After Jobs wrapped the nearly hour and a half presentation, we were pulled aside by Apple PR and ushered through the center of the Infinite Loop campus -- a new experience for us, since we'd never been deeper than one of the company's small theaters. Once all the attendees had been gathered (folks like Jason Snell from Macworld, Daring Fireball's John Gruber, and a smattering of mainstream journalists from places such as Wired, USA Today and the New York Times), we were led further into the campus (and eventually across a street) into a separate building. After a series of double doors and long, anonymous hallways, we entered a large, warehouse-like lab cluttered with test equipment amid large tables covered in mysterious black cloth (and no, we couldn't look under the cloth). Awaiting us was Phil Schiller, Greg Joswiak, Bob Mansfield, and engineer Ruben Caballero. The latter employee has become a somewhat controversial figure over the last few days, as he was alleged to have known about and communicated concerns over the new antenna design (according to a Bloomberg article which Jobs lambasted as a "crock" during today's press conference). Oh, and there was also an assortment of PR folks, lest the nosey journalists get out of line and require a tasing.
We were shown another chamber opposite the "beak" where an iPhone 4 was jammed into a bizarre styrofoam cube... that was rotating at intervals. Panels in the room were also rotating, while an antenna supported on an arm (this one delivering a cell signal to the device, this being one of the "active" measurements), changed its position periodically. We'd be lying if we didn't tell you we were a little disturbed, it was like a tiny, very clean Saw contraption. According to Phil, what we were looking at was "the most advanced lab for doing RF studies that anyone in the world has."
The third chamber is a bit of a throne room, or the "Stargate" as Ruben claimed they call it at Apple. And it really, really does look like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. Essentially, this room is used to test signal in 360 degrees around a subject holding or using a device. The circular structure which surrounds the chair is dotted with single use antennas -- those little yellow plusses you see -- and all they do is tell the tester whether a signal has been received or not around the loop at that position. We can't stress how incredibly isolated these chambers are. Calling them a dead room would not be an understatement. We've been in some pretty dead rooms before, but these are basically foam coffins. At this chamber one of our group started asking about the length of time standard testing takes, but the Apple crew got a little defensive over the point -- they didn't want to say how long or how much they tested particular products. Even when pressed on a "general" length of time for a nameless product, we couldn't get an answer out of them. The company did tell us that products were run through each individual experiment a minimum of 24 hours, but that says nothing for longer term testing.
Ruben and the crew led us through another hallway and into a separate lab where more interference testing was going on using "heads" and "hands." The heads are made of plastic and filled with a liquid mixture that replicates the contents of... well, your head. The hands are made from a kind of high-test foam rubber -- which Ruben pointed out was not "a standard," meaning not something agencies like the FCC regulate -- and are used to test interference in different positions. In the same room we were also shown the custom, $20,000 "foot" that was used to test the radio in the Nike+. Then we were taken to a workstation where the guts of an iPhone were displayed on two large monitors -- from a CT (computed tomography) scan of the device. Ruben explained that when you're looking for a problem in a device, opening it changes what's happening inside, so Apple installed a CT scanner to look inside without altering the results by opening it.
Finally we made our way outside and got a look inside a heavily instrumented van in which Apple testers hit the streets. The vehicle was outfitted with a number of stations for those "heads" and "hands" we saw, as well as spots for human testers to take devices out into the real world and get results. The point here, as with the entire tour, was to demonstrate that Apple takes testing antennas and wireless communications very seriously -- if, in fact, there was any question.
And we get it -- there have been people out there suggesting that Apple simply didn't test their phone before letting it out into the market. Or that they were so bone-headed that they only tested it in those special cases made for bringing the phone to bars, so of course they didn't see the antenna issue. But let's be honest -- this is a multi-billion dollar company that's been making wireless devices for a long, long time. This isn't their first phone, it's their fourth, and though there have been reception issues with the previous models, nothing suggests that Apple isn't doing its due diligence on these phones. The truth is, we didn't need the tour to understand that, but it's possible some people do.
Update: the lucky folks over at ABC were given special permission to film inside Apple's lab, and here's the video (sorry, US viewers only):
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