Yohannon (yohannon) wrote,

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A Sad Day For an Apple and iPhone Booster...

This is a very, very hard post to write. It's also so long, that I've opted to place two of the longer bits behind cuts for those of you who would like to cut (no pun intended) to the chase.

In 1984 I made fun of Macs, along with the rest of the SUNY Purchase computer center (newly established in the basement of the social sciences building a year or so prior to that point) as "underpowered, over-priced, with a goofy 'pointing device' called a mouse". Technically, we were correct -- the first mac was all those things, though we were absolutely wrong about the mouse.

It's no coincidence that my first positive experience with the Mac came three years later, when, in a now famous bit of chutzpah, I claimed to "know macs" when pressed by the frantic admin at The Equitable Life Assurance Company of Secaucus New Jersey ("Oh, I thought you meant EMACS" was my fall-back). A flyer needed to be created within 30 minutes, from scratch, including graphics.

Armed with a Mac Plus, a LaserWriter II, a 20 Meg hard drive, PageMaker, MacDraw, and sheer guts, I managed to produce the sheet in time. And I was in love with a whole new way to compute.

Suddenly I was the "Mac Guy". I would up living in front of that little beige box, and eventually would crack it open to upgrade the RAM later that year -- a 4 Megabyte upgrade that cost the corporation 2000.00. No, that's NOT a typo for EITHER number.

Since then I worked for the now defunct MacUser Magazine US (now it's only a UK concern), SuperMac, Apple as a QA guy, the DIgital Guy for Apple's EvangeList during the "beleaguered" company's darkest hour, and finally landed a job as the tech guy for Guy Kawasaki's Garage.com -- which, of course, was all macs.

My three year "vacation" (snort) after the dot.bomb ended with a three month gig updating Macs at NASA Moffet Field, 15 LONG months as an Apple "Mac Genius" (and retail STILL sucks. It wasn't the job so much as management -- the retail mentality does not mesh well with true geeks, which explains the current quality of "genius" those days), and finally scored a job at "heaven", which wasn't a Mac shop when I got here, but is (much to my own surprise and delight) now.

During all this I spent 5 years writing a regular column for MacToday/MacDesign (oh, those name changes! It's now "Layers", the PhotoShop magazine), which I had to give up for the Apple gig.

This is NOT the resume of an "Apple Hater": Those odd people who do their best to find the worst in every Apple story. However, as I've often told people, I don't "drink the kool-aid" when it comes to Apple. I will, when appropriate, make it absolutely clear when they screw up.

I bought my iPhone on June 29, 2007 -- the day it was released. I had no trouble getting it, and only personally waited on line 2 hours for it. Since getting it, I adore the phone in ways that I never thought I would feel for a phone, cell or otherwise.

For the first time I could ACTUALLY browse the net on my phone. I could ACTUALLY use the calendar app. Syncing was a breeze. For the first time I was able to take pictures and ACTUALLY move them to my computer without hacking the phone to do it (my previous carrier, Verizon, made this as difficult as possible).

The cost of the calling plan, with data, was, in my mind, very reasonable. My only major issue: SMS messaging. This the biggest consumer rip-off of all time, and that isn't a simple hyperbole indulgence on my part. Byte for byte, it's more expensive to SMS than it is to send or receive data from the International Space Station. While the plan does include SMS messaging, it's only for 200 messages -- which sounds like a lot, until you realize how quickly you can hit 200 lines during a typical chat. Unlike any previous phone I owned, the iPhone makes chatting not just possible, but fun and easy.

Thus, one of the first things I did, as soon as it was possible, was hack my iPhone so I could add third party applications -- just for the chatting capability. IRC, Jabber, Yahoo, AIM... I have it all on my phone, right now, without charge.

In the words of the great comedian Bill Cosby, I told you all of that so I could tell you this:

Do NOT Buy The New iPhone 3G

I put it on a line, by itself, in the middle of the page, underlines, in bold (thanks, Arlo!) so there could be no mistake. No possible mis-reading. No juxtapositional irony. This isn't the devil's advocacy, it's my simple, clear message to you, despite overwhelming odds, to communicate that Apple's kool-aid is poisoned.

I can already feel the waves of shock and dismay, and one simple question: Why?

Answer the First:  Because Apple seems to have forgotten that they don't have the right to tell me what I can do with my property. You do not lease an iPhone, you BUY it.

One of the things lost in all the hoopla is the fact that you can no longer just purchase the iPhone -- in fact, you can't even get one online anymore. You MUST purchase a service plan with AT&T and sign on the dotted line. AT&T and Apple go further by insulting my intelligence, and the intelligence of all of us, by saying that they won't offer iTunes activation so they can "answer any questions" on the spot.

What a load of bull.

I don't recall the reports of widespread panic with iTunes activation, especially after all of the kinks in the system were worked out after the first two weeks of release -- they want to be certain to get your signature. With court decisions making it clear that EULA's are of limited utility, both corporations are searching for ways to legally bind their customers to draconian conditions on how to use their OWN hardware. You own it. You bought it. It's yours, not Apple's or AT&T's.

