Thursday, September 23, 2010

Apple could alleviate iPhone 4 proximity sensor issues with iOS change

A simple change to iOS could help solve continuing iPhone 4 proximity sensor issues.
(Credit: Apple)
One of the major issues surrounding the iPhone 4 release this summer was the proximity sensor failing during phone calls, resulting in muting, conference calling, and other inadvertent touch input. Despite the promise of relief in the iOS 4.1 update, many users, including myself, are still having proximity sensor issues.
A forum thread on the Apple Support Discussions addresses a functionality of the sleep/wake button (the one on the top of the iPhone) that could help users experiencing proximity sensor problems, if Apple would adjust the code in iOS slightly.

Currently, the sleep/wake button, when pressed during a phone call while using the handset, is the hardware method for hanging up the call. If, however, you are on speaker phone, or have your headphones plugged in, the sleep/wake button locks the screen, allowing you to handle the device without having to worry about inadvertent screen touches.
I think you see where I am going with this.
Should Apple adjust the functionality of the sleep/wake button during normal handset calling to lock the screen? I think it would certainly help users who continue to experience proximity sensor issues. Since I happen to be one of those users, I did an informal survey of some iPhone owners I know to see how many of them use the sleep/wake button to hang up calls.
As I suspected, the most common answer was, "It does that?"
I'm not one to generally question Apple's user interface decisions, but this particular one seems suspect. I understand Apple not wanting to change the functionality to cover an issue that they claim is fixed, but it seems more logical to have that button lock the screen anyway.
As one of my surveyed friends asked, "What if I wanted to transmit a shady drug deal I haphazardly got involved in through a series of coincidental events?" He couldn't. The proximity sensor could fail in his pocket, turn on speaker phone, and the cops listening on the other end would be exposed. And I'd have one less friend.
Personally, being able to lock the screen during a normal handset call would mean I wouldn't have to worry about accidentally hanging up on any of my consulting clients or activating mute while I am trying to catch my mom up on my latest projects.
So, to review, there are two major issues at hand:
  1. The proximity sensor issue on iPhone 4 is still not fixed. If the issue is hardware-related, Apple should be replacing phones with the problem, assuming they've done all they can from a software perspective to alleviate the problems.
  2. If Apple is sure the problem is software-related, the sleep/wake button functionality during handset calling should be adjusted to provide relief for people who have the proximity sensor issue until a suitable, permanent solution is found via an iOS update.
Are you still experiencing proximity sensor issues after the iOS 4.1 update? Should Apple adjust the functionality of the sleep/wake button during handset calls? Let us know your opinions in the comments!

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