How Apple Took The Fun Out of Owning an iPhone

Three years ago, I was really excited. Though the magic of serendipity, I had purchased an original iPhone while driving from L.A. to Seattle, and I was just beginning to discover the seemingly limitless possibilities of having a web-connected personal computer in my pocket.

Sure, there were problems here and there, but, at first, the iPhone was new, it was transformative, and most of all, it was a helluva lot of fun to own. Apple had done amazing stuff in the past, but this felt like the pinnacle of their work. The iPhone combined everything great about Apple into a single beautiful device.

Fast-forward three years, and all that joy is gone. Kaput. My iPhone 3G is used as an iPod at work, to check traffic while driving, and (occasionally) make phone calls. It’s gone from being a fun device to something that is kind of a drag to own. And I blame Apple.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

On Twitter, there is a hashtag for complaints like this: #21stcenturyproblems, which adds a level of irony to the tweet by acknowledging that a few years ago, noone could have complained about this, and — by the way — most people probably don’t give a shit in the first place. Fair enough, and yet because the iPhone permanently established the smart phone as a must-have device, it’s weird that we’ve gotten to this point in such a short period of time.

So how did we get to this point? That’s a good question. Like I said earlier, there were always problems with the iPhone, but how did those problems get to the point where I can’t wait to get out of my contract? For me, the tipping point was the recent release of iPhone 4 and iOS4, but it started long before that. In my head, it’s been a history of the reality not quite matching the promise, and that history started with AT&T.

Shortly after I got the first iPhone, I realized that AT&T’s Edge network was — how to put this gently? — utter shite. The Edge made things like web-surfing, or getting traffic in real-time utterly excruciating. Of all of the things ever named “Edge,” AT&T’s network was most certainly the worst, and the shaving cream & U2′s guitarist should sue for defamation of character.

And while the 3G phone that I eventually purchased in January 2009 was a definite upgrade, AT&T’s 3G service was spotty at best, and non-existent at worst, nullifying some of that upgrade. Even worse, it locked us in for two more years with AT&T.

And while AT&T’s problems were only Apple’s fault to the extent that Apple didn’t open up iPhone to other carriers, as those problems continued over the years, they became Apple’s problem. Let’s put it this way: being the carrier for the iPhone didn’t raise AT&T to Apple’s level, but slowly dragged Apple down to AT&T’s level.

And no amount of commercials could convince me that the holes I saw in their service — especially the one that saw me dropping calls while sitting still on my couch — didn’t exist. Instead, those commercials just branded everybody involved as disingenuous at best, and liars at worst.

And in fact, the fact that we’re stuck with AT&T is one of the reasons that I wasn’t going to automatically upgrade to iPhone 4. Even if it is a magical device that lets me multitask — or “multitask,” — and video chat! And as much as I’d love to do video chatting w/ Rox on my drive home, that would mean that our household would have spent over $2000 on iPhones in three years. Even for early adopters, that seems like too fucking much money.

iPhone 4 was a magical device that only worked properly if you held it correctly. Last week’s press conference was a masterpiece in sullenness. Not only did Apple blame the entire smartphone category for their dropped call problem, their solution was essentially a hack. A cynical hack that does nothing to address the underlying problem.

It’s as if BP called a press conference to announce that they were going to give away free hazmat suits to all Gulf Coast residents.

Still for all of the cynicism, I probably wouldn’t have even cared about the whole “death grip” problem had not I been simultaneously dealing with a 3G iPhone that seemed like it was on smack. Despite everything, I was mostly happy with my iPhone 3G. That is, until I made the mistake of installing iOS4, and it all but crippled my 3G.

But, the point is not that I can downgrade, it’s that Apple — who can tell what kind of iPhone I have when I plug it in — shouldn’t have let me upgrade in the first place.

After installing iOS4, apps that had previously zipped open took an excruciating amount of time to load. After installing iOS4, typing on the iPhone — never the most pleasant of things to do in the first place — became reminiscent of typing via telnet over a 14.4 modem. After installing iOS4, I wondered why Apple didn’t just not make it available to 3G users.

