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Proximity sensor woes caused by reflective ear canal

Aron Trimble

Following the recent release of iPhone 4 several of you reported an issue with the proximity sensor running amok during your calls. Our poll results were dead even with 50.1% of readers seeing issues and 49.9% having no problems. At the time I considered myself in the all-clear category, but recently that changed. Read on for my story of woe, intrigue, and incredulity.

On Fridays I work from home and sometimes lead conference calls using my personal cell phone. This past Friday I was leading a call via my shiny, new iPhone 4 when suddenly, out of the corner of my right eye, I noticed the screen illuminate. Immediately thereafter the phone call was disconnected (via cheek touch, heretofore hereinafter [Thanks Joe!] referred to as "cheeking"). As a result, all participants in the conference were disconnected, including myself.

Following the requisite support path to Genius Bar satisfaction, I restored my iPhone and again that evening experienced the very same cheeking phenomenon.

Knowing others were having issues with their proximity sensor, I made an appointment at my local Apple Store with one of the esteemed "Geniuses." His name will remain redacted but I swear he stifled a laugh when he told me the cause of the problem. Apparently, the re-location of the proximity sensor in iPhone 4 causes the sensor to be more likely to be triggered by light "bouncing around the ear canal."

I blankly stared at him hoping that he was joking only to find out he was not. My appointed Genius explained that I should try closing the windows because extra ambient light bouncing around my ear will cause the sensor to light up the screen. He said that's all there was to it and sent me on my way.

I find myself incredulous that such an explanation could even be plausible let alone acceptable as IT fodder. I have worked in a similar situation and can understand the occasional straw-grasping that can occur when a solid explanation can't be found.

Honestly, I would have preferred the Genius to tell me he didn't know what the cause was and ask me to come back if it happened again. Mind you, this is the same "Genius" who told me that the melting point of aluminum was 12,000 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit [Thanks John!] and that radiant heat could not be responsible for my malleable MacBook Pro, but I digress.

For now, I will sit on the issue in hopes that it does not occur again. However, the next time cheeking leads to call dropping, I'm going back to the Apple Store and requesting a smarter Genius.

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