One Year Later: iPhone Not So Amazing

There are many things I love about my original iPhone, but after one year of ownership, it’s lately begun to collect dust in its charging stand. I grabbed a BlackBerry Curve 8330 at the office, and after three weeks with the RIM device, I’m sure I’m not going back to my iPhone.

So what’s wrong with the iPhone? Two things:

1. One word: AT&T. I live and work in the greater Boston area, and AT&T’s network is pretty poor here and elsewhere. When I receive calls at my house, the iPhone rings only about 50% of the time. Sometimes calls don’t even register as missed. One of the first things I noticed after switching to BlackBerry on Verizon’s network is how many calls I was suddenly getting. And calls to my BlackBerry don’t drop off or become interference plagued anywhere near as frequently as those on my iPhone. Apple’s insistence on exclusivity with AT&T in the U.S. will keep me from going back to the iPhone until that changes.

So is this a regional problem? Not according to Consumer Reports, which has more than once ranked Verizon’s network as best or second best in most major markets throughout the U.S. Both in the Northeast and in my travels all around the country I have found this to be true. I was a Verizon Wireless customer before I bought my iPhone.

2. The virtual keyboard doesn’t work for me. People assume that it’s the lack of tactile feel when pressing fingers to glass, but I don’t think that tells the story. My frustration with the iPhone keyboard is that I cannot use my thumbs, but am instead reduced to stabbing with one finger, which is slower and less accurate. The worst part is that I frequently press the wrong keys while attempting to type without looking. On the BlackBerry, even though the keys are both much smaller and packed more tightly together, I’m able to “touch type” because of the little bumps that help you locate the keys by touch. The way I see this the problem is one of size. I could deal with lack of tactile feel on the iPhone if the virtual keycaps were larger so there were less chance of hitting the wrong key. Without those tactile bumps, me and my thumbs need larger targets.

That’s my short list of serious pet peeves with the iPhone. Were I to make a list of things I love about Apple’s smartphone, it would have at least a dozen items. But while it’s a short list negatives, they hard to get around: It’s not a reliable cell phone for calls, and I can’t really type emails and texts comfortably. The switch to the BlackBerry was a no-brainer for me.

Even so, I wouldn’t say I love the BlackBerry. The software syncing situation is terrible for Mac users. PocketMac is hopeless. (I’m about to try Missing Sync.) RIM needs to break down and write a true Desktop Manager for the Mac. I’m going to miss the iPhone’s seamless integration with all things Apple and Mac.

I also don’t like the BlackBerry’s over-reliance on email as a way to notify about voicemails and texts. I get so much voicemail that I need one place for that. I love the iPhone’s visual voicemail center and texting module (which uses more of an IM paradigm).

The BlackBerry Web browser and digital media features pale by comparison with those of the iPhone. I bought a 4GB SD card for the BlackBerry and still haven’t been able to successfully copy my songs and photos to RIM’s smartphone.

One BlackBerry Curve strength I hadn’t expected is that it’s noticeably lighter than the iPhone while being roughly comparable in size.

All in all, the iPhone is the most important smartphone released in the last three years. But Apple’s blind insistence on being exclusive with AT&T and Steve Job’s belief that buttons are bad — even keyboard buttons — makes the iPhone incomplete for me. I know other people who’ve gone back too. I’ll come back to the iPhone when and if Apple gets the message about the main things that a smartphone has to accomplish: phone calls and email.

If I could only get the BlackBerry keyboard and Verizon’s network on the iPhone, I’d have the best of both worlds.

26 Responses to “One Year Later: iPhone Not So Amazing”

  1. AndyM Says:

    Also have had the iPhone, for more than a year. While AT&T isn’t bad in the NYC area, I find the iPhone a little hard to hold as a phone (slippery, with the earpiece not great), and it just doesn’t seem to be primarily a phone. Also a bit glitchy, where the screen sometimes doesn’t turn back on when I move it from my face, making it difficult to end the call.

    Agree as well with your points on the keyboard. I do the one-finger method too, and even then I’m frequently backspacing to correct slight misspellings that can generate the wrong word.

    Good luck with Missing Synch. I used a few versions of that with the Palm and Mac up until a couple of years ago, and there were occasional issues with corrupted data or data not synching. I did contact them about it and they were unable to resolve. Personally, I would be reluctant to rely on their products, although it seems many people happily use them. So maybe my experience was a fluke.