At the very least, why didn’t tell us that this new OS was really too powerful for the older phones? Instead, they left it up to the tech blogs to discover that fact. Too late for a lot of us, who knew it was coming and downloaded it the second we could.

Of course, I could downgrade the OS back to a previous version. That is, if I wanted to go through a long, involved, and potentially brickifying process. But I shouldn’t have to do that. Like the bumpers, it’s essentially a hack.

The whole thing reminds me of when I upgraded to Windows 95 and it killed my first computer. I basically rebuilt that computer from scratch trying to get Win 95 to work, and eventually just bought a new computer.

In fact, upgrading to iOS4 is in some ways worse than upgrading to Windows 95, because Apple has a full lock on both the hardware and the software, and either 1) they didn’t test it, or 2) they didn’t give a rats ass, cynically figuring that a bad experience would just drive more people to buy an iPhone 4 earlier than they planned. Either way, that’s bad, and combined with the “death grip” press conference, I don’t really feel basked in the love that Steve Jobs professed for all of their users.

That’s where we are: a contract that doesn’t end until next year; a cellular network that’s unreliable; and the choice between a new device that requires an ugly hack or my current phone which is being paper cut to death by an OS which should never have been installed.

And that’s how Apple took the fun out of owning an iPhone for me.

Back when I had my Windows 95 woes, the Apple fanboys would inevitably diss me for being so stupid for running Windows in the first place. “That’s what you get,” they would say. And they were right. They were right then, and they are right now. That’s what I got for trusting Microsoft in 1995, and apparently that’s what I get for trusting Apple in 2010.

29 Responses to “How Apple Took The Fun Out of Owning an iPhone”

  1. jinushaun says:

    Apple really dropped the ball on this one in so many ways.

    Regarding the iPhone 3G. I know a lot of people scoffed at the notion of the 3GS, but after iOS 3.0 was released, it was/is the only way to reliably use newer versions of iOS. The original iPhone and iPhone 3G could barely run iOS 3, let alone iOS 4.

  2. Philip says:

    This is a brilliant post that I will forward to more than one person who, in the last couple days, told me how amazed they were by Apple’s Press conference on “Antennagate”.

    I guess the way a company can handle their costumers without them jumping ship, says more about the costumer than the company. If you buy Apple, especially after all that happened in the last two years, you are simply asking for it.

  3. Alexander Kellett says:

    You’re one of those with the issue after the iPhone 3G upgrade. Don’t think it’s universal. Mine’s far faster running 4.0 that it ever was with 3.0.

  4. Luismi Cavallé says:

    If you google about it, you’ll find different ways to fix the iOS4 iPhone 3G slowness some people are experincing, without downgrading. In my case a factory reset fixed the issue.

  5. evilpig says:

    Give Android a try, you will be surprized.

  6. Stabaho says:

    At&t does take the fun out of the iphone for me, Ive had a 3g and 3gs both unlocked on T-Mobile. Of course I hated the slow edge data speeds, but I didnt have a problem with dropped calls. Since the new iphone 4 came out, but the unlock hasnt I was forced to switch to At&t. Here is a short article I wrote about a calling At&t about my bad month of service. http://istabaho.com/?p=137

  7. Anim8me2 says:

    I am sorry if this is harsh, but I am a little tired of this nonsense.
    You sound like just another whiny little punk who has a personal issue that is somehow projected on to the rest of the world because you have a blog to do it on.
    Don’t like the performance of iOS4 on the 3G? Well, do a little research and see if this is a common issue and if there are solutions. Don’t find any? Fine, get yourself an Android phone on the Verizon network.
    The fact is there are 3 million iPhone 4s out there in the world and they are working just fine (I have not had a single issue with mine with or without a case) and there are solutions for you if you have problems with that phone.
    I am just sick of all the whining the internet engenders these days. When did we all become such a pack of pansy, whiny assholes?

  8. Mordy says:

    Who’s going to buy me this Android phone on the Verizon network? Are they free? I installed OS4 and it crippled my 3G, I’m not an Apple fanboi or a gadget freak – I just wanted a good, reliable smartphone that I could use for a couple of years and then get a new one. I’ve got nine months left to go on my contract and my very expensive phone has been rendered absolutely useless. I googled solutions…haven’t found any that worked and resent the fact that people are telling me it’s my problem that installing an update from the manufacturer destroyed my freakin’ phone!

