Happiness and Sadness

Last week was pretty big if you’re an Apple fanboy like me.

Happiness

It started off with the announcement I’ve been waiting for for several years — my hometown carrier, Sprint, will now carry the iPhone as an option. The Kansas City Star actually ran a story where my excitement about the device coming to Sprint was the lead.

To say that I’m excited is an understatement. I’ve been wanting an iPhone since the device came out, but my loyalty to my friends who work for our hometown company has outweighed that desire. Plus, since I’m a part of Sprint’s Advantage Plan, my monthly is pretty cheap. With family members also on Sprint in other cities, those free mobile-to-mobile minutes add up. Combine that with unlimited texting and data plans included (vs. a hefty increase on other carriers…I mean, SERIOUSLY, who would pay $20/month for unlimited texting?) and I haven’t been able to make the switch.

Now, I can. The iPhone 4S is scheduled to replace my crappy HTC Hero as soon as is humanly possible. I can’t wait.

Sadness

Steve Jobs - Image from Apple.com

I’m not an engineer and I rarely design things anymore and yet, Steve Jobs passing still made me really sad.

Whether you are an Apple fanboy like me or not, his impact on the world is pretty remarkable. Not only was he responsible for bring the iPhone to fruition, he:

  • revolutionized the music industry, proving that people will pay for their music if you make it easy.
  • brought joy to the lives of both kids and adults through his contributions to entertainment through his leadership at Pixar.
  • proved that small details matter when it comes to design and that people like simple things that just work.

I’m not going to go on and on about his influence in my life…frankly, I just loved his products and respected the diligence and attention to detail that he put into everything that he did. He was just a man after all. He had flaws. He wasn’t perfect. But he was an exceptional guy.

I lost my Uncle Larry to pancreatic cancer in 2006. It’s a horrible, nearly unbeatable form of the disease. It sucks. My heart goes out to his family. Instead of being sad, I’m going to try and just make something amazing. I think that’s what both Steve and my Uncle Larry would appreciate.

Life with a Verizon iPhone

I’ve been a Sprint customer for a long time. I have good friends who work there and I try to support them and my hometown company just as I hope they prefer AMC Theatres when they can.

However, for the past month or so, I’ve been testing out the Verizon iPhone (DISCLOSURE) thanks to the Verizon Midwest office. Sure, it’s a bit ridiculous that I’m carrying 3 phones right now (work Blackberry, personal Sprint HTC Hero, iPhone), but it actually gives me a nice opportunity to compare and contrast the various benefits and drawbacks of each phone. I also tested a Sprint EVO Shift when I was at SXSW and I’ll be using that as a comparison as well.

Let’s start with the bottom line: I love the iPhone. This should come as no big shocker to people who follow my blog. It isn’t without faults (and I’ll share those here), but overall, my experience with the phone has been great. (In fact, I’ve been delaying writing this post for a while now with the hope that I won’t have to give back the demo device until it is done.)

Network

The advertising for Verizon is all about “the network” and I’ll say, it’s solid. I never really had connection issues for the phone, although there were times when I found the 3G service affected inside of buildings. However, the 3G service was pretty fast, particularly loading web pages, although I’m not sure I can attribute that to the network or to Mobile Safari.

Mobile Hotspot

One nice feature that I was able to use was the Mobile Hotspot. As we were driving to my in-laws’ house in Iowa, I switched it on and Alli was able to connect via WiFi and check her Facebook account while we drove. This is an extra charge on every phone it is available on, including the iPhone on any network. It’s kind of a bogus charge, because it still counts against the data that you are already using. I don’t understand why they should be able to double-charge you for a feature that is built-in.

Applications

It’s simply the best App Store on the planet. Higher quality applications, easy payment, easy purchase on your computer or on your device. There are so many great applications that have been handcrafted with an eye for user experience and design. In comparison to the applications I’ve used on Android devices, the best ones have been applications that were first built for iOS devices. Despite how rigid Apple’s App Store requirements are, there’s something to keeping developers to a standard. Android’s “openness” in their Market just leads to lots and lots of crapplications (trademark pending).

My favorites have been some that were favorites on my iPad. I love the official Twitter application (formerly Tweetie). I love Reeder for reading RSS. I love Instagram, Beluga, Dropbox and especially Gowalla. I love the Weight Watchers Mobile application for tracking my food and activity as a part of my weight loss program. I love that U-Verse has an application that allows me to manage my DVR remotely.

Honestly, two of my favorite discoveries have been games. One I knew about: QRANK Social Trivia and another that I discovered as a more addictive version of Angry Birds called Tiny Wings. I also absolutely love Facebook’s official iPhone application. While on the iPad, I tend to use the full site, but on the iPhone, the application is so efficient and well designed that there’s no reason to go to the full site.

