The iPhone 4S Buying Experience

I bought my first iPhone Friday after bucking the trend for lo these many years. This was an upgrade from the Blackberry Bold 9000 that I’ve carried for nearly three years. The iPhone isn’t my first Apple product – I’ve got an original iPad and an Apple TV currently and had a couple of Macs back in the ’80s – just my first Apple phone. The thing that got my attention was the Siri feature, but I’m also impressed by the user experience on the iPad, the iPhone’s hardware specs, and the quality of the non-free apps in the Apple inventory. So far so good, it’s an excellent smartphone that does everything it’s supposed to do and a lot that I didn’t expect.

Apple’s Cookie Colleciton

Contrary to popular belief, the iPhone ecosystem is substantially open. I’ve got Skype, a Google Voice client (Talkatone,) and a VoIP client (the Bria SIP softphone) installed, and they all work. The SIP dialer runs over the cellular network in a pinch (not nearly as well as it does over Wi-Fi,) but I’m not sure about Skype and Talkatone (the latter will use your cellular voice connection for call forwarding however.)

The iPhone also comes with a Wi-Fi hotspot that works as long as your carrier supports it, which generally means you need a rather generous data plan. For me, this meant I could cancel the data plan I had for my iPad and effectively pool its data allowance with that of the iPhone without paying extra. The only disappointment on the specs side is the lack of support for 5.8 GHz Wi-Fi (802.11a.) 40 MHz bonded channels are generally only practical over 5.8 GHz, so as it stands the iPhone’s WLAN connection isn’t that much faster than the wireline Internet connection I have in my home/office; not that you’ll ever get more than 20 Mbps from Wi-Fi in the real world anyhow. The lack of LTE is also unfortunate, but I knew about that already.

The line at the Apple Store

I eventually bought the iPhone from the Apple store at the Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton, CA. I went to the local AT&T store in Livermore first, but that was an exercise in futility. The store was fairly bustling, but they didn’t have much stock. A greeter met people at the door and took notes on an iPad about what they wanted and what they were wearing. In my case, he actually went to the back of the store and visually checked the stock before telling me they had one 16 GB iPhone in stock so I had a “pretty good chance” that it would still be there where my turn came up. I then milled about the store for 20 minutes or so before being told that the 16 GB iPhone was sold out but they had the nice 32 GB models for only 50% more. Great IT system they have there; a simple spreadsheet can track inventory better than the eyeball-and-guess method they were using.

While waiting to have my hopes crushed, I played with Siri on a display phone and shared the experience with a guy who had ordered on-line and just came to the store for grins. Siri’s impressive, but it needs a
back key,” as iOS does generally, and it doesn’t integrate with third party apps so that’s something to work on.

All the blue shirts in the Apple store are employees

I then tried Parrot Cellular, a reseller, but they had no 4Ss at all and the store was completely empty. So off the Apple store in the mall where my quest met with success. Apple had cookies and Smart Water to ease the pain of waiting in line, but the line wasn’t too bad. There were only two people ahead of me and a nice young gentleman took my order, assured me the stock was adequate (he had a real inventory app on his iPad) and gave me a ticket with a serial number on it. The wait was around five minutes, which game me time for one of the Madeleines. It was lacking in crunch, but the price was right.

Nothing cooking at the AT&T store at first

The store was adequately staffed, and the folks (they all wore blue shirts) knew what they were doing. When I walked out the door, my number was ported, my plan was selected, and my phone was live. It was a total piece of cake, so to speak, and they do this for all three carriers.

Not a whole lot was cooking at the AT&T store in the mall the first time I passed it, so they were probably short on stock as well. Later there was a healthy line at AT&T, so maybe my timing was lucky (I didn’t check on the Apple line a second time.)

Then they came out of the woodwork at AT&T.

The iPhone works like the iPad, only it’s smaller, lighter (the same 4.9 oz as the Blackberry) and somewhat more visually crisp. It’s also noticeably faster, both in terms of processing and in terms of network performance, so it’s a win all the way around. The lackluster voice quality of the early iPhones was the main reason I stayed with the BB for so long, but that seems to be well corrected in the 4S. So color me happy. Not fanboi happy, but well pleased.

The main reason I replaced the Blackberry was to get an email program that understands the concept of folders and to get access to a broader selection of apps. So that much was a win right off the bat. My Android experience so far consists of the HTC G1, the original battery killing, super-clunky model that was so bad I returned it. So I’m not particularly interested in going down that road again.