    Anim8Me2 I’d love to know where you get these free Android phones, I’d love one to replace this shiny black brick I have at the moment.

  9. kl says:

    It amuses me how people who don’t own iPhone 4 make antenna weakness into apocalyptic problem.

    I do have “faulty” iPhone 4 and antenna problem really is not a big deal. Reception is usually better, and in low-signal area I just don’t touch that spot. It’s not that hard.

  10. Patrick says:

    I suggest you read http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/07/ff_att_fail/all/1

    Other than that, I’m amazed at how people’s “fun” dissipates when their previously cutting edge product becomes outdated. Oh, how evil for Apple to improve their device every year. How dare they innovate!

    And why can’t I install Windows 7 on my circa 1993 Pentium machine with 128 MB RAM! What a pity they come out with faster computers every year and made better software to match. Moore should be hanged for his stupid “law”.

    Stop whining and restore to IOS 3.2 or get another phone, but stop feeling like you should be entitled to something. Most people have zero problems with their iPhone 4. Yes, it’s expensive, but not THAT expensive. I bought two in fact.

    For crying out loud, they’ve been in the phone arena three years and they’ve changed the business and forced competitors who were sitting on their hands happy to charge us for technological stone age products for years to finally make something better. You’d still be carting around a Blackberry or some cruddy Nokia if it wasn’t for Apple. At least there are options now with Android doing better and better. Get over yourself and reevaluate your sense of fun.

  11. Tyson says:

    Hey Jim, just don’t sit on the couch that way.

    And for those of you trying to get on Jim’s case, I’ve known him for over 30 years, and will vouch that he is neither whiny nor a punk. Those are stupid cheap shots. (Although he does like punk rock.)

  12. Andrew says:

    If you did restore with iOS4 the phone will be same speed as you had. Doing upgrade makes it slow. Do complete reset.
    I did this on few phones, I support about 100 iPhones at work.

    It is older hardware so it’s always been slow to me after playing with 3GS.
    3GS with iOS4 works much better but I love my iPhone 4. I would never carry it without case so I don’t care about antenna issue.
    We have 13 deployed and not 1 person wants to trade theirs in.

    We also have Verizon as vendor. We will drop them if by Feb 2011 they don’t have iPhone.
    All the verizon

  13. Andrew says:

    Phones we have are Android. All the users are waiting for iPhone since they have bad AT&T signal where they live.

    If you are wanting to spend all your time tweaking your phones settings Android is better. I’m happier with set it and forget it iPhone way. I want to use the apps not the settings of the phone.

  14. TCN says:

    Kinda feel like @Anim8me2 and most of the later posters, but I can also see where you’d be grumpy about this.

    I guess I’m feeling self-satisfied that I never, as a rule, rush to purchase first-gen gizmos. Even as a Mac freak (since 1982) I stayed patient and only grabbed an iPhone in late ’08.

    Join me in my self-satisfaction. What’s the rush?

  15. Jim Connelly says:

    @Anim8me2,

    It ain’t that difficult to “get a blog.” By all means, get yourself one and defend your personal, obviously unconditional love for the iPhone 4.

    I could ask this question: when did we automatically become apologists for corporations who fuck us over?

    Yes, there are solutions out there. The point is that, as a consumer, I shouldn’t have to waste time and money on those solutions.

    When I buy a piece of hardware, I should have a reasonable expectation of it working correctly for more than just a couple of years. AND that the company that built it takes consumer complaints seriously.

  16. Heh. I’m endlessly entertained by folks like AnimateHimTwo who get so annoyed about other people’s opinions (hereafter referred to as “whining” in the interest of rhetorical consistency), they leave a whiny comment in protest–complete with ad hominem attacks, in the finest Clarence Darrow tradition. (If you read the transcripts of the Scopes trial, you’ll find Darrow says “you sound like just another whiny little punk” to William Jennings Bryan.) Keep fighting the good fight, sir!

