My First and Lost Weekend with iPhone

Here’s an update: my iPhone is now working after a rather tortuous weekend in which I was barely able to use it for anything. It wasn’t until Sunday night that my account was activated, allowing me to actually use the features on the phone at all. But even then, the telephone coverage wasn’t working (it was able to access Wi-Fi networks, though), and only this morning was I able to place a phone call with it. All told, that was some sixty hours or so after I originally bought it. Nicely done, Team AT&T, nicely done.

There’s so much iPhone coverage out there that I fear I won’t be able to add much of a unique perspective here, at least not today. I’m compiling a list of review points in my head, but here are my immediate take-aways.

Things to Complain About

First, the battery life is rather fleeting, at least if you choose to use any of its audio, video or Wi-Fi network capabilities. I was down to less than half a charge after only seemingly moderate usage this morning. Tomorrow I plan to use the iPhone as I would have used my Treo smart phone — which is to say primarily for phone calls, text messaging and some light email traffic, — to see if it performs any better.

Second, the typing is an exercise in frustration. But I suspect that I’m actually getting better at it fairly quickly. I noticed this evening that my typing is much more confident and accurate than even compared to this morning. I’m pretty sure I’m not nearly as fast on it as I was on my Treo, but I’ll get back to you after a few more days’ usage to report on any progress I’ve made.

Finally, I was reminded this weekend how truly unfriendly and often less than competent are America’s wireless carriers. I originally started out by blaming Verizon Wireless, but in the end all they were really guilty of was threatening me with a defiantly mendacious early termination fee: with only two weeks left on a two-year contract, they still insist on charging me US$175 for canceling my service. Naked and ugly.

As for AT&T… could they really have under-estimated the demand for this product? Call centers were flooded all weekend, and I spent hours on hold only to reach representatives who were unable to help me with my situation, many of them providing inconsistent reasons why. That was frustrating enough, but I think what angered me the most was that so many of them had no apparent familiarity with how the iPhone set-up process worked. Actually, maybe the worst thing is that, with all the money they made over the weekend on new customers, they don’t really have to even care how poor their performance was.

How to Think Positive

I bet a lot of new iPhone owners are, like me, just feeling very weary today after this past weekend. AT&T publicly estimates that only two percent of new customers experienced problems like those that I did. Leaving aside that that still accounts for thousands of real people whose weekends were shot, just dealing with the iPhone itself — with the strange and sometimes confounding design decisions that Apple made (e.g., no click-and-drag selection of strings of text, no copying or pasting, no apparent way to SMS an email account) — leaves me a little less than enthusiastic right now. I’m not saying I’m pessimistic, exactly, I’m just saying that in order to give a fairer assessment of whether this phone has warranted even a fraction of its advanced billing, I need to work up some energy to put this mess of a first weekend behind me.

  1. It seems like battery life isn’t consistent across all phones. I’ve been using my phone all day — I placed four calls, listened to about 2.5 hours of music, and did a few minutes of surfing. I’m at about 65% charge at 8:00 PM (which is pretty low, considering I fully charged it overnight). But two other people in the office have reported far faster battery drain. One was completely dead by about 4pm, with a full charge the night before — that’s completely unacceptable.

    Also, the *entire* EDGE network was down for quite a few hours today.

    As far as the keyboard is concerned – I’m getting better as time goes on. You make a ton of mistakes, but if you just plough through the words they tend to correct themselves automagically. If they allowed SMS and emails to be composed in landscape mode like they allow in the Safari app, it would be much easier to type accurately.

    The honeymoon is wearing off — the flaws are starting to show. But I’m still more impressed with this phone than any phone I’ve ever used period.

  2. I too had some trouble with activation, but not nearly as big of an ordeal as you. After several hours with no e-mail confirming my activation, I finally had to call and talk with support staff on the phone to initiate the activation.

    Those few hours with only the “emergency call” button were horrible, especially with the nifty little bag showcasing all of the iPhone features sitting next to my computer.

    As for the battery life, I was quite surprised at how quickly it disintegrated. I assumed it was simply because it was the first day, and I was using EDGE, Wi-Fi, YouTube, and the iPod liberally.

