Inside iOS 11: With 'antennagate' a distant memory, Apple switches back to signal bars

Posted:
in iPhone edited September 2017
In iOS 11, Apple has shifted to four simple bars displaying LTE strength to the user, stepping away from the five dots used in iOS 7 through iOS 10. In doing so, it has also changed the ranges somewhat -- AppleInsider examines the differences.




Editor's note: This examination was originally published in June of 2017, but has been updated and republished to reflect the release version of iOS 11.

The shift found in iOS 11 beta 1 is a minor change from a presentation standpoint, and it has probably been done in part to accommodate the "notch" in the forthcoming iPhone X. However, as part of the shift, Apple appears to have altered the algorithm for representing signal strength to the user somewhat.

Testing the signal strength display

The signal that the iPhone measures when in Field Test mode is measured in decibel-milliwatts (dBm). The unit is a combined one, and is a unit of electrical power in decibels (dB), referenced to 1 milliwatt (mW).

One full milliwatt of power delivered is 0 dBm. The closer the delivered power is to 0 dBm, the stronger the signal -- thus the negative, logarithmic scale on the unit.

Utilizing a walking path that has been previously been used for LTE strength measurement, AppleInsider carried along a pair of iPhone 7 Plus phones, an iPhone SE, and a plastic stool. One iPhone 7 Plus is on iOS 11 and the other two phones are on iOS 10.

iPhone SE used for test omitted to take the picture
iPhone SE used for test omitted to take the picture


For measurements, the phones were placed on a plastic stool, with the observer standing four feet away, eliciting some questions from passers-by. If anybody approached the phones closer than four feet, the 60-second count was re-started to eliminate the possibility of a "meat shield" between a nearby cell tower, and the iPhones.

During the transit, the signal strength as identified by the iPhone SE in Field Test mode was monitored after standing in place for 60 seconds or longer, and compared to the graphical representation on the two iPhones.

Where the dot and bar graphical progression through the dBm scale is mostly linear, the display ranges vary between iOS 10 and iOS 11.

The iOS 10 iPhone gave one dot between -100 and -110 dBm, with -88 to -100 having two, -75 to 88 having three, -60 to -75 having four, and anything better than -60 dBm having a full five bars.

Shifting to the iPhone 7 Plus with iOS 11, one bar was displayed between -90 and -110 dBm, two bars between -75 and -90, three bars between -65 and -75, and the maximum four bars was displayed with signal better than -65 dBm.

Flipping the script, when the iOS 10 iPhone 7 Plus was put in Field Test mode, and the iPhone SE was watched, only about 35 seconds were needed for a signal strength graphical representation change, versus the nearly 60 on the iPhone 7 Plus, but the range remained approximately the same with changes attributable to casing and antenna differences between the models.

Jobs, "Antennagate," and more bars

Following the iPhone 4's launch, critics took to slamming the design, complaining that the number of "bars" displayed on the phone were lower than that of competitors, or as compared to the iPhone 3GS.

Apple initially botched the public relations aspect somewhat, with Apple CEO Steve Jobs implying that people were holding it wrong. Apple took to further obfuscating the "bars" in subsequent iOS revisions, and the ability to compare them phone-to-phone with any accuracy.

"You know, we're not perfect," Jobs said, talking about the claims in 2010. "And phones aren't perfect either. But we want to make all of our users happy. And if you don't know that about Apple, you don't know Apple."

Ultimately, just 0.55 percent of all iPhone 4 customers called AppleCare with an antenna issue. Third-party research found that fewer calls were dropped on the iPhone 4, than the iPhone 3GS.

