Tagged: iPhone

Why I Switched to New AT&T Wireless Unlimited Plan

Last week, was a whirlwind week in the US wireless industry. Before then, only T-Mobile and Sprint offered unlimited data plans to all customers, but by the end of the week all four major carriers offered them. On Monday, Verizon announced that it was resurrecting its unlimited wireless plan, and a few days later, AT&T announced that it was also offering an unlimited wireless plan to all customers, whereas it was only available to DirecTV subscribers.

Although all four carriers offer 4G LTE data, there’s an implicit hierarchy among the wireless carriers in the United States. At the top, AT&T and Verizon have the most mature networks that cover the most terrain and carry the most expensive pricing. Below them is a second tier of carriers, namely T-Mobile and Sprint. Their networks cover less terrain and are perceived as being less robust in terms of network connectivity. Because of this perception, they have been the most aggressive about pricing. That is why they were, before last week, the only carriers to offer unlimited plans.

To be sure, the only reason Verizon’s and AT&T’s unlimited plans emerged last week was because of the competitive pressure that T-Mobile and Sprint have put on Verizon and AT&T. Verizon likely felt the squeeze was too much to bear and capitulated with its new unlimited plan. AT&T likely saw this and quickly reacted by expanding its unlimited plan to everyone. It’s safe to say that none of this would have happened had AT&T been allowed to acquire T-Mobile.

For readers who are carrier-agnostic and are considering switching to an unlimited plan, Mac Rumors has produced a nifty comparison between the four unlimited plans offered by the majors. But as the kids today say, YMMV.

Unlimited vs. Unlimited

I was immediately intrigued by these new offerings. I have been on the grandfathered unlimited data plan that AT&T once offered with iPhones. I have held on to it despite the introduction of less-expensive metered data plans and a $5-per-month rate increase instituted last year that was due to increase by another $5 next month. Another factor in my intrigue was that I have two other lines on my plan: one is on a metered 3 GB data plan (labelled below as “Line 2”) and the other (labelled “Line 3”) is on a grandfathered unlimited data plan. I also receive a 20% employee discount through my employer.

Here’s a comparison between my current talk, text, and data plan; my current talk, text, and data plan after the impending rate hike in March; and AT&T’s new unlimited plan. (All prices are rounded to the nearest dollar, and they do not include taxes and fees, which I am considering as a wash between all these plans.)

Description Talk, Text, Data Plan Effective March 2017 New Unlimited Plan
Base Plan $60 $60 $60
Text Messaging $30 $30
Line 1 $35 $40 $40
Line 2 $45 $50 $40
Line 3 $40 $40 $40
Discount -$32 -$34 -$12
TOTAL $178 $186 $168

As you can see, the new unlimited plan for all three lines is about $10 less than the current talk, text, and data plan that I share with two other lines.

The savings are greater after factoring in the impending $5 per-month rate increase, effective March 2017, for each grandfathered unlimited data plan (Lines 1 and 3 in the table above). I guess AT&T’s strategy to bully us off the unlimited data plan finally worked!

Another factor to consider is that Line 2, the metered plan, often exceeds the 3 GB data allotment. AT&T bills the data overage at $10 per GB. I considered switching to a plan with more data, but the next higher offering is $50 for 5 GB. There is no “discount” for more data at this next plan; it’s similarly priced at $10 per GB, as is the base 3 GB and any associated overages. With Line 2 on an unlimited plan, there will be no more overage charges.

If I add a fourth line, it will, in effect, be free because AT&T reimburses you $40 each month for that fourth line, after a two–billing-cycle “waiting” period. That would significantly reduce the price per line.

But Why Stick with AT&T?

