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Tour inside Apple's wireless labs reveal elaborate tests

updated 12:45 am EDT, Sat July 17, 2010

Apple gives tour to disprove test accusations

Apple after its iPhone 4 antenna talk gave a tour of the wireless signal testing labs mentioned at the event. The facility is large and uncharacteristically spartan but houses the 17 anechoic chambers Apple uses to test its wireless devices in controlled conditions. It also has separate test equipment and, at the time the press visited, tables unreleased products covered in black cloth.

The chambers themselves are a progression from purely synthetic tests to those involving direct human input, Engadget said in its interpretation. All of them have varying levels of foam pyramids to prevent signals and sounds from escaping the chamber, but the first chamber -- a "beak" -- holds a device in isolation to see how it behaves without any human involvement. Another test adds moving panels and a cellular transmitter. Human-like testing comes with plastic, water-filled heads, hands and feet, which are used to simulate the interference that naturally comes from the human body.

One of the most noteworthy chambers, nicknamed the Stargate for its ring-shaped signal detector, involves a real human at the center of the ring who can use a device in a more realistic way and use the detectors to gauge if a signal has been blocked. For the field, Apple uses vans with both the plastic limbs and engineers to test real-world conditions without requiring cases, partly dismissing the notions that the use of disguising cases prevented Apple from knowing there was a problem.

The company went out of its way during the cycle to show how it went beyond requirements to test certain items. The plastic feet were custom-made and have been used to test the Nike+ transmitter. Apple also uses CT scanners to identify problems without altering the contents of a product. It further tests products for wireless performance even after they're completed: a current-generation iPad was in the "beak," as an example. Such testing helps identify the effects of firmware changes or units that were returned as defective.

Apple's tour was meant to help offset concerns that its testing wasn't adequate to identifying or solving wireless issues and thus proving, in the company's view, that the iPhone 4 was shipped with concern for its output. The tour didn't fully address why Apple allowed a single, easily covered point of contact to hurt the iPhone 4's signal so significantly, but it did show that the company could also address problems that came up, as it said it has in the three weeks since the iPhone 4 launched.

The "beak" test with an iPhone 4 in isolation

The Stargate chamber; each yellow cross is a signal detector

Another, larger anechoic chamber for human testing

by MacNN Staff



  1. Paul Huang

    Joined: Dec 1969


    May those covered items be...

    802.11/n products:

    AirPort Express
    AirPort Extreme
    Time Capsule

    All clad in aluminum. Drop that plastic sealed junk already.

  1. iphonerulez

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I still don't see why pundits are saying that

    Apple released a "flawed" product in the iPhone 4 when return rates don't seem to be very high at all. I would say it is well within acceptable limits. Surely no higher return rates than any other smartphone considering that many units sold. I wish I really knew the actual number of people having issues but if this issue is being covered up by Apple then we'll never really know for sure. Still I don't believe the antenna issue will hurt Apple at all and damage control will barely be a drop in the bucket for Apple's cash reserve.

  1. dvh

    Joined: Dec 1969


    aluminum ?

    Agreed that aluminum might be aesthetically more pleasing but putting an antenna inside an aluminum shielded case is not a good idea. Would kill the range and give people like yourself something else to complain about. And it's not junk. The Airport Extreme is one of the highest rated wireless base stations out there.

  1. Paul Huang

    Joined: Dec 1969


    There is a way to get around the metal thing

    Aesthetics...not. Heat has been a major problem on these devices. They need to be housed inside of a gigantic heat sink.

    I do have all products. The AirPort Extreme is shielded from problems because the power supply is outside. The rest? You know the story.

  1. sibeale1

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Anechoic chambers are used to isolate test objects from external sound. These chambers may be anechoic, but if the goal is to isolate the test object from external electromagnetic radiation, then what is needed is a Faraday cage. Perhaps these cages are also Faraday cages. If not, then I can't understand how they can be used to test iPhone reception.

  1. wrenchy

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Where do the Ooompa Loompa's go??

    Oh that's over at Mountainview, nevermind...

  1. srmoll

    Joined: Dec 1969


    re: Anechoic?

    I Faraday cage works by reflecting back signals from its surface. The chambers you are seeing in this article ARE inside Faraday cages. The Faraday cage without the anechoic cones inside of it would just bounce RF signals around the inside, which would make useful measurements of the performance of a device such as an iPhone difficult, if not impossible. Anechoic chambers are designed to absorb waves, and like sound waves I think you'll find RF waves are equally amenable to being absorbed.

    An RF anechoic chamber looks very much like a sonic one, the cones and baffles have very similar shapes, an RF one the cones are made of a different material. Any anechoic chamber is a spooky place to be, I ran some trials in one several years ago, looking for electromagnetic emissions from some equipment. I found it uncomfortable being in the chamber for more than half and hour or so.

  1. JuanGuapo

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I want that as my wallpaper....the one where the guy is in the middle of that huge room.

  1. coffeetime

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Testing123, testing 123...

    Making a test call to a wormhole that reaches the other side of the galaxy. Yeap, it works. They can hear me.

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