    It all reminds of the ancient Vulcan proverb: who’s more whiny–the whiner or whiner who whines about the original whiner?

    (By the way, I’m not whining–I’m kvetching. Refer to it as such, plzkthxbai.)

  17. Tim White says:

    I too suffered horrible problems with my 3G after an iOS4 update. However, since I updated to iOS4.0.1, my 3G is back to being a more useful device…

    What a difference a few 1s and 0s make. :)

  18. Amazing that some people are trying to turn this into an antennagate post. Also, the suggestion that you should just move to Verizon ignores the fact that you have a long-term contract with AT&T.

    I also made the mistake of upgrading my iPhone 3G to iOS4. Big mistake. It was as if my phone had suddenly contracted alzheimer’s. Yeah, I suppose I could spend hours tracking down a solution online, but I shouldn’t have to. I finally downgraded on Sunday and my phone is now back to normal.

    Then yesterday I made the ultimate downgrade. I talked AT&T into letting me out of my contract with no early termination fee — AT&T coverage in my neighborhood is so bad that even AT&T can’t defend it.

    My iPhone is now an iPod Touch. I’m moving to a pre-paid phone while I sort out my options.

  19. robbysalz says:

    they let you batter your own phone so you would see how slow it was and want to upgrade to the 4

    bam

  20. Brian says:

    Jim, he called you a punk! Sweet!

    Good write-up. I’m bummed Apple got so deeply involved with AT&T, but oh well. I’ll still probably get an iPhone 4 (no one I know that has it has had any problems with the antenna).

    Let me ask you this? Do you think there are any good alternatives to the iPhone right now? For me, there aren’t. The better Droid phones have lousy batteries and honestly, kind of crappy design aesthetics.

  21. Tyson says:

    My wife and I went shopping at a T-Mobile store last weekend. Her cell phone is a few years old and pretty dinged up (but still perfectly useable **SIGH**). We spent a good 90 minutes there testing various devices. All of the Android, Windows Mobile, and *gah* Nokia OS phones were absolutely wretched. I mean completely unusable. I’ve been working on computers for over 30 years and with one of the Android phones it took me 15 minutes just to figure out how to make a damn phone call. You had to navigate through three different menus and none of it was intuitive. It’s almost as if they were designed by Mordac, the Preventer of Information Services. But this is the F’d-up Catch-22 situation— everybody hates AT&T and so for now they are stuck with horribly horribly designed phones if they want a good connection. This deal Apple made with AT&T sucks for everyone right now.

  22. morgan says:

    I got the iPhone 3G the day it came out in 2008. I really liked it for a while. In fact here in Tucson I had ZERO problems with ATT. I had a full, reliable 3G signal most everywhere I went.

    I started to get annoyed that I needed to connect it to iTunes every time I wanted to put music on it. It has wifi and 3G, I should just be able to FTP to my house and get what files I want and put them on the phone without having to “organize” my music collection and sync it with only one iTunes instance. Every time I would plug it into my computer it would backup, sync apps and pictures, etc…, analyze my “gapless playback”, blah blah… it was always a big production. I don’t have that much time to waste on putting a new album on my portable music player.

    But, overall it was a great phone to use. But when my contract ran out I jumped ship to Verizon and I’m now using a Droid Incredible which works great, and I get to do whatever I want with it. I have the choice of 20+ different media players, I can install custom ROMS, I’m not forced to only get apps from one app store. It’s wonderful.

    My wife is still using her iPhone 3G – she installed the new iOS4 and she’s having all the same troubles that Jim is having. I suggested downgrading back to 3.1.3, but she’s just going to hold off until the white iPhone4 comes out.

    Anyway… my thoughts on all of this. Go Android. :)

  23. oswaldhobbes says:

    I’m a slave to the iPod but I’ve never even considered an iPhone. By the time I had enough money to get a smartphone there was Droid, which lets me do whatever I want, on a network that isn’t utter crap. People who sign up w/ AT&T know it’s a deal with the devil.

    Apple was an amazing company for awhile, but they’re falling off hard now. All hail Google!

