Frustrations with the iPhone, from an Apple admirer

I got my first “smart” phone, a BlackBerry Pearl, in 2007. I got it from for $0.00 with a 2-year AT&T contract. It was EDGE-only – no 3G – and certainly had a lot of problems, but I loved it. At some point the ball fell out of it and it became unusable. The iPhone 3G was out by that time and I ended up getting my wife an iPhone 3G for Mother’s Day in 2009 and one for myself a few weeks later. I pretty much fell in love with the iPhone, and my concern about the on-screen keyboard was negated by having a real web browser after suffering with Blackberry’s for so long. And 3G was an amazing step up from EDGE speeds.

My Blackberry Pearl in its final days
My Blackberry Pearl in its final days

One of the reasons I was reluctant to get an iPhone was my hatred of iTunes. iTunes is a bloated, huge, slow piece of junk. I know it has fans, mostly among people whose primary environment is Mac, and it certainly runs better there than on Windows. Prior to iOS 5, you had to connect your phone to your computer and back it up via iTunes periodically, and also had to connect via USB cable to copy movies or MP3s onto the device. This isn’t something I do that frequently, though, so it wasn’t a big deal, and as I said, the iPhone was so amazing that it was worth the pain. (And, with iOS 5 doing backups to iCloud I haven’t really had to touch iTunes much over the past year).

But the list of “cons” for the iPhone is still pretty long and the “pros” haven’t really grown at all. It’s always bothered me that the iPhone uses a proprietary data/charging cable, and with the iPhone 5 Apple doubled down on this idea by introducing the “Lightning” connector – with the added bonus of obsoleting all devices designed to work with previous generation iPods & iPhones, such as the Sony clock radio we have, or the 500 watt stereo that’s “made for iPhone.”

Another annoyance is that I can’t simply plug the phone in to any computer and have it show up as a hard drive and copy music files onto it – I must still use iTunes for that. Sure, I can do the actual transfer now via wifi rather than via the USB cable, but it still requires iTunes, and can only be done from my “main” computer – not either of my two other home computers or my work computer.

Videos are even worse, since they have to be in m4v format using a proprietary codec. A downloaded .avi will need to be converted to an Apple-compatible format, and that’s not trivial – or quick. To get a video onto my phone I need to

  1. Download it
  2. Transcode it to iPhone format (~20 minutes on my laptop for a 60 minute video),
  3. Copy it to the one computer that my phone is “bound” to via iTunes
  4. Copy the video to the phone.

There are other quirks with the OS that I find annoying, but lately it looks like Apple’s just been putting all its money on Siri as its killer feature. Personally I hate Siri and have disabled the feature on my phone – it didn’t work about ¾ of the time when I tried it and was more an obstacle than a convenience. It kept activating randomly when I’d hold up the phone to my face, so I disabled it and haven’t looked back. The Maps debacle in iOS 6 is common knowledge at this point, but thankfully I never upgraded to iOS 6, and at this point I don’t ever plan to, since the only new feature in it of any use to me is Do Not Disturb, which Apple didn’t even implement properly (see below).

I like my iPhone a lot, but there are some basic features I would like to see in it, many of which seem to be available in many Android devices already. Ars Technica recently posted an article on this subject and the realization that there are other people feeling these frustrations is what prompted me to write this.

Number 2 on their list, customizing “do not disturb,” seemed so unbelievably obvious that I can’t believe it wasn’t included as part of the feature in iOS 6 – you can schedule DND, but you can’t set different schedules per day? WTF? And the default weather app always shows it’s 73 degrees and Sunny? Why? Surely by now they could make that live-update. And why can’t the phone be smart enough to enable wifi only when I’m at home or at work, and disable it the rest of the time? Android can do that… iPhone has geofencing already, so there’s really no reason they couldn’t do it, they just choose not to. Disabling wifi on the iPhone is a 6-step procedure: Unlock phone, enter passcode, find settings app, open settings app, click “wifi”, move slider to “off.” Then repeat to turn it back on when you get home.

