Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Keeping up with the ipjones: buying an Iphone

I am recovering with a glass of Irish whiskey after a day of technological terror. It's the fault of a phone.

No doubt subliminally inspired by the weekend’s lamentable isnackery (I can’t believe it’s not beta butter), today I rushed out and bought an iphone. It’s a luxury item that will cost me at least $1,300 or thereabouts to Telstra over two years. But I’d been meaning to buy one for some time so I felt the rushing was justified. It was going to give me more communications options which would become a useful part of my outdoor armoury. (pic is either my new phone or that mysterious stone from 2001: A Space Odyssey)

The purchase and its aftermath were stressful events, if neither unexpected. I found the whole commercial experience of choosing and then buying a phone very difficult.

Part of me hates change because it means I have to unlearn old ways of doing things. Not being part of the igeneration, I was quite happy to hold on to the old phone even though it was well out of contract. But inertia was eventually overcome by the idea of communicating on the run. The ability to send text and pictures to the Internet in near real-time was immensely appealing.

This was my second attempt to buy an iphone. Last time I went to my local Telstra shop they told me there was a four week delay so I didn't bother. I would have had it by now. But today there was no waiting period. Choice was limited - I wanted a sedate black-backed phone but there were none in that colour. Impatient to wait, I chose a more attention-grabbing white cover.

Technical spec was not as much a big deal for me. Knowing about Moore’s Law and resource-hungry apps I should have gone for the 32 meg disk phone instead of the 16. But that was going to cost $200 more and I didn’t think it was worth it. I will repent my stinginess at leisure. I paid an extra $10 a month for 150 meg of monthly download time. Time will tell if that amount is too big, sufficient, or too small. I forgot to ask how many megapixels the camera is but found out later its 2 MP.

When I took the phone home I panicked as I could find see my contacts list of telephone numbers anywhere. I shuddered what that would mean if it was gone. I rang the shop who patiently assured me they had copied them across to the new SIM but I would have to import the damn things.

It took me a while to find out how. Neither the “Finger Tips” document nor the Iphone 3GS “Important Product Information Guide” were much use as a user manual (and the text in the latter “important” document was so small, it could have been borrowed from the Rosetta Stone). But with much trial, error, and liberal Saxon slang I found the import screen on the phone. My contact list was back, to great relief.

If that all went ok in the end, the same cannot be said for iTunes set-up. The first thing I wanted to do was download the free Twitter and Facebook apps. In order to do that I needed an iTunes account which I did not have already. I went through the longwinded account set-up (including spending forever to decide on my “secret question” - but I'd have to kill you if I told you what that was). Apple asked me for a credit card number which they nicely said they would keep for later transactions. I baulked at this option - I was only there for a free app.

But even still it was a slow process. Accompanied by several loud oaths, my tedious attempts at club-footed typing was struggling on a small and unfamiliar keyboard. Several times I misspelt the userid or password or had to go off to another screen to find the underscore (in my mail address) or the at-sign. Whenever I made an error, which was common, I’d try and correct but often would accidentally send myself to some other screen and I’d have to start from scratch again. In short it took me a while to find the "return" key.

Eventually I created my account and quickly found an email in my inbox. I tried clicking on this link from the phone itself but it insisted the link must come from a computer. When I did try on the laptop, the verification email took me to this screen (shown right) which told me I was “just a few steps away” from downloading music, HD TV shows, movies, and more from the iTunes Store.

Just a few steps away? But all I was doing was verifying. Why was this so complex? It didn’t look like a verification screen to me and there was nothing there that said I was verified or needed to do something else. I tried to re-download the Twitter app but no surprise, it was still telling me my account was unverified.

After several repeat attempts (complete with more spelling mistakes and misturns) I decided maybe nothing was happening because I didn’t have iTunes installed.

But when I tried to install it, the windows installer crashed. This was the signal the Gods were against me today I eventually gave up none the wiser as to how to download free apps. I can possibly blame the devil's own defective code of my Vista operating system for the installer problem. But Apple’s own support procedures are poor too. The material sent out with the iphone is abysmal and there is no contact information on the “do not reply” verification email.

I had cursed KafkApple enough and was still anxious to try out Twitter on the phone. I logged onto my twitter homepage via the phone’s Safari brower and typed in a test message. But my fingers were taking some time to get used to the smaller keyboard. So the initial tweet read “testing from ipjone”. Happy that something worked first time, I barely noticed the typo. But others did. Stilgherrian was quickest to respond: “Your ‘ipjone’ seems to be working perfectly,” he reassured me.

If only he knew. Call me Ipjonah. Here's hoping this technophobe fares better in the morning.

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