June 24, 2010

My not-so-smart phone

I started carrying around a cell phone when I was in construction. Since I was out in the field each day and would need to get in touch with my crew and boss, it made sense to get one. Of course once you get a cell phone, it is hard to imagine life without one. We have become used to instant access to friends and family, and it sure makes meeting up much simpler. Gone are the days of "I will meet you at the glove by Safeco Field at 3:30". Now it is "I'll call you when I get close." Of course it has probably made it easier for people to be late since they can get in touch at will.

When I changed to working in real estate and mortgage lending, I upgraded to a smart phone. For the first year or so, I carried around a simpler phone, a PDA to keep track of my calendar and contacts, as well as an electronic key to get into homes for sale. By upgrading to a smart phone, the three devices could be reduced to one. But what finally pushed me to "simplify" was being stood up when meeting a new client at a house for sale. I waited for about a half an hour before giving up. When I made it back to the office, I found an e-mail from him saying that he wouldn't be able to make it. The time stamp on the e-mail was the same as the time we were supposed to meet.

It became apparent how dependent on e-mail most people have become for their primary form of communication. The client had my cell number (though I did not have his), but instead of calling me to tell me he had to cancel, he sent an e-mail. Of course I was already waiting at the meeting place when he sent it out. The bonus of e-mail access in the field (in addition to the one device vs three devices) finally pushed me to upgrade to a smart phone. And then of course, it became hard to imagine life without it.

Many of us have moved rather quickly from "needing" cell phones, to needing mobile e-mail, to needing internet access in all places, and I am no different. My smart phone was nothing like the current Apple and Google phones with their endless apps. It was a much simpler Windows Mobile phone, but I had the ability to get online to check e-mail, traffic, ball scores, and Google for the random questions that pop up from time to time.

But the phone stopped holding a charge, and even the new battery I bought only lasted six months. I had a simple back-up phone that I would carry when running or biking, or any other situation where I thought I might drop the phone, and this is what I have been using for the last six months or so. I definitely miss the additional internet and e-mail bells and whistles, but the simple phone does have limited internet access on board that I can use in a pinch. What I really miss is having my calendar and the ability to take easy notes.

So most people know that the new iPhone hits the stores today. It sounds like there won't be many available right away, so there was no temptation to go stand in line. But I am tempted by the phone. The iPhone has become the one to chase, and the new version sounds like a good update. But Google is coming up fast with their own "so much more than a phone" device, and even Windows is launching a new system in November that looks pretty good.

The other thing that makes me hesitate is (for now) the iPhone is only sold at AT&T. I have been with AT&T for a little over four years, and I am still locked into them until November. I have not been too happy with their coverage, and it doesn't look like they are doing much to improve it. They seem happy to spend money on Luke Wilson to promote their red herring campaign. "Verizon has us totally beat with 3G coverage, so we will just show you the map of our slower, older service and hope you don't notice."

With millions of new iPhones clamoring for bandwidth to stream video, etc., the already weaker system may get overwhelmed. AT&T has also jacked up the early contract termination fee from $175 to $325, so it makes it even less tempting to risk whether the iPhone will be able to do all it says it can (though Verizon has made a similar fee increase).

So for now, I will probably sit on the sidelines and let the early adopters check out the new iPhone. I am sure there will be a flood of user reports over the next couple of months to let me know how the phone and the network perform. In the meantime, my phone won't be quite as smart, so I am going to have to dust off those brain cells that used to keep track of dates and appointments. And carry a pen and paper to capture those occasional "brilliant" thoughts.

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