have responded, and said there is no problem, might be worrying.

"My 8th grade math teacher once said: "You can't help it if you're dumb, you are born that way. But stupid is self inflicted."" -Hiro. 

...sometimes it's both
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"My 8th grade math teacher once said: "You can't help it if you're dumb, you are born that way. But stupid is self inflicted."" -Hiro. 

...sometimes it's both
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post #39 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Trajectory View Post

Well, it looks like this is a hardware problem that won't be fixed with a software update. I don't think this will end well for Apple considering they plan to ignore the problem completely.

And what do you consider not ending well? Will the company fall to the bottom of the ocean? Will their stock drop 200 bucks? I think Apple will get past this. They will take their punches, but they'll be fine overall.

The voices of the unhappy will always be louder than those who are satisfied. I get the reception issue from time to time, but it never affects my ability to maintain a call or make one. My co-worker has made fun of the issues Apple is having, but what's funnier is when he tries to replicate the situation on my phone. He tries one way, tries another and tries another way again. At that point, I told him that he is now just trying to force the reception issues instead of using the phone normally as he would.


I know there are serious issues for some, but it comes down to getting what works for you. If the 3GS worked fine and now the i4 fails, you know what to do. If you have to have the i4, then expect some less than optimal issues. Vote with your wallet.

PS: A free bumper would be nice to get to all existing iPhone 4 users and new ones should be $4.99. Too bad they don't fit in the i4 dock when attached.
post #40 of 376
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plagen View Post

I must be doing something wrong. With full 5 bars my phone shows 2.2Mb down and 1.2Mb up. Then I short the gap with a METAL COIN! In 5 min the bars drop to 4. But it sill shows about 2Mb down and 1 Mb up.

As far a "lousy" phone - the phone clarity and connectivity is much better than my previous 3G.

That could simply mean that the iPhone 3GS was a 'lousier' phone...
"Why iPhone"... Hmmm?
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"Why iPhone"... Hmmm?
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