TiPb Answers: Verizon iPhone, antennagate, and death-touch vs. death-grip


Does the Verizon iPhone suffer from the same "death-touch" issue as the AT&T/GSM iPhone, the one that led to a month of media frenzy and an Apple "antennagate" press conference?

Not so far. That's the short answer. For the long answer, including an explanation of death-touch vs. death-grip and what, if anything this means for Verizon iPhone users, follow on after the break...


Every mobile phone has an antenna and -- we kid you not -- the design of modern smartphone antennas is as close as it gets to radio black magic. The need to support multiple domestic and international frequencies, often four or five GSM, a couple of CDMA, and sometimes GSM/CDMA hybrids (see our TiPb guide to wireless network terms for what all that means), while at the same time making the casings as thin and light as possible leads to the engineering equivalent of sorcery. They need to be specific lengths to hit the right frequencies and they need to avoid interference. That means interference from other components inside the phone and it means interference from large, water-logged masses like your hand. Hold a phone -- most any phone -- normally and you won't have a problem. Engineers have already figured out how you're likely to hold it and they've designed around just that type of potential interference. However, they can't design around total interference. Enter the death-grip.

If you take your big (or even not-so-big) fleshy, watery hand and wrap it around as much of your phone -- again most any phone -- as possible, you'll likely end up covering enough of the antenna to interfere with reception. If you're in a high signal area, 4 or 5 real bars, you'll likely see your phone drop down to 1, 2, or 3 bars. If you're in a low signal area, especially 1 or 2 bars, you can kill it dead.

I've done this with an iPhone 3GS and a Nexus One, and YouTube is full of videos of people doing the same thing with Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and other phones. (Apple controversially put up videos showing many competing phones being death-gripped). Most phones can be death-gripped. Even the Verizon iPhone 4, apparently.


The death-touch, infamous from the AT&T/GSM iPhone 4 is different in kind. You can death-grip an iPhone 4 -- just like most any phone -- but you can also achieve pretty much the same result with a single well-placed finger. Take that finger and touch it to the black band at the bottom left hand corner of the iPhone 4's stainless steel band -- the point where 2 antennas come close together -- and you can cause something very similar to the death-grip. Again, if you're in a high signal area you probably won't notice anything other than a few bars dropping off. If you're in a low signal area you can literally use it like network pause button. Touch it and the radio connection dies. Remove your finger and the connection starts again.

It's real, it's repeatable, and it's a problem for people in those low signal areas unless they put a case on their iPhone 4 that sufficiently insulates the antennas from bridging. (Apple gave away free bumpers to address the issue.)

Does the Verizon iPhone suffer from death-touch?

So far there's no evidence of the Verizon iPhone suffering from the AT&T/GSM-style death-touch issue that sparked "antennagate". Since it has a different antenna array necessitated by its CDMA radios it's possible death-touch simply isn't a problem for that hardware.

The Verizon iPhone does seem susceptible to death-grip, however, but again (again, really) most phones can be death-gripped. It's the nature of radios.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

TiPb Answers: Verizon iPhone, antennagate, and death-touch vs. death-grip


Verizon has it. I'm replicating the problem on mine and I had Att before. This sucks. Also the wifi is suffering as well when held a certain way. Check out macrumors.com and they have the article.

I can "death hug" every smartphone I have -- iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, Nexus One, Palm Pre, etc. and YouTube has videos of almost everything else, from Samsung to BlackBerry to HTC to Nokia. Re-read the article above.
If you're in a low signal area, a case can help. I could be wrong but I don't see anything new here yet?

It's always funny when the first commenter so obviously didn't actually read the article.

Thank you SO much for writing this! Whoever coined the term "death grip" did a tremendous service to Apple. It let Apple get away with claiming that every phone suffered from the same problem.

no issues with mine here in sunny Sarasota Florida, 4 bars most of the time five here or there and data and wifi is awesome, held it anyway and no bars go down!!!!!

Haters gone hate. Apple is successful and will remain successful and some people dont like that. The end.

Overall I atemtpt and consume my mix of Vitamin C from pills. While I'd really prefer to via a excellent meal plan it can be even more hard to at all times.

I'm not on At&t. The issue is now with my verizon iPhone. Not only that but when I read the article over at macrumors.com about wifi being affected too, I replicated just that and it's doing it too,...ON WIFI!!! Signal fluctuates. What deploying does that...on Wifi?

