The Apple iPhone 4 went off to a flying start in terms of numbers alone, but its stellar performer reputation certainly took quite a lot of hits. First it was the yellow spot issues (which luckily disappeared all by themselves), then it was the new antenna design that backfired spectacularly and now it’s the proximity sensor that’s causing troubles for early adopters.
As you will see in the video below the new proximity sensor fails to do its job very well, allowing the screen to turn on when there IS an object nearby. In practical terms this means that it doesn’t lock the screen every time you are in a call and you might press some of the on-screen buttons with your cheeks.
There are several topics on the Apple’s website forum with users complaining how they kept hanging up by accident. Having experienced similar issues ourselves we decided to check out if there was something wrong with the iPhone 4 proximity sensor. We placed it next to an iPhone 3G on a table (the iPhone 4 is raised by a few millimeters to compensate for its slimmer profile), made them call each other and took a simple mouse pad to cover their proximity sensors and see how they react.
The result is there for everyone to see, the iPhone 4 kept switching on its screen on many occasions when its 3G predecessor remained locked. Check out the video and see for yourselves.
We are hoping it’s just a software imperfection on the Apple side that they will fix soon and not a faulty sensor to blame for this. Those issues may not be a deal breaker but are certainly annoying for anyone using the iPhone 4 for making calls (and we though this was one of its key features, you know). After all when you pay this much for a phone, we do believe that such annoyances should be avoided.
Update: We just did the same test with a couple of iPhone 3G units – one was running on the iOS4, while the other was on iPhone OS 3.1.2. They both performed identically so we can confirm that the problem isn’t in the Apple latest smartphone platform. Obviously the iPhone 4 uses a different proximity sensor, which causes the issues. This is not to say that Apple won’t be able to fix it in software – it’s still possible that a future update will find a workaround to the hardware deficiency. The thing is this is much harder to do than just fix a few variable values in the source code (which would be the case if it was a software issue) so it will probably take more time to figure out.