Although AT&T’s new unlimited plan is the most expensive of the four major wireless carriers and is the only one that doesn’t offer tethering, I prefer to stay with AT&T for three reasons:

  1. I am receiving $650 in bill credits from AT&T for my iPhone 7. When Apple introduced the iPhone 7 last September, AT&T allowed you to trade-in your iPhone 6 for up to $650 in credit towards an iPhone 7. You could get effectively get a base model iPhone 7 for free. Since I opted for the 128 GB instead of the base 32 GB model, I am paying the extra $100 over 30 months, which works out to about $3.30 per month. Should I leave AT&T, I will have to pay the remaining balance, which is significant.
  2. The AT&T wireless network is superior to the others where I live and work. Although it was hardly true a few years ago, AT&T has a very reliable wireless network in New York, particularly the neighborhoods I frequent. I considered switching to the more affordable plans on T-Mobile or Sprint, but after speaking to friends and colleagues, I resisted switching because those networks are not as reliable as AT&T’s. Moreover, Verizon had a potent 3G network that put AT&T’s to shame. In the 4G LTE era, the opposite is true. AT&T operates a robust network in New York that seems to outperform Verizon’s network, according to the testimony of my friends and colleagues.
  3. Tethering is not a factor. The unlimited plan never allowed tethering so I am not going to miss what I don’t have.

What Should You Do?

An unlimited plan isn’t for everyone. Most mortals use a surprisingly small amount of data, less than 3GB per month, so an unlimited plan would be excessive for them. Personally, I wonder if that’s because most wireless users have conditioned themselves to restrict their data usage for fear of overages. For the majority of those users, I say stick with your metered plan.

But I use a lot of data, regularly between 3 GB and 6 GB, per month, as sometimes as high as 12 GB. I like not having to worry about overages. Also, Line 2 on my plan, the one with the 3 GB plan, would regularly exceed those allotments. I doubt he would be happy turning on “safe mode” to slow down the data transfers to 2G speeds. The unlimited plan works for us, but it might not be the best for you. As I literally said before, YMMV.

Conclusion

In the end, the small but measurable savings between the talk, text, and data plan of yore and the new unlimited plan made a lot of sense. But also, my wanting to stay loyal to AT&T played a significant factor. As much as we all hate the cable company, the airline, and the wireless carrier, AT&T has been just fine for me. I certainly suffered when the iPhone was exclusive to AT&T, as making a phone call or transmitting data seemingly never worked, but in the 4G LTE era, things are different. Of course, this might change when 5G emerges as a standard, but that is still a couple of years away. And if AT&T falters, I’ll be off-contract. I can always switch to another plan or provider.

Update: AT&T announced on Monday, February 27, that it is introducing two new unlimited plans. I’m mulling it over and will repost here about what I think to do.

iPhone “Error 53,” or Security > Convenience

In information technology, there’s almost always a tradeoff between security and convenience. The more convenient something is to use, the less secure it is. Otherwise, you could leave your front door unlocked, leave your car running, and have 123456 be your password for everything. However, as you know, that is far from secure. You need to lock your front door, you need to turn off the ignition, and you need to have unique, strong passwords for each of your online accounts. This inconvenience yields some measure of security.

The Guardian reported last week about a “fury” from iPhone users against Apple for bricking iPhones that have had their screens replaced by an unauthorized, third-party repair outfit, which inadvertently tampered with the Touch ID sensors during the repair process. Thereafter, the phones stopped working altogether.

The Device Shop on Mercer St, New York City

If I were to open a repair shop, such as this one, I would call it “Error 53.”

According to various users quoted in the article, an iPhone 6 or later will report an “Error 53” and not function if a third-party repair person has replaced the screen or the home button and if the user has upgraded the phone’s operating system to iOS 9. The issue is prevalent enough that iFixit reports over 180,000 queries to their user forums about “Error 53.” The maligned users and Miles Brignall, the Guardian author who reported on the “fury,” all but accuse Apple of bricking these repaired iPhones in order to force users to only repair their phones through Apple or to buy a new replacement.

Could Apple’s move, which appears to be designed to squeeze out independent repairers, contravene competition rules? Car manufacturers, for example, are not allowed to insist that buyers only get their car serviced by them. Apple charges £236 for a repair to the home button on an iPhone 6 in the UK, while an independent repairer would demand a fraction of that.

