is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
This fall I upgraded to a new iPad and a new iPhone, both with cell service from AT&T. We have five lines on our AT&T family account, so I am effectively locked into AT&T until I find the time and energy to switch to an alternative carrier. This means I’m more or less helpless when AT&T pulls their usual customer-unfriendly shenanigans, which lately seem to revolve around SIM cards.
It was somewhat well publicized that the iPad Air 2 comes with a potentially game-changing Apple SIM, which lets customers choose carriers and potentially even switch between them on the fly. AT&T, in that special way that they have, decided to effectively thwart that feature by locking the Apple SIM to its network as soon as a customer activates the iPad on AT&T. The company’s only explanation for this was, “it’s just simply the way we’ve chosen to do it.” That’s about as close as an executive can come to flipping the bird to customers as decorum allows.
Not being able to switch carriers without physically swapping in a new SIM card is an inconvenience, but I didn’t have the energy to fight AT&T on it, so I decided to go ahead and add the device to my account anyway. It’s possible to do that from the iPad itself, in the Settings app, but it didn’t work for me, so I had to call AT&T, who had no idea what an Apple SIM was, claimed it wouldn’t work on their network at all, and told me my only choices were to either restore my iPad to factory settings (I had already set it up with my apps and data) and/or go to my local AT&T shop to procure a standard AT&T SIM card. I argued with the representative on the phone but got nowhere, and, because it was late on a Friday night, decided to go to sleep with the issue unresolved. The next day I tried my luck by calling AT&T again, and managed to get a hold of a different representative who was a bit more clued in, though he still had to do some significant fumbling around to finally get it activated. Sigh.
Next device: my new, unlocked iPhone 6 Plus arrived last week. Since this one uses a standard SIM, I figured I could just use the SIM from my old, unlocked iPhone 5—simple enough, right? No such luck, as when I chatted with AT&T they refused to activate it over the phone, again demanding that I stop by an AT&T shop in person. Luckily, there’s a shop a few blocks away from my office, so I ran over there to get a new SIM, only to be told by a shrugging representative at the store that there’s no difference in SIM cards, and that I should have been able to just use my old one. Groan. He activated a new SIM card for me anyway and I was using it right away with no problems.
Then over this past weekend I got this text message:
I happened to be walking by an AT&T store this morning on the way in to work, so I figured I’d stop in and see about the message. Sure enough, the representative there told me, “Oh you can just disregard that,” and sent me on my way, with no changes.
Lots of folks will recommend that I move over to T-Mobile, and I’m tempted to do so, though a friend of mine told me that when he moved his family lines over, T-Mobile inadvertently canceled one of them. Attitude counts for a lot, though, and it seems at least that T-Mobile is proactively courting its customers, whereas AT&T seems content to kick us around. When I think of the amount of time I’ve wasted dealing with AT&T this year—not just with these incidents, but with a few others earlier in the year—it makes me sad. Life’s too short for this.+