Almost a fiasco…

Saturday morning I discovered that my local Apple Store had in stock availability of their new flagship, iPhone X. I wouldn’t usually venture anywhere near a mall two days after Thanksgiving, but the desire for new and shiny tech got the better of me. Stunningly, I arrived five minutes after the mall opened and parked within 20 yards of the door. It seems that their “holiday hours” are poorly advertised and almost no one realized they were opening an hour early. Fine by me.

I was an AT&T cellular customer since back in the mists of time when they were known as Cingular. I was generally a satisfied customer, too – until I moved to Fortress Jeff, which is located in a black hole of their coverage map. I could make and receive calls over wifi, but when wifi was down, my cell was pretty much an expensive paperweight. Unacceptable. With this change of phone, I wanted to make the jump to Verizon, who neighbors promised had at least a bar or two of coverage even the local power and cable is out. It happens more often than you’d imagine out here at the end of the transmission line.

Without going into details, I’ll just say that AT&T, Verizon, and Apple corporate policies all threw up roadblocks to converting from the Apple Upgrade Program under AT&T to the same program under Verizon. The guy I was working with, though, was an absolute bulldog and took the problems first to the floor manager, who was as confounded as we were. The floor manager then elevated the issues through two layers of management “in the back.” Finally they decided there was actually no way to get from Point A to Point B using existing policy and procedures. That’s they point where one of them decided “we’re going to break the rules” to make the sale.

I can’t say for sure if any rules were broken, but if the number of Apple employees standing around looking concerned while they fiddled with various entries on their tablet is any sign, they were certainly doing something unusual. In the end it took six people and almost an hour to make the sale.

It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t seamless, but in the end I walked away with exactly what I wanted. I appreciate that level of tenacity when the easy answer was “we can’t.” I appreciate it even more when I’ve got two bars of service when the wifi’s off. Well done, Apple. It’s a wonderful lesson for other business out there that customer services really, truly doesn’t have to suck.

Why I didn’t upgrade…

The chance to pre-order the iPhone X for delivery on release has come and gone. It’s a fact only remarkable because it was the first time I willingly took a pass on trying to snag the latest miracle from Cupertino on day one. There are a couple of reasons for that – and at least one of them has to do with the phone itself, although Apple is largely to blame for the other reasons as well.

1. $1149 is a tough, tough price point to swallow for someone who remembers $200 cell phones and offers of “free phone with contract.” Sure those were old school dumb phones or “feature” phones of the past, but it’s still a memory fresh enough to trigger thoughts of “what the actual fuck” when it comes time to fork over a grand.

2. My Late 2014 Mac Mini is slowing down under the weight of everything I’m asking it to do as a primary computer and mini-server for the house. It’s going to need replacement sooner or later and that likely means stepping up to the iMac and swallowing another $2400 bill from Apple.

3. My first generation iPad Air, now 4 years old doesn’t quite have a battery problem… yet. It’s still burning through a full charge fast enough that it’s days are numbered. There’s $950 more allocated for tech refresh either this year or next.

4. Pre-ordering is tied to my home address in Maryland… and the state will happily charge me $68.94 for the privilege of ordering a new iPhone and having it shipped to my door. If I’m patient enough to wait until the phone is widely available, I can walk into the Apple Store in Delaware and take delivery and only pay the standard Apple Tax instead of getting hit by Maryland too.

5. AT&T and I have been together for a long time – closing in on 20 years now. The problem with that relationship is that when I’m sitting in my living room I hover somewhere between zero and one bar of service. During the great ice storm of 2017, with my internet connection down I ended up with no cell connection at all… while neighbors running on the Verizon network were still able to call out. Having minimal voice and data coverage at home during an emergency situation is kind of a priority, so it’s likely time for a switch. As an Apple Upgrade Program member there isn’t a clear way for me to change carriers during a pre-order purchase.

So there it is, five distinct and fairly reasonably assessed reasons why I couldn’t bring myself to upgrade right away this time. It’s the right decisions, but I still don’t feel any better about it.

