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I'm on the downeaster alexa - What the iphone means to me (four years later)

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February 16th, 2012

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03:50 am - What the iphone means to me (four years later)

Three and a half years ago, I wrote this rant about the lack of value the iphone holds for me.

It's now three and a half years later, and I own one.

My geek friends will ask "Why not android?". Somehow the odd issues my friends had experienced with Android OS, coupled with the spectacularly shitty battery life my friend Jeff has gotten from his Droid 1.0, have soured me.
Buying an android phone seems very much like buying a mattress to me: all providers have their own individual options, with individual hardware and individual plans. It's rather hard to compare apples to apples (no pun intended).

As for why I went to Verizon, a spectacularly shitty customer service experience at the AT&T store has me deciding that I'm done here. I'm going to finish paying off the netbooks to keep the early termination fees down, but after that, we're through.

I bought one because a friend visiting from out of town had no service, so I figured it was a good way to both try one, and give them a way that they could have a local number. Verizon gave me 14 days to cancel, and during that time I tried very hard to embrace the experience to see, if at all possible, if it would suck little enough to switch over.

During the same time, my old, trusty, Sony Ericsson p800 was finally developing signs that time might be nigh for it: more random crashes, and the spectacular failure mode whereby menu options would simply DISAPPEAR off the screen, and the menus would renumber as though this was normal.

However, I wanted to re-touch on the major reasons that I hadn't bought one till now, and cover the use-cases where my ten-year-old phone might still be superior.

My original complaints (again, the original post is linked from the first sentence of this post):

1) No tethering. Well, it seems Verizon allows this over a cable, bluetooth, or wifi, and while they will actually charge you for the privilege, they will also give you another 2G of data to use, which can also be used by the phone.
I consider this a fair compromise.

2) Useless bluetooth, which didn't support things like bluetooth keyboards, or file syncing. This has been fixed, as well. Here's an apple technote that details it.

3) No ability to sync via wifi. Fixed.

4) No tactile feel. Well, I still don't have this with an all-glass screen, but Siri makes up for a lot of this. I'm also investing in this to cover my need to SSH into systems. (And siri's not so useful for typing unix shell commands).

5) No IRDA. I had complained about this because it restricted ways in which you could share data with other non-apple devices. In the past few years, data networks have become a lot more prevalent, and virtually no new devices come with IR support. Assuming you still want to use the IR for actually controlling your home media center, there are options.

6) No voice dialing. Yeah, I think with Siri this one's more than fixed. And then some. In spades.

7) Lack of ability to make calls over wifi (with your own number). Well, this was originally written when AT&T was the only option for an iPhone, and when in places like NYC, they just plain sucked and you couldn't actually get voice service. I'd still like to see verizon offer a nanocell option, that I could use at home, but at the moment there's not much use case for it since I'm in an area that doesn't suck.

8) Lack of input options. Well, the onscreen keyboard is much more adaptable now, as is the bluetooth keyboard I'm getting, and the inbuilt ability of "just say what I want to write" is pretty much a killer of this complaint.

9) The Jail. Oh, it still exists, and it still pisses me off quite a bit, on both my iphone, and on my ipod nano.
More on that in part 2.

10) Non-transcribed voicemail. I'm getting around this with simulscribe, but I'd really love to see it as an option, and I suspect it's only a matter of time before you can have siri itself transcribe your voicemail. Also, no app for phonetag? Boo.

So yeah, almost every major issue's been resolved to some degree. However, there's a new class of annoyances, more minor than before.

1) Itunes still sucks. Apparently, you can sync your music collection with only one computer at a time.
Additionally, itunes can only sync with one iPod at a time. If I have all my music on system "A", and synced to my ipod, I cannot play those songs on computer "B". Even if I "authorize" my computer as a second machine, I can't seem to play the songs on the ipod directly through my computer. I must "transfer the purchases" which requires eating the same 8G of HD space over and over. The ipod is effectively an external drive, why can't I use it as such?

