About me

Monday, November 29, 2010

Maybe I learned a lesson

April last, I gave in and bought an iPhone 3GS. The thought of consolidating so many devices into a single machine intrigued me.

I should have known there was going to be trouble when the clerk told me that it would be between 6 and 36 hours before I could use the phone, and there was nothing that would make that happen faster. There was also no way to undo the sale. Well, except to go to another company.

Towards that evening, the phone started working.

In a couple of days, I needed a better battery. Checking on-line to learn about battery life led me to endless sites that told me the countless ways to extend battery life on an iPhone, and yes, all those suggestions were variations on not using the phone.

I could use up 30% of a full charge just checking the news (in text) while I woke up in the morning, and I soon took to using it as a corded phone as often as possible. That was quite the challenge when I was traveling.

Meanwhile, when I made the purchase, AT&T had announced that MMS (picture messaging) would be available in a couple of weeks. They were a month late, but never offered to refund a portion of the unlimited family texting. The stated problem was the burden that MMS by iPhone would place on the data network. Never mind that every other phone on the network had MMS enabled AND that the iPhone could send pictures by email anyway.

Note that when MMS was finally permitted, the lag on the send was substantial, with the final part of the send, whatever it was, occasionally taking a full minute.

I remain convinced that the MMS decision by AT&T represented an arbitrary act to reduce iPhone functionality without seriously upsetting Apple and its hype-filled ad campaign of snappy features, all apparently on WiFi not 3G.

After about a year, the battery issue was a problem, though not enough to get a battery replacement, much less a phone replacement, and I found an external battery for $80 that doubled as a protective case. A week later, that battery died, and the manager of the RDU store replaced it. The replacement lasted a month, and then died in Rockville with a release of heat that nearly set off the smoke alarm in my hotel room.

So we noodled along nursing this love-hate relationship. Then I spent a week in Manhattan with little or no signal. Repeat that for a week in San Francisco. Then another week in a burb of LA. You know, I certainly understand that I don't have much of a signal when I visit my parents in the edge of the woods back home. Well, no I don't, not really, but so many folks think they live in the boonies, but SoHo is hardly on the edge of the earth, and all I could do for the week was send and receive the very occasional text message. Voice calls required the hotel telephone. Real data exchanges happened in the hotel lobby on the free WiFi. Or at Starbucks.

Then came the fourth version of the iPhone operating system. Think total collapse of functionality. Signal strength going and coming while sitting still. Calls garbled, which is quite the feat given that calls had been nearly unintelligible without the speaker phone engaged. Apps that failed on startup.

Last week, we were working in downtown Atlanta. The iPhone owners suffered, as did all the AT&T subscribers, at least when compared to the Verizon subscribers. Maybe Sherman burned the cell towers also.

So last month, I bought a cheap Go-Phone and moved my SIM (subscriber information module) card to it. (Apple likely chose AT&T as the iPhone carrier because GSM technology is worldwide, which gave Apple an immediate worldwide market with little or no additional development expense. T-Mobile appears to be the only other GSM carrier in the US.) Finally, I had a phone that worked and a battery that lasted.

Last Wednesday, I upgraded the iPhone software to version 4.2 of iOS, hoping the upgrade would address the loss of functionality that appeared with 4.0 and 4.1. It did not, but I thought it had. What was happening was that the iPhone was mishandling data, if it was handling data at all.

By Saturday, the only data transfer that occurred was over the WiFi in my apartment. Moving the SIM card back to the Go-Phone didn't solve the problem.

Neither did calling customer support. At 7:12 PM, the agent asked me to hang up, turn off the Iphone, wait four minutes, and then turn it back on. At that point, he would call me back. He did not.

A subsequent call to the after hours "emergency" number left me with the suggestion to take the phone to the AT&T corporate store for a new SIM card, which I did the next day, Sunday, holding my temper, which seethed as pre-eruption Krakatoa must have, all the while the friendly customer service fellow exercising every technique he had learned to diffuse a situation.

I was not going to be defused, as he soon learned.

After some 30 minutes, I was out of the store with a working Go-Phone and a revised account. AT&T flags iPhone accounts differently from other phones, probably to make it easier to throttle data usage by people like me.

In the parking lot, I placed the iPhone under the rear tire of my car and ran over it. Repeatedly. After that, I beat it to pieces with a hammer. To Apple's credit, the device is physically tough, but not that tough.

I so wanted to shoot it.

Now before you tsk-tsk over the destruction of a valuable piece of hardware, let me point out that brand new iPhone 3GSs are under $100 now. I doubt that an EBay auction would have netted $25 for the one I had. How can Apple get by with such obviously planned obsolescence?


I have a long history of being skeptical in the face of extravagant claims, and the idea of form over function is simply maddening to me. I should have known that the iPhone was going to be one more fine example of form over function, just as I initially found the Mac to be two decades before and the iPad now.

It is right here that I have managed to disappoint my own self.

In the meantime, AT&T stands as a prime example of how to not do business, and I look forward to becoming a member of the class action suit, not to recoup the money I paid to receive no service, but for the simple closure.

However, I'm not likely to be an AT&T subscriber at that point. Which competitor it'll be, I do not know. All the cell carriers have putrid customer satisfaction as documented by Consumer Reports where, astoundingly, AT&T appears to have the (slightly) superior data network. It's just that I have hours of time on the phone with AT&T's customer service with little or nothing to show for it. After some six years, I think it's about time to find another carrier to argue with.


I just received an email from AT&T's customer service. The rep wrote: "Our records confirm that we did attempt to contact you back on 11/27/2010 at approximately 7:20 PM. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach you. At this time a follow up call was scheduled for today, 11/29/2010 before 8:00 PM CT to contact you back about the 3G data coverage problem you reported."

Probably not the aggressive response one might hope for when paying a premium for a service that is unreliable. It's certainly easy to tell when an organization has grown complacent.

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