Pointing to an economic motive is all too simplistic. Although Apple is certainly concerned with being profitable, these accusations always surface when Apple does something to “brick” someone’s computing device or peripheral. It happened when Apple…

  • replaced the serial port with USB and rendered a lot of printers obsolete,
  • eliminated the floppy disk drive in favor of optical drives on the iMac,
  • replaced SCSI with FireWire,
  • eliminated swappable batteries in their notebooks,
  • and, most recently, replaced the 30-pin connector with Lightning.

And when these changes occurred, critics accused Apple of doing so in order to sell expensive adapters.

Instead, these are moves to destined improve the product and the experience. USB and FireWire were far superior to the serial port, ADB, and SCSI, as Lightning has been over the previous 2001-era iPod connector. Similarly, the only reason anyone ever needed a swappable notebook battery was to work longer than two hours, and the built-in batteries in the newer notebooks far exceeded that runtime, making toting those bulky batteries obsolete.

In this case, “Error 53” is to protect the security of the device. An Apple spokeswomen, quoted in the article, says as much:

We protect fingerprint data using a secure enclave, which is uniquely paired to the touch ID sensor. When iPhone is serviced by an authorised Apple service provider or Apple retail store for changes that affect the touch ID sensor, the pairing is re-validated. This check ensures the device and the iOS features related to touch ID remain secure. Without this unique pairing, a malicious touch ID sensor could be substituted, thereby gaining access to the secure enclave. When iOS detects that the pairing fails, touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure.

Emphasis mine.

However, Brignall scoffs at this explanation, labelling it overloaded with “jargon.”

But, to any reasonable technologically competent person, this explanation is certainly sound. Apple’s own philosophy is that iPhone users store all kinds of private information on their devices, and that is Apple’s responsibility to prioritize the security of that device, even at the expense of user’s going to the corner repair shop to fix a cracked screen.

Wi-Fi Calling > Plain Old Celluar Service

A common sight of the smartphone era is watching people hunt for and then tether themselves to an AC outlet to charge their phones. Prior to the iPhone, mobile phones didn’t use much power because, as I’ve written elsewhere, old phones and PDAs didn’t do very much, and if you did run out of power, you could swap your battery for a freshly charged spare.

But an even older hunt is the search for a strong cellular radio signal. For the most part, I’ve been pretty lucky living in places with strong cellular reception. I have only had problems using my mobile phone when in basements: I lived in one between 2006 and 2007, and I have been working in a subterreanean office at NYU since 2010. Over the years, IP services over Wi-Fi have offered some workarounds to weak or non-existent cellular connections.

  1. iMessage has allowed me to “text” other iPhone users since that is an IP service becaue it uses Wi-Fi first before falling back to the cellular network
  2. My Google Voice number rings all my phones, including a dependable landline phone, where I can place and receive calls. It also allowed me to message friends not on iMessage.
  3. FaceTime Audio works over Wi-Fi, not only the cellular network, and has allowed me place and receive “telephone calls” with even better audio quality than the legacy telephone network.
  4. And, of course, there’s a litany of messaging apps available for smartphones that circumvent SMS over cellular.

As an AT&T customer, the last and best fix finally arrived recently in the form of Wi-Fi Calling. iPhone has been capable of routing phone calls over Wi-Fi for over a year. For example, it was available on T-Mobile after last year’s release of iOS 8. It was finally activated this year, with iOS 9, for AT&T customers using an iPhone 6 or later.

Glenn Fleishman offers an extended tutorial on how to activate Wi-Fi calling for iPhone. The process involves a few steps:

  1. Go to Settings > Phone > Wi-Fi Calling and turn on that feature.
  2. Enter your address in the event you call to make
  3. Allow Wi-Fi Calling for your other devices.

Since activating Wi-Fi Calling, I’ve seen the “AT&T Wi-Fi” text only intermittently. It works at my basement office at NYU, where I can’t reliably access the cellular network but have decent Wi-Fi coverage. It also worked a handful of times at my parent’s house in Southern California, which has some spotty coverage, but it does not work at my own home, where I am almost always connected to Wi-Fi but have reliable cellular reception. The last situation proves that Wi-Fi Calling only works as a fallback to the cellular network.