Ten Years of iPhone…

I’d be hard pressed to point out any of the flagship iPhone versions that I haven’t had on my hip at some point over the last ten years. As our friends in California rolled out their latest and greatest this afternoon, I can only sit in awe of their ability of convincing me to part with a large chunks of cash on a near yearly basis. It’s a pretty slick business model if you can get people to go along with it. Based on the numbers that Apple keeps putting up every year, a lot of us agree with them.

Because I was late in getting my hands on the iPhone 7, I’m a few months out of cycle for my regularly scheduled replacement. It means I’ve got some time to ponder the next purchase – which is rarely a good thing when it comes to “need it now” devices.” Then again $1,000+ on something that’s going to live in my pocket, locked in a metal case at the office, hooked on my belt, or repeatedly fall off the dash onto the floorboard, and then be traded in twelve months later maybe it should be more of a thoughtful process. It’s the very definition of a depreciating asset. 

I’m planning on changing carriers (thanks AT&T for sucking so bad while I’m sitting in my own living room) so I’ve also got that mess to figure out. Based on the estimates of availability, there’s going to be plenty of time to sort out those details too.

A big part of me wishes there wasn’t, because as usual, I’d really like for Apple to just shut up and take my money.

Phone behaving badly or: My excuse to go to the Apple Store…

In case anyone has been trying to reach me, I apparently have a phone problem. After getting an irate phone call wondering why I haven’t returned any of a dozen text messages that were sent in my direction, I thought it wise to give my friends at AT&T a call. After a little over an hour on the horn with three levels of tech support they narrowed it down to a) a SIM card issue or b) a hardware issue. Apparently the only thing they know for sure is it’s not an issue with their network. They at least were nice enough to point out that “oh yes, we can see a number of failed texts coming in to your number today… that’s really weird.” Really weird particularly because just as many were making it through the system as well. Sigh.

To make the long story of technical support a little shorter, they wanted me to go over to the local AT&T store this morning and let them fiddle with the SIM for a while. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I don’t actually know where the closest AT&T store actually is. In the event that it’s an actual hardware issue rather than just a SIM thing, I thought it would be a better idea to go ahead and bring my ailing 4S back to the Apple Store from whence it came… Which is fine, because I have an unholy love of the Apple Store… except for the part where it’s Saturday, and at the mall, and it’s going to be full of people. And we all know how I feel about places like that.

If there’s any up side to this, it’s probably that whoever decides to buy my iPhone after I pick up the new model in two weeks will in all likelihood be getting a freshly refurbished replacement model since a swap out is pretty much the standard procedure for my trips to the Genius Bar. Still I wish the old girl had held out for just a another 14 days and saved me the trouble. And if anyone out there has tried to text me in let’s say the last 24 hours and hasn’t gotten a response, yeah, sorry about that. Hopefully by around 1:00 this afternoon we’ll have things resolved… or not. It’d say that odds are 50/50 at best that incoming texts will ever be reliable again, but that’s just the optimist in me coming through.

4S

Some of you are probably expecting a detailed iPhone 4S review. There are plenty of them out there already. Adding one more to the mix doesn’t seem like a great use of time. All I’ll say is that after a weekend of heavy use it’s an absolute winner. I thought I was going to be disappointed that it wasn’t a newly redesigned phone, but what I didn’t expect is that it’s just the shell that’s the same. All the electronic innards are new, improved and seamless. If you’re due for an upgrade or even if you’re not and just want to step up to a best in class piece of work, do yourself a favor and give this thing a test drive. It’s a game changer. Again.

Live blogging the launch…

In the past, I’ve been in the habit of live blogging iStuff launches from the line at the Apple Store at Saaddle Creek. Since a trip to Memphis seemed a bit excessive even by obsessed Apple fanboy standards, I thought I’d change gears a bit this time around. I promise I’ll spare you the details of sitting in the kitchen casting longing looks out the door every time I here a large truck pass by. Today, I’ll focus a little on unboxing and adding a few pics and initial impressions.

