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(Image courtesy of Ars Technica)
It was a rare moment on Monday, as technology failed Apple CEO Steve Jobs during his WWDC 2010 keynote. While trying to show a demo of The New York Times website on both an iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 to demonstrate the company’s new Retina Display, the Wi-Fi choked and forced Jobs to move onto the next thing on his list. But could it have been the fault of the iPhone 4’s own drivers?
To their credit, Apple left most of the whole ugly incident for all to see on their keynote video posted Monday night (save for the heckler in the audience suggesting they use Verizon), where Jobs announced that 570 different Wi-Fi networks were running at once among the 5,000 attendees -- most of them thanks to the MiFi personal hotspot device sold by both Verizon Wireless and Sprint.
However, Ars Technica has an interesting study of Monday’s mishap and has concluded that the use of all those Mi-Fi devices may have only been part of the problem. After examining video from the event with the help of two veteran “Wi-Fi gurus,” Ars Technica seems to feel that much of the fault may actually lie with “a flaw in the pre-release iPhone 4 OS.”
“That’s not to say that having hundreds of WiFi base stations doesn't cause trouble,” writes Glenn Fleishmann. “In fact, the iPhone 4's putative driver problem likely arose from the multitude of network signals. But neither the ocean of signals nor the iPhone 4's performance can be looked at entirely in isolation.”
The website’s Wi-Fi veterans would know: Phil Belanger’s name is on the 802.11b specification and he was one of the ones who helped pick the brand name “Wi-Fi” in the first place, and Phil Kearney headed up Apple’s networking group from 2002 through 2008, which included the AirPort products.
"It seems more like there's something funky with the iPhone software,” Belanger noted after seeing the video. Kearney added, "My experience in the wireless space leads me to believe that there may be a bug in the firmware or the driver for the WiFi chip in the iPhone 4." Neither of the men were in attendance at Monday’s keynote.
The conclusion seems to be a potential bug in the iPhone 4 software which manifests itself only when there are a substantial number of wireless networks running at once. However, given that iPad still has unresolved Wi-Fi issues more than two months after its release, it’s unclear as to when and how any such bugs might be addressed.
As usual, the Ars Technica piece is extensive and highly detailed; it’s a great read in full for anyone concerned about the ever-increasing use of Wi-Fi in our daily lives.