Unfortunate side-effect of iOS 11

Previous testing that we've done on LTE strength has relied on Field Test mode for precise measurements. In iOS 11, the ability to force the signal strength meter to a numerical rating still appears to be gone since our original testing, complicating further analysis.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 26
    shiyifanshiyifan Posts: 7member
    In the screenshot, the time "12:15pm" is on the right hand side. Interesting.. Is it because the top middle of the screen will be camera and sensors? Is "Essential phone" from Andy Rubin designed the same way?
  • Reply 2 of 26
    sphericspheric Posts: 1,731member
    shiyifan said:
    In the screenshot, the time "12:15pm" is on the right hand side. Interesting.. Is it because the top middle of the screen will be camera and sensors? Is "Essential phone" from Andy Rubin designed the same way?
    No, it's because it's a cropped screenshot from a "plus" sized phone in landscape mode. 
    peterhartrepressthisargonaut
  • Reply 3 of 26
    I really don't like those bars. They start from the edge of the screen and grow in height... doesn't look good to my eyes. What I'd be OK with is having all bars the same height, in order to have a more... consistent UI. What do you think?
    edited June 2017 patchythepiraterepressthis
  • Reply 4 of 26
    robjnrobjn Posts: 203member
    The bars take up a little less space than the dots. If the screen is going around the sides of the camera and earpiece - this change may enable the signal strength, and network info fit neatly to the left of the camera.
    patchythepiraterepressthis
  • Reply 5 of 26
    Circles or Bars... who cares?

    I'd just like to point out, when I put my phone within a few feet of my IPAD it messes with the signal (both cellular).  

    So, testing with 2 cell phones next to each other is probably not a good idea.
  • Reply 6 of 26
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,347administrator
    Circles or Bars... who cares?

    I'd just like to point out, when I put my phone within a few feet of my IPAD it messes with the signal (both cellular).  

    So, testing with 2 cell phones next to each other is probably not a good idea.
    I've tested for this in the past, and haven't seen any issues. Our test lab that we used for the LG 5K RFI testing says that there shouldn't be any interference at all, even if the devices are stacked up.

    You may have a hardware problem...
    edited June 2017 repressthisargonaut
  • Reply 7 of 26
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,812member

    Ultimately, just 0.55 percent of all iPhone 4 customers called AppleCare with an antenna issue. Third-party research found that fewer calls were dropped on the iPhone 4, than the iPhone 3GS.
    Yet “antennagate” remains a frequent whipping boy by the naysayers, just like “bendgate” and all the other “gates” that turned out to be nothing blown up into something. My belief still remains that the Internet magnifies the negative and minimizes the positive. When Apple says “a small number of users” were affected by an issue they mean it, and they should know. The Internet, on the other hand, blows it up into some apocalypse that will doom Apple and no amount of explanations and facts can counter the anonymous bovine excrement that spreads thickly across cyberspace. It’s no different than politics or conspiracy theories really.
    edited June 2017 suddenly newtongilly33jbdragonargonautjony0
  • Reply 8 of 26
    maltzmaltz Posts: 128member

    Unfortunate side-effect of iOS 11

    Previous testing that we've done on LTE strength has relied on Field Test mode for precise measurements. In iOS 11, the ability to force the signal strength meter to a numerical rating appears to be gone, complicating analysis.
    Wait, so now you can't get a numeric dBm AT ALL?!?  FFS Apple, how far will you go out of your way to remove obscure "features" that some people use that are already so far buried that it's not confusing anyone who doesn't already know how to use it?  I much prefer the dBm reading over some inconsistent (from phone to phone) and imprecise bars.
    leighc-sforepressthisargonaut
  • Reply 9 of 26
    suddenly newtonsuddenly newton Posts: 13,740member
    lkrupp said:

    Ultimately, just 0.55 percent of all iPhone 4 customers called AppleCare with an antenna issue. Third-party research found that fewer calls were dropped on the iPhone 4, than the iPhone 3GS.
    Yet “antennagate” remains a frequent whipping boy by the naysayers, just like “bendgate” and all the other “gates” that turned out to be nothing blown up into something. My belief still remains that the Internet magnifies the negative and minimizes the positive. When Apple says “a small number of users” were affected by an issue they mean it, and they should know. The Internet, on the other hand, blows it up into some apocalypse that will doom Apple and no amount of explanations and facts can counter the anonymous bovine excrement that spreads thickly across cyberspace. It’s no different than politics or conspiracy theories really.
    I feel sorry for the 99.45% of iPhone 4 users, including myself, who were satisfied with our purchase. The Internet naysayers were pretty outraged at Apple on our behalf.
    cornchipjbdragonmattinozargonaut
  • Reply 10 of 26
    sunman42sunman42 Posts: 68member
    If we're to believe the Goldman-Sachs report today, it won't matter much, since Apple will be rate limiting the bandwidth if you have a Qualcomm RF chip instead of an Intel one, ,to match the latter's ~ 20% smaller bandwidth.
  • Reply 11 of 26
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,347administrator
    maltz said:

    Unfortunate side-effect of iOS 11

    Previous testing that we've done on LTE strength has relied on Field Test mode for precise measurements. In iOS 11, the ability to force the signal strength meter to a numerical rating appears to be gone, complicating analysis.
    Wait, so now you can't get a numeric dBm AT ALL?!?  FFS Apple, how far will you go out of your way to remove obscure "features" that some people use that are already so far buried that it's not confusing anyone who doesn't already know how to use it?  I much prefer the dBm reading over some inconsistent (from phone to phone) and imprecise bars.
    First of all, +1 for user name.

