It's official. iOS 4.1 is "coming soon" for iPhone and iPod Touch users. While the Apple Web site devoted to announcing the update focuses on new bells and whistles, the importance of iOS 4.1 is that it will hopefully resolve the remaining issues that make the iPhone 4 dysfunctional for many.
To be fair, not every iPhone 4 owner is experiencing the proximity sensor issue, just as the antenna death grip issue only impacted a percentage of the iPhone 4s. Unfortunately, Apple couldn't provide a Band-Aid for the proximity sensor problem like it did by offering up free iPhone 4 cases to mitigate the antenna signal issues.
For those iPhone 4 owners who do have problems with the proximity sensor, though, it's enough to make the device completely dysfunctional--at least as a phone. Everyone experiences dropped calls and signal dead zones now and again, but the proximity sensor issue is way worse.
A functional proximity sensor is supposed to detect when the iPhone 4 is engaged on a call and is close to your face. The idea is to disable the touchscreen display so that you don't inadvertently push buttons with your face while you try to talk. Users experiencing this problem get irritating tones when their face pushes the numbers on the dial pad, or accidentally place calls on mute or speakerphone, or unintentionally initiate FaceTime chat, or hang up on the call. The worst is when you accidentally hang up the call you are on and mistakenly dial a new call to some random contact on your iPhone 4.
The iPhone 4 is--first and foremost--a mobile phone. Having each call be a crap shoot based on random luck does not make for effective communications, so users experiencing the proximity sensor issue have been understandably frustrated.
There has been some guidance suggesting that the proximity sensor issue can be resolved by syncing it with iTunes as a new device rather than restoring a previous update. That advice has always seemed suspect to me--sort of like the revelation from Apple that it has been miscalculating signal strength for years. I tried it and it did not resolve the problem on my iPhone 4 or on my wife's, but some readers have e-mailed me to say that this trick has worked for them.
With the release of iOS 4.1 next week, the issues that have plagued the iPhone 4 since launch and made it into a glorified iPod Touch for many users will finally be resolved. Now we can move on to comparing the iPad to the Samsung Galaxy Tab, or speculating about the features and functions of the iPhone 5.