If you’re wondering what I’m doing to pass the time, check out the forums at http://www.macrumors.com. They’re always a great time waster. Oh, and laundry. I’m doing that too. Judging from the line the local morning news programs are showing at Towson mall, hanging out here at the house seems like it might have been the best idea. Plus, sitting around in the rain never seems like a good idea.

Without further runup, here’s what we know so far…

– 0611: Package out for delivery from the UPS sorting facility in Newark, Delaware. Delivery address is still wrong on their website. Status: crapshoot.

– 0822: Six cups of coffee down. Dogs snoring. Tapping foot impatiently. Updates and pictures as breaking news happens.

– 1014: Still waiting. Coffee count is 12 cups.

– 1151: Still waiting. Hail the size of marbles and torrential rain. Switched to Coke Zero. If I’d have gotten up early this morning and stood in line I’d be up and running by now. Lesson learned.

– 1224: The mail truck sounds an awful lot like an UPS truck. Sadly, it only brings bills and other junk mail.

– 1336: And still waiting. Next launch I’ll be back in line. With iPhone 4 I was home, activated, synced, and at the Flying Saucer by this point in the day.

– 1428: Still waiting. Last visages of patience evaporating and beginning to seriously ponder the likelihood of finding a phone “in the wild” at a retailer at this late hour of the day.

– 1451: Aaaaaaand there goes the FedEx truck.

– 1523: FedEx truck #2 delivering on my street. Yet no UPS.

– 1544: It’s here. It’s here. It’s here!

– 1616: It’s now the traditional time on iPhone launch day when AT&T chokes.

– 1705: AT&T activated is still hosed. They are allegedly running 2-3 hours behind demand. After 5 years of doing this, one might think they’d have gotten an effing clue.

– 1759: Finally broke through the server jam. iPhone 4S is restoring from backup. We’ve got a pulse.

Feeding addiction…

I got up at 2:45 on Friday morning to order a cell phone that not one living consumer has actually gotten a chance to hold in their grubby little hand yet. Websites ground to a crawl, crashed, reloaded, and then crawled again, but I stuck with it for almost four hours. Some people might call that obsession, but I like to think of it as dedication to the task at hand. Sticking with it was better than the alternative of getting up the following Friday to go stand in line at an Apple Store or AT&T retailer in the hopes of getting one on the first day of release, like I have the other four iterations of the iPhone.

My precious, precious iPhone 4S is, even as I write this, sitting on a pallet somewhere in Eastern China waiting to be loaded onto a Fedex jet and flown to Alaska to clear Customs, then on to the Memphis hub for sorting, and then into Philadelphia for local routing. Not that I’ve looked into how this usually works or anything. Assuming there are no hiccups with Fedex getting from there to here, I should have my shiny new bauble delivered right to my door around noon next Friday. From manufacturing plant to consumer on the other side of the world in a week and all synchronized to happen the fay the item is first available in stores. You’ve got to admit that’s pretty slick. Who says international commerce doesn’t work?

Maybe it’s just one more addiction I’ve gotten myself into. Fortunately it’s mostly harmless to everyone else and doesn’t leave that hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach the same way putting $500 on red tends to do. So yeah, after 16 months of waiting for the next great thing, I’m just a few days from getting a fix to carry me through another year. Then I’ll be after the next big thing. When you’re feeding addiction, that’s just the way it goes.

Taking a test drive…

I promised an unboxing, but was a little too quick getting things unwrapped to keep much of a record. For the moment you’ll have to be satisfied with riding along as I take the new toy out for a test drive. The first thing you notice out of the box is just how good it feels in the hand. The tapered edges are much more comfortable than the vertical edges on version one. It’s definitely a slimmer form factor. I didn’t expect it to be as noticeable as it is, but it makes quite a difference.

After the mandatory registration with iTunes and really getting a chance to put iPad 2 through it’s paces, I’ve got to say that it handles remarkably well. Web browsing is very, very quick and switching apps doesn’t lag at all. I haven’t thrown too much stress at it yet, but I’m expecting great things based on first impressions.