Nonetheless, I appreciate that I finally can place and receive telephone calls from those places with spotty cellular reception, without resorting to using an IP service like FaceTime or Google Voice. Calls go through using my old plain old telephone number.

Moreover, because SMS is also routed through Wi-Fi Calling, I can send and receive messages to my “green bubble” friends without confusing them with a phone number generated by Google Voice or using a dedicated messaging app, like LINE or What’s App. Gross!

Two Weeks with Two iPhone 6es

For the last two weeks, I have been using an iPhone 6. In almost every conceivable way, it’s been an upgrade from my iPhone 5. The larger size is the first noticeable difference, but I have gotten used to it and even come to appreciate it. Reading is more pleasant, and I am generating fewer typos because of more spacious keyboard layout. However, I am now working on my second phone. After about a week of using the first one, I noticed a dead pixel that warranted a replacement.

Three O’Clock… In the Morning?

Buying an iPhone on launch day is a vicious cycle. Because I am always eligible for an upgrade around the time a new iPhone form factor comes out, such as iPhone 4, iPhone 5, and now iPhone 6, there’s little reason for me to wait to get a new phone. It also helps that I start getting paid from my teaching jobs in mid-September after a three-month payroll drought over the summer months.

Like I did in 2010 and 2012, I set an alarm for the morning Apple started taking pre-orders at 3:00 AM Eastern Time. Every hardcore Apple fan knows Apple starts taking preorders for the newest iPhone and iPad at midnight Pacific Time. Another bit of wisdom that many of us have learned over the years is that the best way to preorder your shiny new device is to forgo visiting apple.com and to instead use the Apple Store app. I’ve done it at least three times, and I’ve never had to contend with broken HTTP connections or timeout errors. “It just works.”

Three-Hour Wait

The iPhone 6 was released two weeks ago on Friday, September 19. I was pretty busy that day route marking for Escape New York and starting the arduous process of packing up my stuff in Long Island City, with the help of my parents. Thus, I was unable to pickup my phone from the Grand Central Terminal Apple Store at 8:00 AM. The earliest I could get there was at 2:00 PM, and when I arrived, it was a veritable clusterfuck. The line for people looking to buy a phone without a preorder was at least a few-hundred persons deep. Even the line for people with preorders, according to the blue-shirted employee who guided me to the appropriate queue, required about three hours of your patience. I decided to leave and try back later.

I was spared from waiting in a line like this one at the Fifth Avenue Apple Store. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

I was spared from waiting in a line like this one at the Fifth Avenue Apple Store. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

I returned to the same store at 8:00 PM that night, and the lines were gone. The store had sold out of phones, and there were people sitting on flattened cardboard boxes, apparently waiting for the next day’s supply to arrive. I explained to the security guard outside Grand Central Terminal that I had a reservation to pickup my phone. After he inspected the message on my Apple Store app indicating that my order was ready, he whisked me upstairs to get my phone. I was in and out in less than five minutes.

You’re Using it Wrong

I realize how crazy it might sound to go through all this trouble to get a new phone when the one I had before, a two-year old iPhone 5, was perfectly serviceable. Is it that “buying a new phone is part of a broad and serious American affliction?”

Paul Roberts has been hawking this Postmanesque diatribe. According to Roberts, most people who get new phones resemble those who “amuse ourselves to death” and measure “the extra productivity of a new device by ‘how many cat videos you can watch in an hour.'”

Sorry, but I am not most people. I use the shit out of my phone. After two weeks of using it, I have noticed some significant improvements in the iPhone 6 over the iPhone 5.

The larger form factor had made it easier to type. I can’t accurately measure this, but it seems like I am making fewer typos with the new phone. The only thing that gets in the way is the predictive typing, which I thought was really nifty on my iPhone 5 for the two days I had iOS 8 on it before upgrading to the newer phone. But now it feels like I can type faster than ever before. I am even better at typing my 1Password passphrase, which is very, very long. But I don’t need to type that as often because…

Touch ID has changed my life. Do you remember how we lived our lives without a search engine to find out whatever we wanted to know? I don’t. That’s how I feel about Touch ID. It took about two days to forget what it was like to not have this feature. How did I ever get by without it? It has saved me so much time, and I can now easily unlock my phone on the bike, though never while riding. I stop, pull out the phone, unlock it, respond via dictation, put the phone back in my pocket, and ride on… all in less than thirty seconds.