    Today I decided to use it more like a phone (text messaging, phone calls, and checking a few web sites here and there), and had much better results. I still have about a quarter of battery life remaining.

    Overall, however, I’m more than happy with the product and couldn’t be more thrilled to spend $600 on a cell phone (HA!).

  3. @Rob Goodlatte: I’d also like to see SMS and e-mail available in landscape mode. However, I’m beginning to improve and trust the auto-correct feature more and more as time passes.

  4. I wonder if there’s any particular pattern to which people had horrible activation experiences. My iPhone was activated and working in less than an hour after I got home from the store (i.e., before 8 PM CDT on Friday), and I was porting a number over from T-Mobile. Absolutely trouble-free.

    I’ve read in a couple places that some activations required some actual human involvement, and that is where things went south. Basically, if an actual AT&T employee had to get directly involved in your activation, you got screwed. Otherwise, it Just Worked.

  5. @Rob Goodlatte: Yes, me too. Today I showed an iPhone-owning coworker the horizontal keyboard, and he was astounded, as he’d never seen it before.

    For what it’s worth, I had an iPhone Friday night, shortly after launch, and as of 1am Monday morning my number was not ported from T-Mobile. I had a shiny brick for over 48 hours. Thankfully, all was well when I woke up this morning (Monday around 8am). Ugh.

  6. I wonder how much of the experience was purely tainted by your activation ordeal. The Firewheel office is literally across the street from the Southlake Apple Store, so after purchasing my iPhone (I was about 75th in line) I walked back across the street, plugged it in, authorized it (porting my existing AT&T number from my Blackberry), and received my first phone call literally in less than 5 minutes.

    Aside from a few qualms I have with the Mail program (no Delete All function), I simply can’t get enough of this thing. It’s too much fun. I wonder how I’d feel if my authorization hadn’t gone so smoothly.

  7. One part of me wanted the iPhone to be a total flop (although I knew this wouldn’t be the case), it has done surprisingly well is most areas and impressed most users.
    Let’s face it, the iPhone is just a 1.0 version of an amazing phone.. sporting only a couple amateurish mistakes.
    Hopefully they will fix some of these things in future updates.

  8. At least you have one. I gambled on an AT&T store. They ran out. They convinced many of us that we would have one in hand today if we did a direct order with them. Never imagining that I would be able to walk into an Apple Store the next day and buy one in five minutes, I went with the order. Now it is back-ordered, no telling when it will ship, and they won’t cancel my order. I’m in iPhone purgatory.

  9. I went into the Apple Store on Sunday to check it out. I picked up an iPhone and just started typing. No problems what so ever.

    I wonder if its a generational thing.

  10. With respect to Verizon, would they not let you just pay out some pro-rated amount just to finish out your contract since you were so close to the end? If not, that is just silly, and I guess, since I am in a similar situation, I’ll either get a new phone # or wait the few weeks until my contract is up before I get one of these things.

    With respect to the hack, it has also been said you can achieve the same effect by simply canceling your service with AT&T within the 100% refund 30-day window. I’ll bet, however, you’ll never get any software/firmware updates pushed to the phone if you do something like this.

  11. Sucks to have those activation problems. Myself I was up and activated in 2 minutes.

    As for typing, I decided to try thumb typing right off the bat. Was the best decision ever since I picked it up in a few minutes. I’m now faster on the iPhone than on my blackberry. I also wish I had the autocorrect feature on my Macbook now!

    It’s possible it’s a generational thing too. A few years ago, I read a study that said older people used their forefingers to type on cellphone keypads, while younger people without fail used their thumbs.

    And why SMS an email account? Why not just email the email account?

  12. Honestly, if you really couldn’t wait two weeks for your contract to conclude because you just had to be one of the first to have this new toy, you should not only not complain, you should pay double.

  13. I’ll never understand Mac Brand Aspirationals. Did you know that AT&T was only given the less than 24 hours before the iphone went live? Yup, AT&T is amazing – despite the insanity of Steve “Car Salesman” Jobs not releasing the API because “there are spies everywhere!!!111”, AT&T made a pretty great go of activation, without even being really able to test it. Apple really is a reflection of your own ego – you’re not able to accept that the stupidity here rests solely with Jobs (and yourself for buying such an overhyped piece of shit, but that’s for another day).

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