June 30, 2007

My Miserable iPhone Experience, Part 2

Filed under: Apple, iPhone, Technology — Tom @ 11:17 pm

Yesterday, I did what a lot of people did — I stood in line to buy an iPhone. Here’s my bittersweet tale of the last 24 hours, and the story of why I may be taking my iPhone back. In Part 1, I talked about some of my purchasing experience and activation woes.

Using the iPhone

I’m happy with the iPhone and, like many others, feel that it lives up to most of its hype. I’ve found some things I love and a couple quirks that bug me.

Great Stuff

  1. The iPhone has some built-in rings that are really, really nice. I think people are driven to annoying ringtones because the included rings are so obnoxious themselves. I’m using the Xylophone ring — if, for some reason, I can’t have my phone on silent, I don’t think it’ll bother anyone.
  2. Despite the hand model scandal, the iPhone seems smaller than I expected. And it feels great. I think this is because the device is so slim — my Sony Ericsson P910i has almost exactly the same footprint but is thicker and feels a lot more awkward. The design of the iPhone is just fantastic.
  3. The interface is great. Really great. I’ve found a couple spots where the lack of a traditional menu has left me puzzled about how to get back where I came from, but in general it’s very intuitive and easy to work with.
  4. Most of all, the iPhone pretty much works as advertised. There’s not much I can add to that — people have covered the features and design to death. The keyboard works pretty well; I’m still adapting but think that I’m going to be fine with it. (I’ll note here that I’ve never been a high-speed texter; I’ll leave it to the Crackberry addicts to discuss the finer points of texting on the iPhone.)

Not So Great Stuff

  1. EDGE really is painfully slow. I’m not super let down by this. I’ve been using GPRS with my Sony Ericsson P910i for a long time, so I didn’t have very high expectations. For me, I really find the iPhone to be unusable for Internet functions over the cell network. Mail, YouTube video, general web browsing — it all takes forever. This isn’t a dealbreaker for me. I didn’t expect to scour the web via EDGE. Wi-Fi performance is great and that’s when I’d be checking multiple mail accounts or looking up something on the web. (Although even Wi-Fi seems a bit slower than a normal Wi-Fi device. Maybe it’s just me.) And EDGE will be fine for a quick look at the weather or whatever.
  2. I’ve run into some bugs. While browsing, I’ve been bumped several times to the iPhone’s main menu. And we’re not talking about pushing the boundaries of the web — even when using the built-in Google Maps link, I’ve had my page unexpectedly exit and the main menu appear. I’ve had the same thing happen in Mail while rendering messages with some large inline images. The phone’s even locked up once while rendering an image-heavy e-mail and I had to force it to restart. This is pretty disappointing, given some of Steve’s comments about how other phones lock up. Hopefully we’ll see a software update that addresses this stuff.
  3. Apple placed a convenient silent mode switch right on the side of the iPhone. But in a decision I don’t understand, “silent” isn’t totally silent. I was at a restaurant and the waitress asked some questions about the iPhone. I was showing her the interface and how videos play and Ask a Ninja starting blaring out of the speaker of my “silenced” phone. Be forewarned — “silent” doesn’t appear to include any of the iPhone’s iPod functions.
  4. The Podcasts item on the iPod is really for audio podcasts. Video podcasts show up in the podcasts list but playing them just gives you audio. To view the podcast, you need to go to Video where they’re lumped in with all other video content.
  5. Holding the iPhone

  6. Multitouch isn’t always multitouch. Multitouch really works only in the specific examples that have been demonstrated — zooming in and out of photos, web pages or mail messages. When selecting something from a list or pressing a button, the iPhone only reacts to a single input. This isn’t a big deal; I’m not even sure what I expected here. I was just a bit surprised when I was scrolling through my contacts list (oh, that beautiful scrolling), placed my right thumb on the screen to stop the list, then tried to select the contact I wanted with my left index finger. That won’t work. Check out the photo at right. Even though my thumb isn’t over anything that could be selected, it’ll keep the iPhone from registering a touch with another finger. This has only been a problem because so much of the iPhone is screen — it limits how you can hold the iPhone while navigating.