    To give you a complete picture, A few months ago I switched to Vista on an HP Slimline, after regularly using Macs at home since 1993 (everything from an LC to the black MacBook). I got tired of not having anything comparable to Outlook and having to make many small compromises (such as keyboard shortcuts). I’m very happy with the setup, and I fully understand that many Mac users would completely disagree with me, so no one needs to go there! (I do like and respect the Mac platform.)

    Anyway, the iPhone synchs well with Outlook on Vista, so that experience has been good. But now that I’ll be needing a new phone, I’m considering other options. I like the HTC Touch Pro, but haven’t tried it in person. The Palm Treo Pro (the new one) looks very nice as well. I do have a BBerry Curve for work, which works nicely, but I think I want WMobile with full Outlook synch (including Tasks, which the iPhone frustratingly doesn’t do without jumping through a lot of hoops and buying an app or two).

  2. Scot Says:

    Interesting info, Andy. Truth is, AT&T isn’t terrible in Boston either. But it’s very spotty. Verizon is pretty strong everywhere. Three miles from my house, my iPhone gets 5 bars. At my home, no bars. But it’s my home that matters. My neighbor, who is also in the IT industry, has the same problem. We both have to go outside to receive and make calls. But winter is coming on — and that’s getting old!

    Since I’m stuck with Lotus Notes, and my company runs BlackBerry Enterprise Server, that’s a big part of the reason I went back to a BlackBerry. I don’t do Outlook (although I’d happily give up Notes for it). As a Mac user, though, the idea of having to use Entourage makes me shudder. I’d rather use Notes.

    It’s amazing to me that 10 million units of iPhone sold through Sept (in not even 15 months since the intro) and it has the problems it does. I’m just too much of a phone & email freak to be able to deal with the iPhone, which does everything but those two things well. Apple is unlikely to fix what isn’t broken from their perspective when you look at sales. I just don’t see myself going back to iPhone unless they do, though. Maybe, maybe if they swing a deal with Verizon in a few years.

    About Mac vs. Vista, it’s really personal preference. You’re an Outlook guy — so you’re always going to miss Windows. There was no application holding me back. I like the Mac better, but I don’t hate Windows.

    I’m looking forward to checking out the Windows 7 code.

    — Scot

  3. jnaveen Says:

    Its also too expensive in India right now. Almost $800!

  4. Scot Says:

    That’s preposterous. Probably has something to do with the wireless carrier too, I’m guessing.

    My big problem is that I still have a year on my contract, and I need to figure out how or even if there’s a reasonable way out of it. I’m paying about $67 a month for the service. And now it’s just a glorified iPod as far as I’m concerned.

    — Scot

  5. lylemo Says:

    AT&T is terrible in our area (mid-NH). My “choice” is using 2 devices: cell phone + iPod Touch. Would like to use one device…smartphone. I’ve used MissingSync with PalmTX (which I want to get rid of…Palm repairs are a nightmare) and was pleased with that sync app. I’d like very much to hear what your experience is if/when you use MissingSync with the BB Curve 8330 and Mac.

  6. lylemo Says:

    I should have mentioned in my post: I have used Verizon for several years and am very pleased with its coverage/reliability, from New England to FL; switching to AT&T would be unwise.

  7. glewis Says:

    Sadly, I recently made the move from AT&T to Verizon. I’ll certainly miss my iPhone but the service is so spotty, I simply can not rely on it. I miss phone calls AND emails. This is simply unacceptable for a business user.

    You’d think in my area (the Baltimore Washington corridor), the service would be excellent; but not so. I lose calls within an 8 mile radius of my home so when I’m driving home or to work (using bluetooth with a HORRIBLE echo (another iPhone problem)), the call simply fails.

    I spent 15 minutes with the new Blackberry Storm and decided I probably could get used to the click-through keyboard. I’d be happy to relay my overall experience as soon as I receive it (it was shipped two days ago). Even if it turns out I hate the Storm, I’ll stick with Verizon and another phone this time. Apple needs to wake up and work with AT&T to FIX the problems or not have an exclusive carrier in the U.S. If the devteam can ever break the iPhone, I’ll be the first on board to use it with Verizon!

  8. Scot Says:

    Would be interested in your impressions of the Storm. Two of our reviewers at Computerworld didn’t like it much. I’ve yet to try it. I’m just not all that interested in any virtual keyboard. I’m pretty darn happy with the Curve. But it sounds like your experiences and mine were very similar with the AT&T network.