Incremental improvements add up. The battery gets me through a whole day and then some. The camera is significantly better, and I feel a little less anxious about shooting in low light. However, I still wish I could close the aperture for better depth of field like I can on a dedicated camera. And the screen is also much better: brighter with richer colors.

Bigger battery means more uninterrupted work. On Monday, I forgot to pack the VGA adapter for my MacBook Pro, although I do have a Lightning to VGA adapter as my EDC. I had no way to present my slide deck other than to use my iPhone. It worked flawlessly and I still went the rest of the workday without reaching for a charging cable.

The phone appears to hold up better to cosmetic damage than my iPhone 5. After only a month or so, my iPhone 5 already had visible scratches and few dents! It’ll be interesting to see how the new phone holds up after a month or two… and then a year or two.

iOS 8 is a really nice upgrade to the iPhone experience. There have been a lot of changes from the phone I was using in early September to the phone I have now. But many of those changes are based on the new iOS 8 software. If you have an iPhone 5c, or 5s, you already have a lot of benefits, such as:

  • Notification Center Widgets in the Today screen;
  • Extensions, such as those for 1Password and Day One;
  • All your photos in iCloud;
  • Siri that is actually useful with live dictation;
  • Third-party apps can authenticate you with Touch ID;
  • Messages, Safari, and Mail, the three apps I use the most, are significantly improved, and I love the new features.

I will be able to use Apple Pay. I am anxiously awaiting for this service to launch in October, and because it needs the NFC hardware, the only way it will work is with an iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, or an Apple Watch. And as much of an Apple fan boy as I am, I am unsure why I would need one. I’ll stick to the phone in my pocket as my personal computing device for now.

One Pixel in a Million

After about ten days of use, I noticed something. My new iPhone 6 had a dead pixel. It took me so long to notice it because it was right over the Phone app icon, in the top-left corner of the app icon grid, and who ever uses that app? For a while I thought it was a scratch. These new displays make it the screen content look like it sits on the screen not beneath it so I thought I could wipe it off. I couldn’t.

After some kvetching, I figured it would be worth it to take it to the Apple Store to get it checked. They confirmed that it was a dead pixel. The usual protocol to fix this issue is to replace the screen, but since the phone is so new, they didn’t have replacement screens. They had to treat my phone as DOA and gave me a new replacement for free.

It seems petty to get a whole new phone over a dead pixel (or two). After all, this phone has a million pixels (1334 x 750). Back in the mid-1980s, it was almost unthinkable to have a computer that had a megapixel display, and I myself wouldn’t have a computer with that much resolution until the early 2000s. But this is something I am going to use every single day for the next two years. That’s a long time to look at something dead.

It’s an Even Year…Time for a New iPhone

iPhone6_PF_SpGry_iPhone6_PB_SpGry_iPhone6_PSL_SpGry_Homescreen-PRINT.png

Like millions of others, I ordered a iPhone 6 yesterday. This is the fifth iOS device that I bought for delivery on launch day, including an iPad 2, iPhone 4, iPhone 5, and iPad Air, and each time it’s been a different experience. Ideally, the best way to receive one of these devices on launch day is to have it shipped to my work because I don’t risk missing a delivery. But I’ve only been able to do that once. Every other time, I have to visit an Apple Store.

This time when I ordered the phone, I had to verify my billing address, which is currently a PO box in Manhattan. When I tried to finalize the order, it would not let me change the shipping address to my work address at NYU. Instead, it forced me to ship the phone to my PO box. I feared that, because Apple usually uses a service like FedEx and UPS for home deliveries, my order would get stalled since those couriers cannot deliver to a PO box. The only other option I had was to pickup the phone at my nearest Apple Store, which is at Grand Central Terminal. Well, I guess that’s where I’ll be on Friday morning to get my phone.