I think that overall Apple’s done a great job with the iPhone. I don’t think any of these are more than minor quibbles; some will say that they can’t live without 3G and I’d agree that leaving it out is the iPhone’s biggest deficiency.

Porting My Phone Number

But wait! I’ve been playing with the phone but still haven’t dealt with my phone number. Here’s where the real disappointment comes in.

As I said in Part 1, I’ve been using my Chicago number here in Portland for over a year on T-Mobile. Before that, I’d used my AT&T Wireless number from metro DC in Chicago. So I called AT&T Customer Care and explained my situation. “I want to move over both numbers from my T-Mobile family plan to an AT&T iPhone family plan. Right now I have one iPhone that I just activated with a new number because I couldn’t move both numbers using iTunes activation.”

No, she said, you can’t do that online. You should have activated the additional line at the store.

But they weren’t doing any activation at the store. They told me I could do it all at home, and then I couldn’t, so I’m calling you.

Well, where is the second number going? You have to buy another phone and get a SIM card.

I have plenty of phones. I know I need a SIM card. Can we do the transfer and you can send me a SIM card?

She says I need a SIM card for the transfer. She asks what numbers I’m transferring and I give them to her. Your area code is in Illinois, she says.

I felt we were making progress. We had found something that we both agreed with 100%. My phone number definitely had an Illinois area code.

You’re in Oregon, she says.

Yes! Exactly! Now we’re really getting somewhere.

Well, you can’t do that, she tells me. That won’t work. You’re not in the same region.

But my phone works fine here. Everyone’s told me this won’t be a problem. Area codes seem kind of quaint — my phone rings no matter where I am. Everyone has this number!

I really don’t think we can do that. Let me see what we can do. Do you have an Illinois address? Maybe we can use that.

Now I do still have an address in Illinois. We could try that if necessary. But this all seems to be so ridiculous. And everyone has this number!

Eventually she comes back and gives me the bad news. They could probably port my number over but eventually AT&T would deactivate my account; it would be flagged because more than half my activity would be coming from “out of region.”

Out of region? What the hell’s that? My phone says I’m on an AT&T network. Isn’t it all AT&T?

Apparently it’s not all AT&T. She explains that there are five regions and a midwest phone number can’t be used for a western account. If I’m permanently in Oregon, I have to get a new number.

But how can this matter? What about people who travel all the time — when I was on the road, almost all my activity was business and took place when I was far from my home region. What does AT&T do to them?

I want to believe that some archaic regulations associated with wired telecom cause things like this. But since this isn’t based on state boundaries, I thinking that’s not the problem. “Regions” sound suspiciously like crappy corporate bureaucracy — we’ve got an org chart in place and we certainly can’t have somebody using a phone number that falls under Jack when the guy lives in an area that’s controlled by Bob.

So AT&T wants me to drop the number I’ve had for five years, that I’ve given to tons of friends, colleagues and clients. I’ve certainly had old clients call up after several years and need some help; they’ve been able to reach me because my mobile number is my number. The idea that it needs to change because I’m in a different location — well, does AT&T even understand what the “mobile” part of mobile phone means?

I’m going to call AT&T again on Monday and see if I can get someone else who can help me out. If they can’t, I need to decide the hassle factor associated with changing my number; I may have to return the iPhone and stick with T-Mobile.

Man, AT&T sucks.

UPDATE: AppleInsider seems to have the workaround for out of region number porting — spoof the porting system with your old address. I think I’ll try this on Monday with Customer Care.

So what about the rep’s ominous warning of deactivation? I didn’t have a problem with this “out of region” usage on AT&T 5 years ago — has anyone experienced this on Cingular? And I imagine that the people moving to a new state and keeping their old mobile numbers are legion. So is this an AT&T Customer Care bogeyman?

Not that my hassles are over. Part 3


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