    For the record, I don’t think the echo you describe was an iPhone-specific problem. I’ve heard that (very infrequently) with several cell phones and networks. My iPhone is no more likely to have that problem than any other mobile I’ve used. In fact, I can’t recall it ever doing that. A bad echo is certainly not a generic iPhone problem. At least not in my area.

    — Scot

  9. Albow Says:

    Scot, if you’re OK with the Mk1 Curve, the Bold supercharges it. Much faster processor (Curve’s lag is tedious) and the 3G and Wi-Fi support make mobile internet use almost a pleasure (rather than a chore on the Curve). Also has an external card slot, so could make side-loading tunes a viable option if syncing causing you grief. Early days, but my only gripes with the Bold that are it is a bit bigger so doesn’t fit in my hand or type quite as comfortably in single-handed use, and that it isn’t very ‘exciting’.

    However, that latter gripe sums it up to me — BlackBerries are tops for work, while iPhones are for the current top dogs for play. Difference is BB has staying power, iPhone 3G will be toast within a few months when the next cool device rolls in.

    Unless Apple is nuts, it has very soon to come out with a range of iPhone form factors (beyond the long-rumoured low-end iPhone nano), including keyboard (perhaps WinMo landscape slider-style) and decent imaging (where the likes of Nokia slaughter it). However, not sure if Apple fully understands that mobile is different to PC, with product cycles measured in months and far more fashion oriented — iPhone 3G will be past it within months, and over the hill by next fall.

    From what I’ve seen and heard, the Storm sits between trad BBs and the iPhone, which could just be no-man’s land. Absence of Wi-Fi is moronic. UK users finding it really buggy and very miffed about initial BlackBerry Enterprise absence (duh…). New-to-BB consumers seem wowed by the messaging and generally happy, while BB old-guard seem to gripe (I don’t want one…).

    Nokia’s E73 *might* be a wildcard, but haven’t personally tried it and no idea about Mac compatibility.

    There is also an uprated Curve due, which hopefully keeps the same form-factor but apparently updates the processor, adds Wi-Fi (no 3G) and has new cosmetics.

  10. phavens Says:

    I have held back from switching to AT&T for cell service (though I love my uVerse) because I love the Verizon service I’ve had for years. That said I recently upgraded and I didn’t like the Storm at all. I realiE that they come with a buggy firmware that should be updated soon after getting it. But there was just way too many bugs. So after a lot of research I got the Samsung Omnia running WinMo 6.1. It took some tweaking out of the box, like changing back to the Samsung Today theme from the “fancy” Verizon one that wasted space and turning off the autocomplete spell checker and just using the standard samsung keyboard. All in all I love it and my only gripe is the crappy Verizon App store.

  11. Scot Says:

    PHavens, totally with you on the Verizon crapware and app store. But their network rocks. I can forgive a lot for that.

  12. MitchWagner Says:

    If AT&T service is bad in your area, that’s a reason to dump the iPhone right there. I don’t care how brilliant the phone hardware and software is — if you can’t get a signal then the phone is useless.

    I find service quite good where I live and work, and in the places I travel to regularly, New York and Ohio. However, we went on vacation to New Mexico recently, and I was almost entirely without service. How quickly we come to rely on those little gadgets.

    As for the keyboard, I find it quite comfortable. The key is finish typing the word, THEN go back and correct it if necessary. More than half the time, the autocorrect remembers the word you meant to type, even if you completely munge the letters.

    Have you considered getting an iPod Touch?

  13. Scot Says:

    Naw, I have an iPhone. I still have it. I use it now and then and it has my music on it. I’m hoping AT&T will improve the network. The issue is that it doesn’t ring reliably at my house. My office is three miles from home and I get 4 or 5 bars there. The variability of signal strength seems a lot more pronounced on AT&T’s network. I was even having problem sending texts at home. It drove me crazy.

  14. wdh Says:

    Tell lylemo to check with for excellent repair on Palms at a very reasonable cost.

  15. MitchWagner Says:

    Yes, of course, if you have an iPhone there’s no need to get a Touch. You can even switch off the AT&T service and use it as a Touch – that’s what my wife does with my first-generation iPhone.

  16. glewis Says:

    Hi everyone; just another ‘me too’ message. I love my iPhone but hated AT&T service so bad, I paid $167 to break my contract. Then purchased the Blackberry Curve on Verizon. Although every feature of the Curve pales in comparison to the iPhone, the calls get through and stay connected, I receive emails regularly, the battery lasts longer than 1/2 a day yadda, yadda, yadda. Some day, when Jobs pulls his head out of their (Apple’s) butt, I’ll reactivate my iPhone (or purchase the 5g version 😉 and use the Verizon network. Verizon’s network appears to be superior in every location I travel to.