    Second, its possible they just changed the entry code for the test mode. We're working on it.
    roundaboutnow
  • Reply 12 of 26
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,812member
    sunman42 said:
    If we're to believe the Goldman-Sachs report today, it won't matter much, since Apple will be rate limiting the bandwidth if you have a Qualcomm RF chip instead of an Intel one, ,to match the latter's ~ 20% smaller bandwidth.
    Remember the Samsung vs TSMC processor shit storm with people trying to return their purchase and demanding the “better” processor? Somebody even wrote an app to tell you which one you had in your iPhone. This is what you get when you focus on specs instead of overall performance and user experience.
    jbdragon
  • Reply 13 of 26
    lorin schultzlorin schultz Posts: 2,641member
    Kudos, Mike, for the phrase "meat shield." Love it!
    repressthisjbdragon
  • Reply 14 of 26
    revenantrevenant Posts: 489member
    as this is a developer beta, could it not be changed back to the circles later? I mean, it is probably not set in stone just yet.
  • Reply 15 of 26
    mitumitu Posts: 1member
    You guys don't realize that they changed it to bars because of the rounded edge of iPhone 8 screen. It should be a farther clue that apple will have the screen take up the entirety of the front.
    colinng
  • Reply 16 of 26
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 2,041member
    I had my iPhone 4 for over 4 years before upgrading to the iPhone 6 which I'm on my 3rd year with.  I never had any antenna issues with that 4.  I'm also left handed which was supposedly worse because if the palm of the hand making the jump.  Yet zero issue.  I never had that phone ibn a case.  It only had a pink Floyd sticker on the back.  I sold that phone off to T-Mobile for $202.  Pretty good for a 32 gig, 4+ year old phone!!! 
  • Reply 17 of 26
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 3,485member
    Circles or Bars... who cares?

    I'd just like to point out, when I put my phone within a few feet of my IPAD it messes with the signal (both cellular).  

    So, testing with 2 cell phones next to each other is probably not a good idea.
    I've tested for this in the past, and haven't seen any issues. Our test lab that we used for the LG 5K RFI testing says that there shouldn't be any interference at all, even if the devices are stacked up.

    You may have a hardware problem...
    Can the cell tower design be a factor here?

    I've heard about phones in close proximity causing reception issues due to beam forming interference as the towers try to get the signal to the phones. I think recent antenna array designs have tried to deal with the problem. This isn't my field though so I could be entirely mistaken.
    edited June 2017
  • Reply 18 of 26
    maclvr03maclvr03 Posts: 188member
    shiyifan said:
    In the screenshot, the time "12:15pm" is on the right hand side. Interesting.. Is it because the top middle of the screen will be camera and sensors? Is "Essential phone" from Andy Rubin designed the same way?
    I would like if they would put the temperature on the top somewhere or even have the Weather icon "live" and show it there, that would be cool I think.
    tallest skilargonaut
  • Reply 19 of 26
    lorin schultzlorin schultz Posts: 2,641member
    maclvr03 said:
    shiyifan said:
    In the screenshot, the time "12:15pm" is on the right hand side. Interesting.. Is it because the top middle of the screen will be camera and sensors? Is "Essential phone" from Andy Rubin designed the same way?
    I would like if they would put the temperature on the top somewhere or even have the Weather icon "live" and show it there, that would be cool I think.
    You think that would be cool? Or warm?

    Sorry,

    Seriously though, I also thought it would be handy to have a live icon for weather, but since I spend most of my time indoors it would really only be useful a couple times a day. I'm not sure it would be worth the battery consumption to have it constantly updating in the background.
  • Reply 20 of 26
    I know this is slightly off-topic, anyone here can explain why my iphone (AT&T service) gets ok connectivity (kinda works) when it shows 1 dot for LTE, but if it shows 5 dots for 4G its practically useless?
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