For an afternoon launch, the line wasn’t bad – assuming you got there early enough. I ended up waiting just over three hours from getting in line to walking out of the store… Which brings up the only negative experience of the day. Stockage of the 18 different versions was a bit of an issue. By the time I made it into the store, the AT&T 16 and 32 GB models in black and white were sold out, leaving the only AT&T option as the 64GB version. Since the card I got while in line guaranteed only an AT&T enabled version, it was either hand over an extra $200 and take delivery of four times more storage than I planned on or walk out empty handed. Since I had an AT&T card, I couldn’t just switch off to one of the Verizon versions that were still in stock. This is an issue Apple could have prevented if they would have taken online reservations as they have for previous product launches. Of course it’s not necessarily in Apple’s interest to do that. I forked over an extra $200. I wonder how many others did too. I can’t image many who sat in line for hours were going to be thwarted by another two bills. Now if I were one of the people who was still several hundred people deep in the line when I left, I might be feeling a little different about how things turned out.

All things being equal, I’m well pleased. There are still plenty of things I need to put through their paces, but I’m pretty sure our friends from Cupertino hit another home run.

Hands on…

The first thing I thought when iPhone 4 came out of the box was how elegant the design was compared to the previous three iPhones. In keeping with most of Apple’s other products, excluding iPad, the new iPhone fits right into the same industrial design family. I mean it. This thing looks so good that even I don’t want to run out and put a case on it… and I’ve got serious paranoia about unnecessary phone nudity. Design features aside, it feels like a remarkably sturdy build in your hand, if a touch heavier than you think it would be. No complaints at all about design or build quality. Overall, iPhone 4 feels and looks like a very solid product.

iPhone users have gotten use to the fact that we sacrifice battery life to get alot of functionality. While it isn’t an epic improvement, I’ve been rather impressed with battery life so far. After five hours of heavy use – and I mean non-stop switching apps, moving things into folders, setting up several email accounts, and basically poking every button I could find – the phone is at 53%. That’s pretty respectable considering even with iPad doing some of the heavy lifting this morning, my was under 35 % after five hours of moderate use. Not ground breaking, but a definite incremental improvement.

I should have probably led off with this, but the screen is probably something that needs to be seen to be believed. It is smooth as silk and renders graphics beautifully. Colors are deep and rich and it seems you can zoom in basically forever on text and not lose fidelity. Truly the display might be the big “wow” for this phone. likewise, the new processor and increased memory make iPhone 4 very responsive to inputs. So far today I haven’t seen any hang ups or lag at all. Add that with the upgraded camera and it’s a real win. I’ve taken pictures with the phone today that are getting dangerously close to the quality taken by my actual camera.

Finally, there’s the upgraded OS that deserves alot of the credit for making iPhone 4 what it is. iOS4 delivers alot of the features that users have been waiting for – folders, basic multitasking, unified inbox (I’m still waiting on personalized notification sounds, Apple), and a laundry list of other small improvements. I should probably spend alot more time talking about the OS, but, and I hate to say this, “it just works” so I haven’t really spent all that much time thinking about it.

Ironically, I have spent no actual time using my new iPhone 4 as an actual phone (unless you count texting as a phone function). Honestly, I don’t use the phone that much, though I understand there have been some marginal improvements in call quality. Likewise, I haven’t used the front facing camera yet other than to switch it on long enough to determine that there was, indeed, a front facing camera. There are a host of other features I either haven’t found, don’t feel like commenting on, or are basically just “settings” type changes. You can be sure there will be plenty more comments as I spend the next few days living with the phone and getting a better feel for its personality.

For me, the bottom line: My name is Jeff and I endorse this product. If my personal seal of approval isn’t good enough for you and you’re still on the fence about iPhone 4, take a trip to AT&T (God help you) or your local Apple store in a few weeks and see one in person before you rule it out. I think you’ll be pleased. I know I am.