iPhone good. AT&T bad.

Friday, I tried (and failed) to accomplish something productive musically. Every day is like that — battling the distractions of the world, things like email, phone calls, the cat — but Friday brought with it the biggest distraction of them all. After six long months of waiting, the iPhone was finally released. But…

Several weeks ago, AEJ and I bought tickets to see Alison Krauss and Union Station play the Greek Theater here in LA. I love bluegrass (and even tried to write it once), and Krauss has the most angelic voice in music, and the combination melts the heart of even heartless people like me. When we read AKUS was performing, we bought tickets right away. (A wag of the finger to TicketMaster for the nearly 20% per ticket “Courtesy Fee.” Did you see that when Kelly Clarkson canceled her tour, TicketMaster wouldn’t refund people’s Courtesy Fees? They suck. Oh, I don’t know that Kelly Clarkson information first hand. I promise you that I didn’t buy tickets to see Kelly Clarkson. I promise. But now you’re wondering what the truth is, aren’t you?)

A few days after we bought the tickets, Apple announced the release date of the iPhone. Come on, Apple — really?! What, did you check my date book before making the announcement? You know what I had in my calendar in June? Let’s see… I had a haircut on May 30… then… the next thing… Yeah, it’s Alison Kruass on June 29. iPhone Day.

When I heard the date of iPhone day, I was distraught. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t actually want an iPhone. “It’s stupid,” I’d tell AEJ. “That’s just a big dummy phone for stupids, and it probably has boogers on it.” I may not have been very mature about it, but I had to find a way to cope. Then the reviews came in early last week, and the consensus was, “this thing isn’t perfect, but wow, it’s close.” Well, David Pogue must be a stupidhead, too, I told myself, knowing full well that I still really wanted an iPhone.

On Friday, I couldn’t pull myself away from my tech sites that I read daily anyway — MacRumors, TUAW, Engadget — staring at the huge lines around the country, wishing I could be part of the fun — and wishing I could get an iPhone that day. But, with the stores opening at 6pm, and our concert at 7:30, there was no way we’d make it. So, I sat home and pouted until we went to the concert.

The concert, by the way, was wonderful. The band played nearly two full hours, and did all of my favorite tunes except the instrumental “We Hide and Seek.” Jerry Douglas was incredible. I can’t get enough slide guitar (I guess he officially plays a dobro), and Douglas is the best in the world. Did I mention that Alison Krauss has the voice of an angel?

The setting was lovely. It’s in the middle of Griffith Park (site of the big fire in May), only a few minutes from our house, and the outdoor theater is nestled in the middle of the hills. You’d never know you were in a huge city. I took a picture, but cameras weren’t allowed, so I had to be inconspicuous, which meant I couldn’t frame or expose this the way I’d have liked…

I also snuck a picture of our hilarious “margarita.” That’s the natural color of lime juice, right? (The drink, by the way, was a bargain at $14. I guess this was LA after all.)

The concert ended a few minutes before 10, and as soon as we got back to the car, I asked AEJ to call the local Apple Stores to see if, by chance, they had any iPhones left in stock. (I asked her to call because I hate talking on the phone. The irony is that I don’t even want to talk on the phone to call a place to see if I can come buy a phone.) The store at the Beverly Center was out of 8GB phones, so she called the Glendale Galleria and they had plenty. We booked it up to Glendale — probably a 15 minute drive from Griffith Park. I could have done it in 10 if I hadn’t caught every single red light on the way there. It’s like the city planners were trying to kill me.

A nearly deserted shopping mall feels very weird. I’ve been to malls that weren’t “cool” anymore — Northland Mall in Columbus when I was in high school was not the “it” mall anymore, and they tore it down in 2004 — but even the lame malls still manage to attract a handful of customers lured by tacky bumper stickers from Spencer Gifts (my favorite was always “There’s Nothing Like a Ring of Lipstick Around your Dipstick”) or discounted prom attire from Tuxedo Junction. The Glendale Galleria, though, at 10pm — an hour after every other store was closed — was eerie. There was a security guard, and the occasional couple hustling back to their car with iPhones in hand, but the whole thing felt a little Chopping Mall.

The actual Apple Store, on the other hand, was hopping. There was essentially no line to get the phone itself, but the store was packed with people waiting to handle one of the phone demo units. I got in line, waited all of 30 seconds for my turn, and bought the 8GB model. Woo hoo! It seemed to take forever to get it home (this time, I ended up behind a police car — again, somebody was working against me), but I finally made it, opened the box, turned the phone on and… got an error message. It said that the phone had to be charged. Okay, I hadn’t heard of that from anybody else — the phone supposedly shipped fairly well-charged — but no biggie. So I plugged it in to the Mac to get it going. Again, I got the “charging phone… please wait” message. And the phone just sat there. After a few minutes, I started to freak out. I called the Glendale store, described the problem (which seemed new to her), and was put on hold. Within a few minutes, the phone dismissed that message and I got the normal “please activate your phone with iTunes” message. Whew! Everything was fine. Or maybe not…

I entered my existing account info into iTunes (I was already an AT&T customer), and after a few minutes, I got the “this activation is taking longer than expected. You will receive an email once your activation is complete” type message. So I waited. And no email came. I went to bed, and when I woke up, excited to activate the phone — nothing. Still no email.