While I’m not crazy about the all-glass construction, the 4S is a nice piece of hardware, and for the most part it “just works.” Personally I’m not a big app user – I spend almost all my time using the built-in default apps. The things I do on my phone, in order of decreasing frequency, are email, web, Twitter, Facebook, phone, weather, music. But iPhone isn’t the only game in town anymore, and the Samsung Galaxy line of phones is looking very attractive, if for no other reason than I can stop looking for “discount” iPhone cables for $3 each from shady Hong Kong stores and just use standard USB cables. Since Apple decided that upgrading to an iPhone 5 would render my current $300+ worth of accessories worthless anyway, I don’t really have any incentive to stay with the iPhone platform. I mean, I’d like to, but I’m not seeing anything compelling coming down the pipe from Apple, and Samsung has hardware that’s arguably as nice (or nicer) and features like a removable battery, a micro SD card slot for added storage (without having to buy a completely different phone for $100 more…), and the aforementioned MicroUSB charger. Plus you can just mount the phone as a hard drive and drop your MP3 or video onto it and play most standard formats without any ridiculous transcoding – things I was able to do in like 2005 on a “personal media player” device. I haven’t seen any real improvements in iOS since 5.0, and as I said, Apple appears to be pushing Siri as the “killer app,” . One of the bullet-point features for iOS 6.1 is the ability to buy movie tickets through Siri. Yay…

I’m halfway through my 2-year contract with my current 4S so I have a while yet before I go phone shopping, but as it stands now Apple isn’t offering very much to keep me happy – the $30 “Lightning” cable bullshit is definitely a step in the wrong direction. But I mean, I have a couple episodes of Walking Dead on my computer. They’re .avis and I want to watch them on my morning train ride. I was looking at the Samsung Galaxy Player (which appears to be essentially a Galaxy phone without the phone functionality) but I don’t want to have to carry a second device just to watch videos. It’s really obnoxious on Apple’s part that they stick to their way of doing things despite how much it annoys people, but I guess that’s been the standard Apple complaint for over 20 years. Frankly I didn’t mind it with the iPhone as long as they had no real competition, but if there’s a better product at the same/comparable price then it seems foolish to stick with them.

Updated 2/12/2013: After I wrote this rant I started hunting down reviews of Android phones to see which are the best. I found this great review of the Nexus 4 on Anandtech. It wasn’t really a comparison with the iPhone 5, but taking a look at the benchmark results on that page, it’s pretty clear that the iPhone 5 is the best-performing phone on the market, especially for the things I use most (e.g. browser):

Anandtech Nexus 4 Benchmark

This has tempered my anger with the iPhone 5, but not made the decision any easier. I was hoping newer Android phones would be the clear winner on the hardware front but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Another important factor seems to be the quality of Samsung & LG phones’ screens, which judging by the video reviews I’ve checked on YouTube, are pretty inferior to iPhone’s – much more variation in color, with yellower whites.
Plus, the Nexus 4 basically only runs on T-Mobile in the US, and I don’t have any interest switching to T-Mobile. And, icing on the cake, the Nexus 4 has no SD card slot. So rather than making the decision easier, research has made it harder, because it appears that Android phones’ hardware is still not on par with iPhone’s. Or maybe the performance issues are software-based, but if the Nexus 4 is Google’s latest flagship device I’d expect it to be running a fully tuned & tweaked OS. So if the best they can do is nowhere near iPhone’s current baseline, that’s pretty sad.

After switching back to Cablevision, FiOS users can’t call us.

So we switched back to Cablevision and it went pretty well, but apparently Verizon users can’t call our house number (ported from Verizon to Cablevision). Verizon users have to call from their mobiles in order to complete the call. I’m guessing that Verizon hasn’t updated their systems to indicate that they no longer “own” our number and is trying to route the call inside their network. Sucks because I can’t imagine Verizon jumping to help fix this since I’m not their customer anymore.