    Today, my iPhone is a scaled back iPod Touch (without the phone network, I must rely on wi-fi for connectivity) – so it’s a great tool for listening to music and playing Texas Hold-Em. I still use it for scheduling (superior to the Curve), a calculator (superior to the Curve), browser ((superior to the Curve when using my home wi-fi cnnection)), iPod (superior to the Curve), weather, stocks (superior to the Curve). Note that the Curve’s camera blows the iPhone away though! I miss my iPhone being my constand phone companion. The Curve is adequate to my needs but not nearly as good a user experience.

    Oh well… That’s what I get for being among the first to push the envelope. If only AT&T had reliable service (did I mention the AT&T service costs are dramatically less than Verizon?).

  17. glewis Says:

    Oops. I guess I’m so distressed over not being able to use my iPhone, I forgot that I actually have the Blackberry Storm and NOT the Curve.

  18. fjs08 Says:

    I have an iPhone purchased in Dec 07. My wife uses Verizon. I find I use her phone ALOT when we are out together.
    I get loads of text messages, but if the BB ” BlackBerry’s over-reliance on email as a way to notify about voicemails and texts” uses e-mails to notify me of texts, that seems a bit redundant and strange. Maybe I’m missing something here.

  19. Scot Says:

    Glewis: We probably established this earlier, but you and I think and work the same way. The two differences are that I DO have the Curve and my iPhone is still connected to AT&T’s network. I called up to cancel, and they downsold me. They reduced my monthly bill by more than $20 — and I decided that for a few months I would stick with it. For me it was a good decision, since I was using my personal iPhone for work, I’ve received voicemails and texts to the iPhone number that I needed to know about — even though my outgoing message there says “call my BlackBerry please.”

    fjs08: It’s true that the BlackBerry OS relies way too heavily on email for notification. And by comparison, the iPhone is just head and shoulders better. I love the iPhone OS and the thinking behind the way things work on it. My main problem is the network, and secondarily I’m a lot slower on a virtual keyboard.

    There is a setting in the BB OS that allows you to create a separate “center” with its own icon on the home screen called “SMS and MMS.” This separates your text messages from your email. But, inexplicably, it also becomes the area where your voicemail and missed-call notifications appear. It’s a whole lot better than being mixed in with my email (hundreds of messages a day). It makes the BB tolerable for text. But RIM really needs to wake up to the world of text messages.

    The iPhone uses the iChat paradigm for texts and it’s totally separate from everything else. It has a Text icon on the home screen, and the notification is a little red number of “unread” texts in the icon’s top-right corner. It’s instantly understandable and not complex at all. It is perfection for text, IMO.

  20. utechtm Says:

    I live on the fringe coverage of both AT&T and Verizon. The way I solved the problem is with a BDA (bi-directional amp). I now have consistent coverage in my home office with AT&T.

    Scot – on the issue of the virtual keyboard I could not agree more. It is a pain to use for me as well. However, I will not give up my iphone because of it. I do not use the iphone for serious email responses, nor would I use a blackberry. I’ll pull out the macbook air and give a detailed response when necessary.

    Nothing beats the iphone as an entertainment device and that is as important to me as email. I fly out on a 2 day business trip every week and the iphone maintains my sanity.

  21. dsteinschneider Says:

    I have a Verizon Touch Pro. It’s a great phone, the screen is VGA, its touch scrolling works nicely, bluetooth is working well and a guy from ppcgeeks released a hack so its built-in GPS works with TomTom 7. As with previous WinMo phones I have a charging dock to charge an extra battery I use on busy days. Some have complained about Verizon’s keyboard layout but I’m writing more than ever with it.

  22. Quadpit Says:

    Scot: First of all I want to compliment your subscribers for not turning this into a slam-fest like 99% of most forums are… Especially when the PC/Mac differences are mentioned. I use both and like/dislike both in certain situations but like having the choice.

    For those who are BB users, and have troubles making it do what you want, I recommend reading the forums on because they have a lot of good tips and tricks there for users who like to tweak their BB phones.