1a) Oh, and apparently Mac-formatted phones can't be read by windows machines, but windows-formatted phones can be read by macs. Why then, are all phones not shipped windows formatted?*

2) There are gaps in the feature matrix. Despite the iphone being the most expensive device, there are things the ipod nano can do, that the iphone cannot.

2a) For example, the nano has a pedometer (which I use) that's based solely on an accelerometer. The iphone's, on the other hand, wants either a nike sensor in your shoe, or wants to use a GPS. And there's no simple "start counting my steps" option. By the way, the GPS-based-pedometer? Kinda useless on a treadmill, which is how I do my walking.

2b) The nano has an FM tuner. Which, I understand, with the iphone I can just stream audio over 3g -- but at the gym, where the TV's are broadcast over FM, the nano has the option I need. So it would be really nice to just have two checkboxes in itunes that tell me which device to sync which songs with. The "workaround" here seems to be to resort to having to manually copy files to at least one of my devices.

3) The in-vehicle options kind of suck. With my old phone, I could dock the phone in the car, and it basically became part of the car. It would mute the radio to take calls, the cradle was solid and bolted into place (and docking it was a simple, fluid motion). Apple makes no "official" car kit, and as this guide points out, the iphone only routes calls over Bluetooth or the Headphone port, not the bottom dock connector.

  • Which means even though I'm docking my phone, with a wire, in my car, I have to use a radio link that's subject to interference.

  • I also don't want to have to have a separate accessory to keep a battery charged on when I'm effectively stationary within my car.

3a) In a car, specifically, I want an option that lets me push actual buttons to do things without having to slide or swipe. It's only a "handsfree" phone if I can do everything -- EVERYTHING -- that phone needs to do, without touching the phone. Yes, I can tell Siri to go to next track, or whatever, but for base functions, I may resort to using this thing and mounting it somewhere near my steering wheel, and routing it through a cassette adapter.

4) Siri isn't listening full time. She listens when you raise her to your ear and talk, or when you push the button.
But I'd love to be able to give it a "keyword" to answer to. The argument here is that this will deplete the battery.
My counter-argument is that the times when I'd like it to do so are only going to be times that I have it docked: when it's on my desk or in my car.

5) Siri sucks as a GPS. I can ask siri where I am, and I can ask her "how do I get to San Francisco", but while she'll give me directions, I must manually key in each turn with a series of "next, next, next". I strongly suspect this one will be fixed soon, and I'll eventually have an interface where siri slowly fades the music, and speaks over it, and brings things up to speed.

5a) Siri's still lacking on a few things, questions that have "simple answers". "Siri, how far is it to redwood city?" Literally means, I'm asking a question that you can answer with a number, without displaying something onscreen. Or "Siri, how long will it take to get to redwood city." Also strongly lacking are things like "Siri, please redial the last number that called me" or "Siri, list the last three incoming calls." Anything I could answer with google's unit conversion should also be siri-fied. (Siri, what's 32 degrees celsius in fahrenheit?) The ability to say "Set sleep timer" and have it actually be the sleep timer, or the ability to set multiple timers. The ability to say "raise volume" or "lower volume".

5b) Location-based reminders still suck. You can say "remind me when I get to the office to do X" but not "remind me when I'm near a grocery store, without adding the grocery store as a custom address to YOUR info.

6) I strongly suspect alternate siri voices are coming too (for a premium price, I'm sure.).

7) Finally, the classic apple problem: The fact that I have to wait two years between devices if I want the newest, shiniest, without paying full price. At least, however, it seems Verizon lets you trade in your device and gives you some value for it. I just plugged in my phone's numbers and found it's worth $272 -- where retail is in the $600 range.

Let's see how things go from here. That keyboard has shown up, and I'll be writing a review for it shortly.

(1 comment | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:February 24th, 2012 03:03 am (UTC)
Your choice of smartphone platforms offends my delicate sensibilities. You monster!

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