Folks, when I purchased the iPhone I had to swallow hard, because it meant switching to one of the corporations I've always had a great deal of disdain toward: AT&T. This is the same corporation that wouldn't let you own your phones, let you plug in your own phone equipment, and generally stifled phone innovation until MCI sued them into anti-trust pieces. I specifically want to swap out the Replay I own because it's still stuck using dial up -- at this point the only reason I still have a land line is because of that box -- so I can finally get rid of the AT&T land line.

Only Apple and the iPhone could have induced me to switch to AT&T.  It's not too much of an exaggeration to say it felt like I was selling off sub-divisions of my soul to do so.

But at least it was clear: I paid fill price for the phone, and still had to accept an early termination fee for canceling a contract that, in no way, was subsidizing the phone. Which brings me to:

Answer the Second: False advertising and user car salesmen mentalities.

"Wow! They dropped the price to 199.00! That's GREAT!"

No, it's not.

Adam Engst at the Mac Online Magazine "Tidbits" has already done the math, and it sucks for us AND Apple, as it turns out -- it looks like APple no longer gets a cut of every service fee AT&T collects, and AT&T jacks up the monthly charges for data and calling plans. Oh, and remember the aforementioned SMS? It's no longer included with the calling and data plan -- and AT&T is being very tight lipped about how much they'll charge for SMS on the iPhone. Answer: If it's more than free, it's TOO MUCH. With 3G network speeds and capacity, charging for sending what are miniscule bits of data over that network is effectively double dipping into our wallets.

The bottom line has you paying 240 bucks MORE for the phone than it cost now.

That's right -- that $199.00 phone costs you $649.00, not including SMS. Remember, you pay for INCOMING messages as well, and (as far as I know) there's no way to prevent it.

One rumor has Apple selling unlocked phones for 800 bucks (or equivalent) in some countries where it's required by law (Germany and France, for example). What makes this funny is that it will cost 146.00 to cancel a two year contract with AT&T, thus making it cheaper to but the phone, pay the cancellation fee, and sell the phone for an easy profit on e-Bay.

Answer The Third: Apple as Gatekeeper.

So the App Store in iTunes and the Apple "push" server are the only way you can get apps and push services to the iPhone. They presented this at WWDC as a boon, and on the surface it is. By only maintaining a single connection to a push server, battery life and performance ARE better.

However, APPLE is the one controlling both the push server, and what kinds of applications are available to install. So, no competing location services -- Bye-bye, garmin and tom-tom clients, which cripple the new GPS, one of the main motivations to purchase the device. With SMS a potential cash cow for AT&T, will Apple allow chat services that work with iChat, AIM, Yahoo, Jabbper, and so forth? If they do allow those clients, will they work over 3G? How about push notification via that Apple server?

Also, let's talk privacy and security concerns -- are you only sending notifications via Apple's server, and connecting directly to the message server when you launch the appropriate client?

There's no reason that persistent network connection for pushed notifications couldn't have been to your own server, either at your company's or at home. I'm guessing that will be an early function of the inevitable hacks.

This all comes back to a simple fact: It's my phone, my rules, NOT Apple's and AT&T's.

So, that all said, what would change my mind and recommend the phone?

1 - Apple pledges that they will not block any non-malicious applications from the iTunes store.

In other words, any application I can download from MacUpdate or VesionTracker today, for the most part, should be available for the iPhone.

2 - Clear, Unambiguous, non-deceptive pricing.

Early adopters might be screwed, yet again, when it comes to upgrading. The 199 dollar price is for NEW subscribers -- and existing subscribers suddenly reset their two year contract date to the date of purchase. The contract isn't the issue, as I have no problem with canceling and eating the fee -- it still would be cheaper than sticking with a carrier I despised -- it's that they make it sound like you can just buy the phone. However, the phone with the contract proves this price nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy.

3 - Set SMS Free.

The whole point of a flat rate plan was that I had no worries -- my phone plan would cost the same this month as the next. Nationwide coverage meant no more roaming fees. SMS is the last bastion of uncertainty, and is as pitiful example of greed as the recent idiocy around setting bandwidth usage caps that some of the cable company's are experimenting with this year. In other words, it drives people to the flat rate, unlimited alternatives, or will drive some gung ho entrepreneurs to create them.

So, there you have it -- for the very first time, a non-recommendation for a new Apple product. Just since I've started writing this post this morning, I've managed to dissuade three people from purchasing or upgrading to this iPhone model. While I freely admit this to be a quixotic task on a par with sticking my finger in a leaky New Orleans levee during Katrina, at the very least my conscience will be clear.

I expected AT&T to screw me, so their rape is not surprising. Apple, you've done nothing less than broken my heart with yours. Please, prove me wrong.

Tags: geek rant
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