One of the considerations for ordering phone was the size. Even before I saw the phones, when talk of the new sizes were circulating around the rumor mill, I had decided that I wanted the smallest size Apple would offer. Ars Technica provided a PDF with three phones printed to scale: iPhone 5, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus. You can print it and cut out the phones to see which one you like for yourself.

I found that the iPhone 6 Plus was huge compared to the iPhone 6, and it didn’t feel like a phone. (I also found that I need a shave.)

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus Paper Cutouts

I could handle the iPhone 6 with one hand, but I found it impossible to reach the various corners of the screen on the iPhone 6 Plus. And the larger phone seemed like an entirely different species compared to my stalwart iPhone 5.

Speaking of my iPhone 5, as reliable as it has been, it’s pretty beat up after about two years of steady use.

It has been dropped a few times which account for the dings along the rounded corners. Those could have been prevented by installing a bumper. However if you notice the scratches on the side, those are there because of the bumper. It was only when I removed the bumper that I noticed that the phone had these scratches.

There is also a crack along the top of the phone, near the camera. I have no idea how that happened. I wonder if it’s from keeping the phone in my back pocket during my bike commutes.

Because of all this damage, I won’t be able to sell that phone for $200 like I did for my iPhone 4 two years ago, but I was able to get $70 from Gazelle. And I can hold on to that phone until my new phone arrives. I always get a little sad when I sell these, but the cash to pay for a new phone helps get over that sadness.

On Friday, I will be picking up an iPhone 6, 64 GB in Space Grey on AT&T.

The above link to Gazelle is an affiliate link.

Teaching Class without a Notebook

keynote-phone

I have been using Keynote since 2006 to present slides in the classes I am teaching, but starting this spring, when I bought an iPad 2, I began using the Keynote for iPad to present my slides in class. The tablet edition lacks a few of the desktop features I need when presenting. For example, I like having a clock, current and next slides, and presentation notes on my presenter’s screen. The desktop edition has it, but the tablet edition can only show the current slide with notes or the current and next slides. Oh well.

There are a few real advantages to using an iPad. The biggest one is that I don’t have to tote my notebook computer around in my bag. The other thing is that because Keynote for iPad is pretty basic, lacking support for certain transitions and embedded video, and that limitation keeps you from pimping your presentation, which is one of the reasons I used Keynote in favor of Powerpoint. Less is more.

Keynote-iPad

Speaking of “less is more,” presenting from an iPhone is even better. One of the disadvantages of presenting with an iPad is that you can’t present, using the Apple VGA Adapter, and charge your iPad at the same time, unless you’re willing to do a little surgery. This was an issue a few weeks ago, when I realized I was running low on battery power and needed to finish a presentation. I ended up importing my presentation to my iPhone since that device had a lot more juice, and I had Keynote for iPhone installed.

How did it work? It didn’t miss a beat. In fact, it was even preferable because you won’t have your iPhone display mirrored in your presentation. Your audience only sees what you present. That’s important because I don’t want everyone to see me enter my passcode every time the device auto locks.

But as many have said, don’t throw away your desktop or notebook computer. It is very hard to make presentations from scratch on an iPad or an iPhone. I find it easier to create the presentation on an iMac (or a MacBook Pro) because I have to add a lot of images to my presentation, and it’s easier to place those images with a computer because you have that pesky file system. Also, you can’t create a presentation using your own theme, which is a bummer because I have bought and created quite a few over the years. (If you create your presentation on a computer, Keynote for iPad/iPhone will import it with a few warnings but few noticeable changes.)

Currently, moving the presentation from your computer to your iPad/iPhone is a little challenging. I prefer using Dropbox to keep the most current presentation from my computer available on my iDevice. Make sure you have the Dropbox app installed on your iOS device, load your presentation, and open it using your Keynote app. iCloud might make things easier, but I won’t know yet until it actually comes out next week.

Have you tried to present with your iPad? Are you ready to leave the notebook computer at home as I’ve begun to do?