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August 15, 2010

The iPhone Experience

Sometime around January I had decided that I would upgrade to the next iPhone model once it was released. I wasn't really concerned as to what it was as I'm sure it would be better than the previous model which was already great. I had toyed with the idea of upgrading last year, but the timing and contract plans weren't quite right. But this time around, everything was aligning, my contract was nearly up and plans that met my criteria were available. So with that decision already made I carefully watched the news for anything on the upcoming iPhone model. It slowly trickled out until Apple made the official announcement of the iPhone 4. It was a little disappointing that Canada would be in the second wave of deliveries, but what is another few weeks when I've been waiting months. Rogers soon put up the new iPhone teaser on their webpage with a form to sign up to receive more information as soon as it was available. I obviously put my name down right away. As time ticked along, the first wave of deliveries went out in the US and the news started floating in. Apple shipped large quantities of the phones, but still wasn't able to keep up with demand, nearly instantly selling out. And then came the antenna issues. That was a little of a downer to have an imperfection already identified, but not too bad of an issue really, when analyzed. Time continued to pass and still no information was available about the Canadian release. Rogers sends out an email to all those that signed up: We have no information, stop calling us. Apple holds a press conference to address the Antenna issues, announce free cases and the Canadian date: July 30.

Since my contract is nearly up, Rogers has been calling me, trying to get me to renew and offering me a hardware upgrade. Oddly they never offered me any iPhone which was the only phone I was considering. All the offers turned out to be of no value to me so I continued to decline. I was eager to make sure I was doing everything possible to make sure I got an iPhone 4 as soon as possible so I was calling Rogers trying to pre-setup everything and ask about availability. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to obtain a new contract price that was better than I expected without any real effort. They stored that as a note on my account so I could use it later when I got my new iPhone. As for availability, everyone was tight lipped and would say nothing. Many calls later and not a soul could tell me anything. Until the night before launch, no-one said anything. But then finally Rogers posted the info on their blog about pricing, upgrade eligibility and the like. Curiously they didn't send this information to those who signed up for information about the iPhone. The phone would be slightly cheaper than expected $159 vs $199 (although it was later determined there was an additional mandatory $35 activation fee) and almost everyone qualified to upgrade (albeit with different pricing). Still no word on stock, but word was spreading that there was limited stock in Rogers stores, even more limited in non-carrier stores. When it came down to the wire, the Apple store opened at 7am and the rest at 10am. It seemed clear that the Apple store would have lots of stock and since it opened first, I would have to try there first at least and then resort to the others if they ran out of stock.

Arrived at the store around 6:40am, the parking lot was already surprisingly full and the line inside the mall long. Odd to see so many mall walkers this early in the morning. As the store opened all the Apple employees made a big lap around the line, cheering everyone on and then returned with lots of snacks and drinks. For the first hour the line moved well and it looked like we'd be out of there in a few hours. Around 8am, the line pretty much stopped dead. 9..10...it barely moved and continued that way for the rest of the day. Rogers system had collapsed under the load of activating so many phones. Sometime around 3pm I think, the Apple store caved and gave those in line a rain check. Unfortunately it was only valid for the remainder of the day and tomorrow. Lines were likely to continue. I waited some more, 10 hours or so in total, then gave up. I returned later in the evening and I think, had I waited 2 hours more I would have made it that day, but alas I did not and the line was too long to finish that day. Oddly, during the process of waiting in line, Rogers had called a half dozen times from the renewal office, most of the time they hung up when I answered though. Tomorrow would be a better day. In hindsight it appears I had the right idea. Rogers stores had less than 10 phones each, 3rd parties had even fewer and the Apple store clearly had hundreds. I planned to arrive about 2 hours before the store opened, when the mall opened and this time be quite prepared to wait a few hours with lawn chair and iPod in hand. I was guessing I was ahead of the game this time and would be near the front of the line. Curiously again, Rogers called that morning trying to get me to renew once again. This time they offered everything from extra minutes, my5 calling and contract price protection for renewing my existing contract. All of these offers and especially the last one are of no value to me as I don't need more minutes. The price protection is especially ridiculous as they promise not to change the price of the plan during the term of the contract. This is exactly what a contract is. They asked what they could offer that would entice me to renew and I stated that I was only interested in reducing the price of my plan, they could offer nothing that would do this. They continued trying the hard sell to make me accept one of the offers, but I refused and then forced an end to the call. That morning the parking lot at the mall looked near vacant and I was happy to see the short line, I was about 7th in line. 2 hours later the store opened early and I was in the first batch of people into the store to get the phone.

