Apple's iPhone 4 antenna issue might have been identified as far back as two years ago if a scoop is accurate. An internal bug report for the signal drop was allegedly filed in 2008, well in advance of when the phone shipped. The "informed" source of John Gruber's didn't say how the issue was treated or whether it was known it would be a long-term issue, but its existence implies advanced knowledge that an external antenna might have been an issue.
The early mention of the bug would have come significantly before the hiring of Mark Papermaster, who is rumored to have been fired for the issue. It would absolve him of having asked for the design but would potentially fault him for having done little to mitigate its effects between the very early stages and production two years later. Papermaster when he was hired to Apple was best known for his work on POWER processors at IBM.
Problems with the antenna haven't done any meaningful damage to Apple's iPhone 4 sales, which continue to be very brisk, but it's suspected the company may be engaged in a minor hardware redesign to improve antenna performance without having to change the looks. It could be ready by or before the launch of a CDMA iPhone rumored for January.
Apple hasn't had an opportunity to comment on the claims.