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iPhone Trouble Speculation

Despite releasing ROM update 2.0.1, Apple has yet to identify what the actual problem(s) are…

Chris Gavula and I have been beating this issue up over the 2 weeks since the release of the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 2.0 firmware. Both of us are Windows Mobile veterans of many years, and have bumped into problems like those that iPhone 3G users have been experiencing, before.

This morning, both of us are goggling it up, trying to get the skinny on who manufactured the iPhone 3G. What we’ve found is that MANY different companies made all of the different components.  However, like the original iPhone, FoxConn (Han Hai), out of Taipei is the assembler.  What neither of us have been able to nail down, though, is who made the 3G radio, and who wrote the radio ROM.

After using HTC devices  over the years (they made many of the original iPAQ’s, like the 38/39/5000 series, the Treo 600/650 and 700/755, as well as all of imate’s devices until they went solo), I’ve come to expect radio issues from my Windows Mobile devices, especially when it comes to 3G here in the US.  Issues with 3G/2G signal switching on a 3G/2G border, tower handoffs and excessive dropped calls are all symptoms of a buggy radio stack, and can also lead to POOR battery life. (Honestly, I can run through a battery cycle on my iPhone in under 2 hours (i.e. the train commute home) and be doing NOTHING more than just reading an eBook.)

For example, did you know that a device’s radio stack controls ALL communication on a mobile device?  Items like the GPS receiver, WiFi radio, Bluetooth radio as well as the cell radio are all controlled by the device’s radio stack.  Did you further know that depending on how well the radio handles communication with external devices, including cell towers, GPS satellites, access points and routers, and other COM devices (like BT headsets and headphones), that the processor in your device (whether an iPhone, WM device or feature phone) will work harder to correct or compensate for problematic/weak signal?

Many of the problems and issues we’ve been seeing on the iPhone lately, like –

  • Application Crashes
  • Device Instability
  • Dropped Calls
  • Poor Signal Strength
  • Weak GPS signal/Inaccurate GPS fixes

can all be traced back to a poorly written radio stack.  The device WILL try to compensate for these problems and consume additional resources (processor cycles, RAM, etc.) as it tries to stretch to keep communicating with a cell tower, struggles to establish communication with the next cell tower, handle a cell tower handoff, establish/keep/handoff communication with an access point, get a 3D GPS fix, etc.

Do I know anything for certain?  No.  As the title of this post clearly states, this IS pure speculation; but all of my experience with cellular, mobile devices over the past 4-8 years tells me that we may indeed have a (relatively) stable OS in iPhone 2.0, but may be dealing with a poorly written radio stack.

I am also going to FURTHER speculate and say that the radio stack in the iPhone 3G is COMPLETELY new.  With the addition of 3G in the device, the stack was likely rewritten from the ground up instead of built upon the existing EDGE radio stack. How the 3G radio swaps towers and switches between EDGE and 3G (communication modes) would likely necessitate enough revision on the 2G/2.5G radio to warrant a complete rewrite; but again… I’m speculating.

Chris Gavula further pointed out an interesting article on Apple Insider that suggests that a great deal of work is being done on the iPhone’s software. Apple is working on 2 different updates, 2.0.1 and 2.1.  We’ll likely see 2.0.1 fairly quickly, and then see 2.1 (which is reported to include updates to both GPS and Background Push Notification. The feature lets third-party native programs receive data, such as alerts or new messages, without actively running. The feature saves processing power without interrupting some apps that depend on constant access to the Internet). The 2.1 release is rumored to hit the streets sometime in September, though an official announcement has not yet been made.

So, what do you think?  I’d love to hear what other people think may be causing all of the iPhone trouble we’ve been seeing.  Please join in the discussion and let your voice be heard!

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