I read the article. I just thought I would post a comment on what was going on with verizons iPhone since so many (as myself) thought it was due to the network.

I saw a video on technobuffalo that shows the VZW iPhone does have the same issue as the GSM (AT&T) iPhone the difference VZW is a bigger network and there are fare less people who have the phone now
and with my AT&T iPhone I can push as hard as I can an the "bares" go down then back up but never have I dropped a call except when I go to the schools basement were nothing works because I belve they are blocking the networks because when class was over networking again. If only this was illegal. that is my rant

there are no issues. mine works perfectly fine. haters are tying to spread false rumors.

Correction: YOU have no issues with YOUR iPhone. It is the height of ignorance and narrowmindedness to think just because you experience no problems with your iPhone that others don't as well. As Rene said to another poster, "Reread the article" before you post asinine comments that reflect your extreme ignorance.

Speaking of arrogance and narrow mindedness... anyone with half a lick of intelligence in regard to radio signal propagation will know that doing as was done in this video - holding the phone in such a way as to block the antenna - will attenuate the signal. On each and every phone.

kcikiat5 on August 30, 2011 I luv my beautiful shiny long flowy black hair nn its my most beautiful asset nn (bit egotistic?? <3)

Wow. Rene wrote this without any spin or fanboyism. Nice!
Anyways, my two cents: GSM iPhone 4 on AT&T has perhaps the best antenna I've ever encountered. In my basement, where most phones get no signal, my iPhone 4 can pull down 2 Mbps. It's about 3.5 Mbps anywhere with decent signal or 5 if good signal.
(Enter death touch) But if I stick my finger even partially on that black band, everything dies. It sucks that a case is absolutely necessary and thus the raw beauty of this phone has to be masked.
Anyways, my only wish for iPhone 5: remove the death touch "feature," which although handy to get off the phone with someone you don't want to talk to with a legitimate excuse, is a true nuisance.

Yeah death touch definitely was annoying with my iPhone 4, but thanks to a free bumper from TIPB I haven't had to worry about that (or dropping it) for a while.

You have creoevd many curious points in this posting. I found this article by using Google and I have to admit that I already subscribed to your blog site, it is extremely great

Why anything has an uninsulated microwave antenna is the real question. In my Nextel days it said specifically if the antenna insulation is damaged, don't touch the bare antenna or that could be bad for you. There's enough uncertainty about the long-term effects of cell phone microwaves that they should have insulated it. Then there would also have been no shorting of the antennas.

Actually (follow-up) there's no way I'd ever hold a naked iPhone4 in my hand again without a case, I don't want a bare microwave emitter touching my skin. That can't be good for anything.

Epic I found this site on Ask lnikoog for something completely unrelated, now I'm going to have to go back and go the archives XD So long my free time today, but this was a awesome find

that the study is not an inoicatidn of real world performance. it is quiet, doesn't kill birds and is more efficientt that's not so terrible. BTW, where's your design?

The same thing happened when the iPhone 4 came out for AT&T. And people blamed AT&T. Some people had it some people did not. I myself do not on my AT&T iphone 4. I said it then I'll say it now. If you cover any cellphones antenna it will lose signal. All cell phones do this. Also who in the hell holds there phone like a baseball? If you don't want an iPhone 4 don't buy it. If you bought one and you don't like it bring it back. <<< remember this song.

I have seen people on the net so far doing the death grip thing with Verizon iphone. My experience is good I tried so hard to make the bars go down but nothing. So in my experience it works fine and my bars are full most of the time.

It's only an issue if you want it to be. If you TRY to make it happen it will. Let's get over this topic already!! Great job TiPb. And by the way, no issues with my AT&T iPhone 3GS/4 nor the hubby's VZW iPhone 4... unless we squeeze them to death!! ;)

Yeap we can make use of olinffe media to gain more exposures to our blog / site / product. If it can bring more $$$, why not ? give it a shot

i serattd blogging as a teen with no hope of marriage or even a lay.Now I'm 25 married and still blogging just not making money, like a certain cow i know

Hello, Neat post. There's an issue with your site in web explorer, could check this? IE still is the market leader and a good portion of folks will pass over your excellent writing due to this problem.