Size and Weight

Another thing that I absolutely love about the iPhone is the form factor. It is well designed and an appropriate weight in my hand. It just feels right. It’s bigger and heavier than my HTC Hero, but thinner. It’s slightly smaller than the HTC EVO Shift, which is thicker on account of the slide out keyboard. The device that the iPhone gets compared to most is probably the HTC EVO 4G, which I’ve seen but never used. The EVO feels massive to me…too large to put in a pocket. The profile of the iPhone is almost unrecognizable when I stow it.

Camera

The iPhone is now the most popular camera in the world. More photos are uploaded now to Flickr via the iPhone than any other camera on the planet. It just goes to show you that “the best camera is the one you have with you.”

And the iPhone camera isn’t just a serviceable portable camera. It’s a good, 5MP point-and-shoot camera (rumor is the iPhone 5 will have an 8MP camera) that also has the ability to shoot video just as effectively as the point-and-shoot equivalent (and now Cisco-murdered) Flip. If you need proof, check out this video that I posted to YouTube from when we went to see The Civil Wars at Lawrence in the Bottleneck. I didn’t edit it at all.

Computer Management

I know a few people who don’t like the iPhone almost solely because it requires Apple’s iTunes to manage. Since I’m in an all-Apple household, that doesn’t bother me even a little bit. In fact, when it comes to using other phones (Blackberry, Android, or Palm-based devices), the fact that they don’t integrate with iTunes is annoying. I love my iTunes library. I don’t want to move it entirely to another library and application. Also, since so many applications on the Mac now integrate with their mobile counterparts, moving documents, photos and files is so easy through the iTunes interface. Sure, it’s bloated, but a lot of software is these days (just open Firefox).

Music

The iPhone was originally presented as an extension of the iPod line of devices. But as anyone knows, it has become an industry unto itself. Still, that iPod application is still one of the ones I use just as much as anything else. Not having to carry a separate iPod for all my music is brilliant and I can carry a ton of music on my iPhone and iTunes allows me to switch it easily. This is one benefit to the phone that gets discounted a lot, but having to carry one less device is a huge benefit for a gadget hoarder like myself.

Pricing

Here’s the rub. When it comes to pricing, I’m in a bit of a pickle. See, I have friends who work for Sprint and I can be a part of their plan for a reduced price. Even Sprint’s unlimited plan at $69.99/month is lower by about $30 than a comparable iPhone plan, either on Verizon or AT&T. The most frustrating aspect of the up charges when it comes to iPhone plans is unlimited texting runs an additional $20 per month on top of your normal monthly fee. Texting costs these phone companies virtually nothing. Charging $20 a month is akin to highway robbery. One benefit of Verizon is they have a Nationwide Talk & Text plan that runs $60/month for 450 minutes and unlimited texting, but it doesn’t include data. That runs you another $30/month and doesn’t include the nice ability to share your connection as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 5 devices for another $20/mo. By my calculations, that would cost somewhere in the range of $110 per phone. The 450 minute limit on talk time and the additional up charges for data are the real killers here.

Despite the significant increase in cost, I’m coming to the point where the iPhone is becoming an extension of me. Alli no longer calls me on my normal phone because she knows that I leave it in my bag now. If I was picking up the bill, I am not sure if I could bite that bullet, especially with the Nexus S coming to Sprint this weekend.

But the bottom line is this: as predicted, I have loved the Verizon iPhone. In fact, I’d probably love it even more with more time spent using it because I would further customize it to my liking. I’ve been hesitant to do so with a device that I knew at some point I’d have to return back to the good people at Verizon. It’s been a little ridiculous carrying 3 phones around for the past month, but getting an extended period of time with a fully-functional non-AT&T iPhone has been totally worth it. I’m looking forward to seeing what the iPhone 5 brings in the fall.

So what phone do you carry and what do you love about it?

Things I’d rather have than an iPad

  • A non-AT&T iPhone
  • A network-based iTunes TV subscription model
  • Steve Jobs presenting as an Avatar
  • Jobs not using the word “magical” a dozen times
  • A new MacBook
  • Improvements to Mail and iCal in OS X.
  • Something a little more than what looked like an iPhone XL

I’m not trying to be a hater here. The Apple iPad is a gorgeous device. It really is. The New York Times application looks phenomenal…it will make reading on-screen a great experience, but that’s nothing new…the Kindle already did that.

I guess I just expected a little more out of this announcement. Honestly, it’s not even Apple’s fault. Outside of the invitation, Apple had not released a single piece of information about the iPad…that was all through speculation and the rumor mill on the internet. Even speculation on the name was enough to get Gruber and the other Mac-olytes in a tizzy. The hype was out of control for this device and I shouldn’t have bought into it so much, but I did. I held out hope that I’d be able to purchase an iPhone for Sprint. Yeah…not so much.

Don’t get me wrong…if someone gave me one of these, I’d take it. But I was just hoping for something a little more. Especially that first one.

That would have been AWESOME.

My iPhone Experience

For the past several weeks, I’ve been using an iPhone.

iphone-3gs

Anyone who knows me understands what a big deal this has been. I had access to an iPhone through work for my social initiatives that I was driving during the Cerner Health Conference (which were featured on KCTV5). I was controlling 4 Twitter accounts, a blog, a Flickr account and organizing a group of great volunteers.

