BlackBerry: Smartphones Sans AntennaGate

blackberry_logo_preferred_colour_180px[1] When I first saw the antenna band completely surrounding the iPhone 4 during Steve Jobs’ initial presentation, I recalled a comment made to me by RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaradis after a RIM Annual General meeting a few years ago. And I should also mention that I personally have a history of dealing with rf and associated antennae during my days working as a physicist in the Magnetic Resonance (“MR”) research and commercial space where all MR spectrometers and imaging systems are embedded with what amounts to enclosed radio stations operating in the FM radio and conventional television channel frequency ranges.

LucasPoll_9800oriPhone4 LucasPoll.GreatAnswer

So I was skeptical about how that iPhone 4 antenna would work from the time of the initial announcement. And when fellow blogger and Twitter aficionado Luca Filigheddu took a poll earlier this week as to whether one would prefer a BlackBerry 9800 (the model that’s heavily speculated but not yet announced) or an iPhone 4 I could not resist the opportunity to  respond as shown above.

Three points:

  • Mike’s comment when he saw me holding a BlackBerry 8700 a few years ago with my hand wrapped around the upper left corner was to the effect that I should avoid having my hand around that area as that is where the rf antennae are located. But it’s pretty easy to hold your BlackBerry while avoiding one corner of the device. Yesterday to check out the “Jobs test” I took up the “death grip” challenge presented by’s Kevin Michaluk and found “if I death grip my Bold 9700 the bars stay no matter what”. Seems like the rf engineering has improved going from the 8700 to 9700.
  • From the rf physics point of view: Mike spent a lot of time at last year’s annual shareholders meeting (2009) talking about how RIM relies on internal basic physics research to assist in the design of BlackBerries, including an extensive discussion about their rf technology research. He is, after all, the energizer around the establishment of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics; while its researchers are free to pursue whatever research they see appropriate this investment is probably not totally altruism when it comes to understanding the physics behind wireless smartphones.
  • In my fifteen years’ experience with Magnetic Resonance instrumentation, perhaps the most frustrating aspect was to get the rf engineering right. You can get there (or we would not have the high quality images we see with today’s MRI studies) but you need to understand the physics behind it and have lots of patience.

After drafting the above commentary yesterday afternoon very late Friday put out a rather strongly worded statement from RIM co-CEO’s Jim Ballsille and Mike Lazaradis:

“Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.” [Author’s bold]

Bottom line: Steve Jobs may be a marketing genius but he ain’t no rf engineer or Ph.D. physicist. It’s all coming out in the iPhone 4. But even his marketing genius is degraded when he endeavors to justify the iPhone 4’s current problem by attempting to demonstrate rf issues with competitor products. “Bumper physics” does not solve the problem; not to ignore the resulting degradation of the overall appearance. It’s time for Apple to do their own antenna research, Steve.

Once iPhone 4 is finally available in Canada I don’t know that I’ll be rushing out for any special upgrade offer Rogers may come up with. And by then, maybe we’ll be seeing some new BlackBerry models, including those that are the subject of speculation.

P.S. –“Sans” – the French expression for “without”.

Full disclosure: Both Kevin Michaluk and I are on Rogers for our wireless carrier which offers a highly reliable 3G/HSPA+ service. Is there also an AT&T infrastructure issue involved here? We’ll only find out when iPhone 4 launches in Canada July 30. For completeness, the author has been the owner of a minuscule number of RIM shares since 1998.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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