    I have a Verizon Pearl 8130 and like it a lot but the 8330 came out afterwards and I like it even better. My buddy has an iPhone, which is pretty sweet for browser and larger screen images but I like mine for my Outlook syncing and a lot of the apps I use. He still needs to borrow mine a lot due to not having a strong signal though but that’s more off a provider issue. Having AT&T only as a provider is a big negative and I like having multiple options to choose from.

  23. fjs08 Says:

    I was telling my wife about this blog and comments and she is saying (tongue in cheek) that ATT powers are plotting against me. Since my post, I’ve had my iPhone sitting on my lap watching TV and 3 calls went straight to voicemail. I’ve also missed a couple of business calls, luckily, I gave the contacts my wife’s Verizon number. Amazing. Also made a trip to the Verizon store . The BB Curve 8330 looks nice. Very nice!!

  24. henrytd Says:

    I switched from Verizon (Treo 650) to a 3G iPhone last summer, and at first the cell phone coverage at home was terrible – one bar at most – but now I have five bars and I’m happy as a clam (western suburb of Philadelphia). Patience paid off. ATT is addressing the coverage problem.

    Now I’m waiting for apps that allow for a horizontal keyboard for wider keys to solve the fat finger problem. One that I use frequently, Note*Spark, says they’re close to having the horizontal keyboard, and would guess that others are too. So, for now I rarely answer emails with my iPhone, but I can usually get to a computer quickly so that’s not a problem. And while I’m waiting, I’m checking Google News, Weather, Stocks, using the timer and calculator, checking pitch with Cleartune, checking Flight Status, and using the camera to document things when my PowerShot G-9 isn’t with me (rare). The list goes on. This iPhone is my first Apple product, and I love it.


  25. Scot Says:

    AT&T acknowledged the Dead Zone on this street (it’s not just me), but it has done nothing about it. I had AT&T in the 90s, when I lived in a different town, and I had the same problem.

    Apple’s horizontal keyboard is much better. You can see it on the iPhone’s Safari browser if you tilt the screen horizontally and then touch the address bar. But the two places I most need the wide keyboard are in email and SMS (text). The iPhone doesn’t provide the functionality in those two applications that lets you tilt the screen horizontally and view them in widescreen. So, no amount of added functionality in other applications is going to solve my problem. And as you can see from the comments just on this post alone, a percentage of iPhone users has this problem.

    What I’ve noticed is that the more of a touch typist you are, the more likely you are to be frustrated by the iPhone’s keyboard. Of course, the importance of email and texting (and frequency, numbers there) plays a big role in levels of frustration. If you’re the kind of person who answers his or her email with “yes” or “no,” and you’re not big on texting with 17 family members, friends and colleagues 93 times a day, the keyboard doesn’t matter. The bottom line for me is time. I can answer only about three messages on the iPhone (with detailed one or two paragraph responses) in the time that I answer almost 10 messages on the BlackBerry. And when you add in the issue with the missing network at my house, it’s really no contest. I’m surprised I lasted a year with the iPhone. There are many other things I love about it.

    Back to the iPhone and the horizontal keyboard. There are very good reasons why the email and text modules don’t permit the horizontal orientation of the iPhone. You might be equally frustrated by reading and writing messages in a wide window showing only two or three lines if Apple permitted that mode and added the bigger horizontal keyboard. The small available text-windows area would be tougher in the email app, IMO. The vertical orientation makes more sense for these applications.

    Sometimes I think Jobs’ obsession with “no buttons” has led him astray. I also think that Apple should give up on holding the current width of the iPhone. Yes, I love the form factor. What’s especially important to me is the thinness, though. The iPhone could go half an inch wider, or possibly more. I realize some people put them in their shirt pockets, but it’s not a very safe pocket. I’m a trouser front-pocket guy, and a little extra width would not matter.

    To me, also, the iPhone’s success is masking the issue that customer satisfaction is an issue with the iPhone because of the network. Jobs did something with the iPhone that he rarely does. He’s allowing a third-party company to control the customer experience an important part of the customer experience. I consider the iPhone to be a tantalizing failure for me. And I’m not alone.

    — Scot

  26. MitchWagner Says:

    I carry my iPhone in my shirt pocket. I find it quite safe. I just make sure to transfer it when I’m doing any bending and lifting. I don’t do a lot of bending and lifting. I don’t have a small child in the house.

    Funny thing: In the 80s I preferred shirts with pockets to carry my cigarettes. Then I quit smoking around 1991, and that wasn’t an issue. Then in this century I started preferring shirts with pockets again, so I could carry my smartphone.

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