My iPhone experience was predictably awesome. I spent about an hour getting used to it, downloading the apps I needed and then spending the money to download the apps I wanted.

There’s a ton to love about it.

The App Store

The user interface is slick and intuitive, but the biggest win for the iPhone is the iTunes store, which now boasts over 75,000 applications ranging from games to task managers to weather to about 500 applications for Twitter (not exaggerating). I downloaded several free apps and then with some Paypal money I had laying around (is that what cyber-money does?), I purchased a few other apps that I had either heard recommended or thought were interesting. Apple approves (or rejects) every application that is submitted and that is helpful in separating horribly designed apps (I’m looking at you, BlackBerry developers) from the pack.

One device for everything

I can’t tell you how much I hate filling my pockets with extra crap. I carry an iPod and my BlackBerry. While my Curve has the ability to handle music, the user experience of playing any sort of media takes far too many clicks and trackball movements. Imagine the difference between using a mouse with a scroll wheel to navigate web pages vs. navigating with arrows and keystrokes. It works, it’s just not very efficient.

It just…works

Everything about the iPhone is intuitive. From the gestures to the navigation…it takes about 10 seconds to get used to it and then you are multi-touching with relative ease.

Mobile browsing has no equal

Mobile Safari, the iPhone’s built in browser is so far past every other mobile browser on the market that it is almost unfair. And don’t even bring up your Opera Mini garbage. That doesn’t play here. I’ve used both. The iPhone browser is better in every possible way. It’s fast and awesome. It’s easy to switch from landscape to portrait browsing (just turn the phone). And you can make any of your favorite pages launchable like an app (which I did for Google Reader and Google Talk, since they don’t have apps).

BUT. There’s also stuff that kinda sucks.

Push Gmail is NOT Exchange

I don’t know if this is really Apple’s problem, but I really don’t like how Google decided to use the Microsoft Exchange settings to enable push Gmail. For people like me who want to have both Exchange email for work and Gmail email for home, I would need multiple Exchange accounts, which is not allowed. I ended up leaving Gmail as an IMAP account and using the Exchange account for my work. It made the most sense to me.

The network…UGGGHHHH

Much has been said about the complete suckage that is AT&T’s network. Not only are their costs ridonkulous, but they have completely under-delivered with nearly everything that they promised. MMS rollout took forever. People still can’t tether their iPhones to their computers. All these things are technologies that have been around FOREVER on other networks. Additionally, the 3G network doesn’t feel any faster than the Edge network and there are so many dead spots that you can never count on a consistent connection if you’re driving around.

Multiple calendars

I really like that the Palm Pre offers multiple calendars. With the iPhone, you only get one. If you want to check your Google calendar, you’ve got to go to the Google calendar mobile site (which is a nice experience in Mobile Safari, but still). I don’t get much use out of a calendar that doesn’t show me everything that is going on on all my calendars. I have multiple points of entry. This is one major reason why my next phone will likely be a Pre. (Well, that and I’m a loyal Sprint customer…)

What’s next

I’ve got a couple weeks before I can replace my BlackBerry. I’ve got my eye on the Pre, but the HTC Hero is on my radar as well. Unfortunately, I’ve likely ruined any semblance of a chance that they had at being happy with any non-iPhone device, but we’ll give someone a shot. It has to be a Sprint device for the time being.

Because I’m loyal to my local telecom like that…

But man…do I ever wish that Sprint had taken the opportunity to get the iPhone back when it had the chance.

Crash

The 160GB hard drive on my five-year-old iMac G5 died a few days ago.

I’m not sure what happened. I’d like to blame Microsoft and I actually have some justification in doing it. For some reason, it froze in the middle of a Microsoft Office automatic update and it never recovered.

I’ve tried everything I can for free. I took it to the Apple Store on the Plaza…they couldn’t even see it. I bought a SATA to USB adapter on eBay that arrived today…it didn’t work either.

So I called a data recovery specialist. They told me that if they didn’t recover anything (which they assured me rarely happens), it would still cost me a $200 attempt fee, but if they did, it would be closer to $2,300! (They give you a range and the price is based on how much they recover – minimum $500, maximum $2,700.)

As much as I’d like to recover the data, I’m not down with dropping that much money. The only absolutely heart-breaking thing that I lost was a bunch of pictures. Fortunately, I moved many of the 10,000+ in my iPhoto library (especially the almost 2,000 from our Italy trip) to my Macbook and I’m thankful for that. 

I’ll likely discover over time more of what’s missing, but what’s disheartening is that if I’d upgraded to Leopard I could have used Time Machine to automate the backups, but unfortunately I was still running Tiger.

If there’s one bright spot regarding the crash, it’s that the computer itself will still work and I can upgrade the drive to 320GB…twice the size of its predecessor. Still, it sucks.