(Thousands of people had this problem, I later learned. Some people waited in line for 12 hours for a phone, then waited 30 hours for AT&T to activate it. AT&T is the worst company on Earth — and not just because they participated in illegal warrantless wiretaps for the government [which they did], or because they’re now spying on their own subscribers to monitor for piracy [which, again, they are]. No, they’re also awful because they’re incompetent.)

Anyway, in an effort to get my phone activated, I figured, I know, I’ll reset the phone. That might help. So I reset the phone, and I got the Apple icon, but instead of it going to the startup screen, the screen went blank for a few seconds followed by the Apple icon again. And again. And again. My iPhone was an iBrick.

I called the Apple Store, and they still had 8GB models in stock, so AEJ and I rushed up there to do an exchange. AT&T, though, was in the process of moving my phone number from my old Treo to the iPhone — the iPhone that I just returned to the store. Knowing what a nightmare it would be dealing with AT&T to get that number re-transfered to yet another SIM, I decided that I would just start a new AT&T account, since I was no longer under contract with them. I’d been feeling like I should have a Los Angeles phone number anyway, and there are more people who knew my cell number than I’d like (and I don’t know how some of them got it), so I figured what the hell. My old cell number is gone, I have a new number, and best of all, I have a fully-activated iPhone.

The phone is nearly perfect, but it really doesn’t feel like a “phone.” I mean, it seems like a completely new device. It definitely reminds me of when I got the first iPod years ago — the 1G — and I just spent days wondering how that tiny thing could do such great stuff. At the time, it was like, “wow, how do all of those songs fit into something so tiny — and sound so good?” Of course there were other MP3 players then, but not one that felt so polished. This, to me, is like that. I mean, how many phones can you just know how to use from the moment you turn it on? It also, with this touch thing with the “pinch” motions and the dragging and everything — it revolutionizes the user interface. The UI manages to make the mouse feel incredibly dated.

There are only two drawbacks that I’ve seen. The biggest drawback is the AT&T data network, which “works,” but barely. Fortunately, WiFi automatically takes over whenever a network is available. The other issue — and this can be resolved with software — is that the Mail app has no spam filter, AND there’s no way to bulk-delete emails. So, if I check mail, I might end up with 125 new messages, 100 of which will be spam, but I can’t just select all the messages — or even a page-worth — and bulk erase them. Deleting has to be done one message at a time. It’s a surprising misstep from an otherwise flawless interface. I’m sure they’ll fix that in the first update.

It’s also a little silly that it doesn’t have custom ringtones yet, but that seems to be an issue with the iTunes store and their licensing with the record companies. The included ringtones are fine (the robot is pretty hilarious, if not practical), but on my Treo, whenever AEJ called me, it played “Juba” — as a MIDI file, which was extra-funny. (The Treo couldn’t play MP3 ringtones, but it would synthesize MIDI files.) The iPhone also doesn’t handle MMS, so you can’t send (or receive) pictures, but that was always very buggy for me on AT&T anyway, so I imagine that’s why it’s not included. You can transfer pictures as email attachments, of course, and email is rendered in full HTML.

The speaker is loud enough that I can watch a TV show without headphones, and the screen is large enough that I can actually see everything (unlike the current 5G iPod). YouTube videos look better on the iPhone than I’ve seen anywhere else, probably because they’re all compressed to be roughly this size anyway, so they almost look HD on the iPhone.

So, shitty network — but a great device. I love it.


billso says

Great post! Glad the concert was good, sorry you got an iBrick. I'm waiting a couple of generations before I consider an iPhone.

Nikk says

“That’s just a big dummy phone for stupids, and it probably has boogers on it.”


Hey, thanks for the tip on Chax. Me likey. I'm digging this video chat thing...I need to buy SJ a MacBook before I leave so we can video chat while I am gone. And by the way, I agree regarding AT&T. One can only hope that sooner or later, another phone company will support the iPhone as well.

Cathy says

I'm sorry you had such a hard time getting the iPhone started up. I knew you were going to have to wait several more hours because of the concert (and of course the time difference) and I felt kinda bad calling when I did. But now, knowing HOW MUCH trouble you went through to get the dang phone, I'm really sorry I called you as soon as I got mine. :(

Anywho, I'm glad it all works now. I'll have to get your new number, I guess. It just wouldn't be right for your "stalker" not to have it, huh?

I'm glad you enjoyed the concert. I'm very jealous of you on that, btw.

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