They snagged the reserved phone for me from the back and started the upgrade process. So first off, in order to activate phones, the Apple store must use the Rogers backend system. The system depends on Internet Explorer running under Windows and so the Apple store must run Parallels and emulate Windows on their Macs to activate iPhones, what a slap in the face. The backend system was running a might bit smoother this morning, but still troublesome. For example, it defaults to switching people to online billing, not something I want. Next, I had to change my plan to add data to it, so I told my salesman which plan I wanted and he had to search for it among a giant list of plans with ridiculously vague and non-descriptive names to find it. Upon selecting it, the system errorred out and wouldn't continue. So he just called Rogers and had them make the change instead. I still don't understand why the carriers insist on this full activation process on launch day. Can it not be done in some pre-activation or post-activation process, where one only needs to pick up and purchase the phone and the rest is handled before or after launch day? One of the interesting things at the Apple store is how they pay attention to the experience. In all past instances of dealing with cell phones, the rep will grab a phone from the back, open it up and start all the activation and configuration activity until they are finally done and hand you the phone. At the Apple store, they hand you the box for you to open and pull out the phone and play with it a bit first before handing it over to be activated and configured. All in all the process was fairly quick and simple and I was out of there in 20 minutes or so. I then headed home and called up Rogers to kick in the final part of my pre-negotiated plan and have it all activated and verify that everything else had been setup correctly.

So with phone in hand now the new toy affect takes place and I start reading and learning and playing with all the new features. The hardware is amazing, the screen is awesome, the coverage is...still crap at home. To the point that the antenna issues can quickly lead to 'No Service' if I hold the phone wrong. I've found at least two natural positions I hold the phone that triggers this. Oh well, it actually tends to work better than my old phone if it has service. The voice quality is clear right up until the signal drops instead of the echo'y, dropped packet sound of the old phone (I think the difference is the 3G network vs GSM). Over the days I've had the phone I started to figure everything out. The new iPhone 4 works with my old cables and headphones and plays nice with the iPod interface in my car. It also works just peachy with the Bluetooth in the car although the car can no longer read or send SMS off my phone, it can now play music. Started playing with the apps I had amassed beforehand. There are some really great ones, but unfortunately there are lots of crappy ones. Loading music onto the phone proved troublesome. I instructed iTunes to autofill 10GB onto the phone and after several hours, it declared itself done and there was 158MB present, WTF? So I tried again, created a genius list in iTunes with 10GB and told it to sync that to the phone. That worked better, but oddly it consumed only 7GB on the phone. I later realized much of the album art was missing. After much research I couldn't really figure out why, but it seemed that forcing a resync may cure it, sure enough, deleting all the music and resyncing it worked, it now consumed 8GB though. I think the difference turns out to be how it stores the album art. All my files have the art embedded in the songs, whereas on the iPhone it only stores one image per album. As time has gone on thought I've found an alarming number of bugs in the new iOS 4 on the iPhone. From the proximity issue failing that others reported to other intermittent issues. Such as failing to get notifications for new text messages, apps that seem to drop my WiFi connection and after which it doesn't automatically reconnect, not being able to break out of call control and multitask during a call, not being able to copy anything in Safari and a failure of the Rogers system to handle visual voicemail properly, constantly asking you to reinitialize it. I've picked a few options for cases and covers to see about negating the antenna issues, we'll see how that works out.

So far I'm pretty happy with the iPhone 4. I'm a little disappointed in the amount of bugs I've encountered so far, the quality and usefulness of the apps, the antenna issue and the hours wasted in line. But I'm not regretting it yet.

Update: iOS 4.1 fixed most if not all of the issues I had with the phone and 4.2 fixed the issue I had with my app.

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