  24. starz says:

    wtf is iphone lol

  25. Ryan Waddell says:

    I’m a 3G user in Canada, on the Rogers network. Luckily for us, Rogers has a pretty robust neighbourhood (at least in the areas that I live in and/or frequent regularly). I upgraded to iOS4 and, like you, found it too slow to be all that usable. So I just downgraded, and I’m perfectly happy with it now. I’m not at ALL concerned about the “Antennagate” problems, as a simple skin from bestskinsever.com will solve that problem nicely without affecting the look of my phone one bit (and on top of that, I don’t imagine it’ll be a huge problem up here in Canadia anyhoo).

    And unfortunately, Canada doesn’t get the high end Android phones until 6 months to a year after the US gets them, at which point they are just about obsolete. The only close competitor to the iPhone 4 coming out any time soon is the Galaxy S, but as far as I’m aware only one carrier is bringing that up here.

  26. Leo Marihart says:

    Jim: On the surface, blaming Apple for ‘everything’ like what you’re doing here is not reasonable. That you’re also a seasoned enduser -who should know better– doesn’t make it any better.

    Apple has to be tied to a vendor, just like Nokia and Ericsson get tied to other telcos. These end up being multi-year agreements by the line of phone that’s offered. Apple only makes one line, really. So there you are.

    That’s how the US-Telco system currently works. Take it up with the FCC if you don’t like it.

    That being said: Apple SHOULD have made the upgrade path for your older iPhone 3G more reasonable. There’s the iOS 3.2 for the iPad. Maybe Apple should have made that available for the iPhone 3GS and lower. But they didn’t. Strike against Apple.

    Your arguments about Apple playing BP? Sorry, Apple made a cell phone, and cell phones have intrinsic limitations, like small antennae. I don’t think Apple could have done any better with that talk, they could have done far worse. You own a car, don’t complain that it doesn’t have antigravity.

    Cases may or may not help as much as you think. Signal is lost for 2 reasons: 1/ shorting the antenna leads (as in the iPhone4), as well as outright blocking the signal by covering receiver area (easily done if you hold an iPhone 3/G/S or iPhone4 by the bottom).

    I always have a case on my 3GS. I can EASILY lose 2 frail AT&T generated bars of what passes for cell service. Just by holding my iPhone from the bottom.

    All the vendors document where you should and should not hold your phone. Apple didn’t do a good job of it, until Steve had that talk.

    I went off on a tear against AT&T. They’re not just dragging Apple down, but ALL the cell makers. Kinda sounds like Apple’s argument, I know…

    If you think you’re mad, read my rant:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/leoofborg/4814198808/

    General complaining never fixes anything. It’s soon forgotten.

    Sending the vendor a clear message *may* fix the problem for everyone. Over time. If enough folks send the same message.

    I just wonder if those AT&T execs ‘can hear us now.’ I’m sure Apple does!

    My advice to you? Call Apple and see what they can do for you. Suggest that you’d like to go to an Apple Store and get the ‘phone downgraded. Or just do the downgrade yourself. It’s NOT as bad as you make it out to be.

    Again, if enough folks make these noises, Apple tends to listen.

    -Leo

  27. Jim Connelly says:

    Just a quick point on the Apple / BP comparison: what I am saying is that Apple is offering a solution that address the result of the underlying problem, not the cause of the underlying problem.

    Which would be like BP offering hazmat suits (or Toyota adding air bags to their cars).

    Also: while Apple has to be tied to a vendor, they clearly don’t have to be tied to a SINGLE vendor, now, do they?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Even though I never owned an iPhone due to the carrier it’s been associated with for the past few years, I still watch to see what goes on with it’s users. It’s interesting to see how many are starting to feel that iPhone is starting to not deliver as promised on many things. Amplify’d from medialoper.com [...]

  2. [...] How Apple Took The Fun Out of Owning an iPhone – “Fast-forward three years, and all that joy is gone. Kaput. My iPhone 3G is used as an iPod at work, to check traffic while driving, and (occasionally) make phone calls. It’s gone from being a fun device to something that is kind of a drag to own. And I blame Apple…” [...]