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iPhone 3G – The Experience

So I’m now a owner of the new iPhone 3G.  To get this out of the way:

It’s flippin’ awesome.  

However, though, for me, most of the really cool stuff isn’t because of the new iPhone being 3G; our current area doesn’t have 3G coverage (probably will before too much longer, but not right now), so the faster speed doesn’t matter.  The GPS is awesome, but that’s another small aspect of the phone.  And all the aesthetic changes are nice touches, like the plastic backing that fits the hand nicer, the now non-recessed headphone port, and the changes to the sound quality.

Most of the awesomeness so far has actually come from the fact that it’s already loaded with the 2.0 update.  This update, for those that didn’t know (or care :)), included a ton of new features for the phone.  One feature I thought was just going to be cool, but it’s just flat out awesome:  the ability to use Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync.  Using this feature, if I add/change a contact, calendar, or email item on my iPhone, it is damn near instantaneously updated on my Exchange account.  Even better, it works the other way as well, so if I add a calendar item in Outlook/Entourage before I can get to my iPhone it’s there.  Also, email now appears on my iPhone as it comes in, rather than having to wait for it to sync to my account.  That is seriously cool.  

Another really good thing about the update is that it brought (official) third party app support, and because of that I’m finding new things I never heard of before, like Pandora Radio.  This internet radio service intrigues me, since how it works is it asks you what your favorite artist, composer, or etc. is and bases a personalized music stream out of that.  You give each song ratings as it comes up and it constantly adjusts to your preferences.  For example, I gave it the composer Nobuo Uematsu (responsible for many of the Final Fantasy games), and surprisingly it immediately popped up a couple songs by him, and then by analyzing my thumbs up/thumbs down to the songs it picked, it chose songs by different artists/composers that matched that style, i.e. “Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this song because it features new age aesthetics, an overall meditative sound, acoustic sonority, extended piano soloing and minor key tonality”.

Now if finding this new internet radio service wasn’t sweet enough, there is already a app for the iPhone that let’s you listen to internet radio wherever you are.  This didn’t really hit me until I saw one guys comment saying that he used it in his car on the cellular data network and everything was flawless.  Just…. wow.  Taken far enough, this could actually be some serious competition for satellite radio services like XM Radio and Sirius.  Not only is this commercial free music, the service tries to work with what you want to listen to, and is absolutely free.  Not only that, if you don’t like Pandora Radio, AOL Music already has a app for the iPhone that lets you listen to their music as well.  

But enough about the phone and it’s features themselves.  The actual experience of getting the phone, for the most part, was good.  I’m glad that I went and stood in line at 6 am for a couple reasons.  Firstly, when I arrived at the store there were already 7 other people in line (though one wasn’t buying a phone herself, she was only there because her son was).  People kept coming to stand in line over the next couple of hours, and by the time the store opened I estimated that there were about 30-40 people or more waiting.  Unfortunately for some of them, it turns out the store only had 30 iPhones in stock, and by 10 am they had to start turning people away (essentially; I think they would allow you to sign up for a waiting list if you wanted, but there would be no promise of when they would get more iPhones in stock, i.e. could be weeks).

And secondly, it actually comes as no surprise that Apple’s servers started getting hammered shortly after 8 am and stayed that way all day.  I talked to a AT&T yesterday afternoon and found out that I really was one of the lucky ones, since some of the people I was standing next to in line still didn’t have their phones activated by 2 in the afternoon.  AT&T actually had to break standard policy and let some people take the phones home not yet activated just because they couldn’t have these people clogging their registers up all afternoon.

Not everything about the process went well, however.  The general plan yesterday was that I would switch my cell number from my old iPhone to the new one, and then reactivate the old iPhone, transferring our home number to it.  Well, the switch from my old phone to the new one was the only easy part of the process.  It turns out that AT&T had just trained their sales reps on what to do with the new iPhones (activating and switching) just that morning.  The sales rep that I got was a really nice person, and I sincerely think that she was knowledgeable on AT&T’s other line of products, however she was kinda clueless about, well, everything that I asked her about.

I asked her about transferring from one phone to another.  She said that can be done, no problem, but had to get help to do it.  I asked her a question about what data plan I needed to get.  She had to find another sales associate to get the answer.  I asked about reactivating the old phone and converting my plan to a family one.  She, stumped, had to get the manager (who, apparently, was the only one authorized to ferry new iPhones from the safe in back to the front staff, so she was pretty busy and hard to get ahold of).

Like I said, kind but clueless.  The answers I finally did get, though, was that I should be able to do all of the reactivating once I got home through iTunes, so home I went with my new iPhone in hand and a old one that now operated as a expensive iPod Touch.  At home, I played around with my new iPhone for a bit and then went to iTunes to activate the old phone.  I plugged it in, iTunes said it was connecting to the store, I waited 3 minutes, then 5 minutes, then a bit more, and finally something happened: iTunes spewed back a “unknown error”.  I tried again.  Same result.  Well, I figured that perhaps their servers were getting hit hard (this being a little bit after 8 am on launch day), so I decided to wait till later.

At 1:30 in the afternoon, I try again.  Same basic error, but it spews something back that kinda indicates to me that the phone’s information may need to be erased before this process can begin.  So I pick up the old phone, go through the menus and find a button to erase all settings and content.  I push it, then say yes to the confirmation.  The iPhone indicates that everything is being erased…. and then reboots and shows that it’s connected to one of the local networks.  That requires extra things set.  So it didn’t get everything.  OK…….  So I go in, and pick all the erase options, one by one.  This time I know everything is erased, because now it’s showing that I have to activate it to use it.  Cool, now I’m ready to begin….

…. or so I thought, because when I open iTunes, I now get a different “unknown error”.  Great, I’m holding a device that had some purpose in life, and now it’s less useful than Fox News.  Wonderful.  Well, what can I do at this point but go to the AT&T store?  Theoretically, they should know what’s going on and be able to help.  Once I get there, I actually get to speak to the manager immediately, who is nice and knowledgeable…. except about what’s going on.  The best she can tell me is to wait, because Apple’s servers are so clogged that even the AT&T store doesn’t have a solid connection to them.  

Back home I go again, and this time I wait until 9 pm to try again, and this time, success!  Well…. mostly.  It turns out some of the info that I was given at the AT&T store was wrong, and I can’t change my account to a family plan within iTunes, that’s something I need to call AT&T about directly.  So this morning (after checking that iTunes is still working) I call AT&T and actually get a human right away (as in after a couple rings a person answers; surprises me enough that I actually ask if I’m speaking to a human).  15 minutes later I’m switched to a family plan.  This time when I go back to iTunes everything works, and now the old phone is activated, though the number transfer will take some time (I knew about that before hand; at least the phone can be used to make outgoing calls and do everything else in the mean time).  Whew!  My wife now has the old phone and she loves it, especially since we got it updated with the new 2.0 update so she gets to use almost every new feature that I can. 

So that, my friends, was my experience in getting the new iPhone 3G.  The device has been well worth the wait, and now that the whole thing with the reactivation is over (well, mostly over) we can look back and chuckle.  Well, I can at least.  My wife?

She’s too damn busy playing with her new iPhone.  :)

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