Looking into modernizing our office phone system

I’m researching replacing our current office phone system with a modern one. Currently we have a pretty old system (not managed by my department): POTS lines into an old PBX, old Toshiba DKT2010 handsets, lousy voicemail, and no direct-dial to each desk. You have to call in, talk to the receptionist, and get transferred. We also have no caller ID, and when you move from desk A to desk B, your extension changes from 305 to 309 (or whatever) – your extension is not bound to the phone, but to the jack. In addition to being retarded, this means your business cards now have the wrong extension on them

If I’m going to be taking over the phone system then I’m replacing it. I don’t know anything about phone systems except that VoIP and Asterisk are my starting points. Here’s what I want:

  • DID to each desk
  • Caller ID
  • Voicemail emailed to your inbox as MP3/WAV
  • Jabber integration if possible – if your Jabber status is “away” the call goes straight to voicemail.
  • Extension bound to the phone… this seems like an easy one, since DHCP already does this for computers.
  • Faxes delivered to users’ inboxes – complete email/fax conversion would be idea.
  • We have Exchange 2010 which has Unified Messaging; I don’t know if we’d need to use that but I guess it’s an option. A friend pointed me at MS Response Point, which I was going to look at, but Microsoft apparently ended that product, so I didn’t bother.

    Currently I’m checking out Trixbox, specifically their trixbox appliance. Though, I usually like to “roll my own” box when first playing around with new technology to learn how it works.

FiOS Ping Test

Ran a ping test at today. Overall I can’t find fault with the FiOS service so far. Port 80 and 443 are open and I have them forwarded to my Linux box so I can actually run a webserver in my basement. I’m debating moving this domain over to my own linux box, since it’s super low traffic, but I probably won’t.

Continue reading “FiOS Ping Test”

I used to love my BlackBerry Pearl

I got my phone in April 2007 from I got a good deal — a BlackBerry Pearl and 2 Motorola RAZR V3rs for… free. No rebates or anything, totally free. LetsTalk screwed up the account creation but I got that straightened out with Cingular.

The BlackBerry served me pretty well until around September 2008 when the trackball got so gunked up I couldn’t use it. I keep my phone in my pants pocket and not in some protective case, so I guess the lint and finger grease got to be too much. I dealt with it like this for a couple of weeks until I decided to try cleaning the ball. It’s pretty easy to remove the clip and take the whole apparatus out, and it was indeed very gunky in there. I went at it with a can of air (computer dusting stuff), a Q-tip and some rubbing alcohol. I got all the gunk off, put it all back together and it was pretty good for about a week or two. Then it was back to its old self – spinning the trackball didn’t do anything and I couldn’t navigate menus or use almost any of the features of the phone. Plus – this is the best part – the plastic clip that kept the trackball apparatus in place had apparently lost tension or something and would pop off, and by the end of 2008 the trackball had fallen out completely and is now lost to the ages.

Fortunately at some point before the complete failure of the trackball, when it still functioned intermittently, I had gone into the configuration and set the left-side convenience key to go to my inbox and the right-side button to go to the web browser. These two apps are navigable using the keypad, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. So my phone still has email and basic browser support, but if a dialog box pops up that doesn’t have hotkeys for “OK” or “Cancel” I have no choice but to hit the “go back/cancel” button, so e.g. I can’t accept many SSL certs.

This whole experience has soured me on the BlackBerry. I’m not buying a phone with a trackball again, and I’d like to buy something with no moving parts if possible. I had high hopes for the BlackBerry Storm – I love the BlackBerry OS – but the week the Storm was released I went to a Verizon store to play with it and I found it horrendous. The reviews that came out about the Storm since then have said pretty much the same thing – the phone is a dud.

After reviewing the options it looks like my two best choices for internet phones are the iPhone and the Nokia e71. A guy at work has the e71 and loves it, but even he has conceded that the iPhone has a superior browser. I’m not a fan of touch keyboards but the iPhone still seems like the most advanced phone available today, even almost a year after the 3G iPhone’s launch.

My contract is already up but I don’t know what I’m going to do. There’s supposed to be an AT&T-subsidized version of the e71, the e71x, coming out pretty soon that’s rumored to cost around $100, but it’s been “real soon now” apparently for several months. I’m leaning toward the iPhone but I hate to spend $200 out of pocket when until now I’ve never paid for a phone.