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 Stargate chamber; each yellow cross is a signal detector
Another, larger anechoic chamber for human testing