Well, I Finally Got An iPhone 5…

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Me, for a few hours after I got my iPhone 5.

As regular readers will know, I’m not a particularly voracious “early adopter” type when it comes to the latest, greatest gadgets.I’ve had an iPhone 3GS for the past three or so years, and I’ve usually been happy with it.

I wanted the better camera in the iPhone 4S, so I tried to get it once, but that was when people were still waiting all night outside Apple Stores to buy iPhone 4S’s and ship them to Asia, so I was rebuffed. And after that I never got around to it.

When the iPhone 5 came out, I decided to wait until two things happened: First, there were enough of them that I could just walk into a store and get one and, second, that I happened to be in the neighbourhood of an Apple Store. Yesterday, those two things came together.

I walked into the flagship Apple Store on Fifth Avenue and asked one of the friendly red-shirted folks whether I could buy an iPhone.

Happily, the friendly red-shirted person said “Yes!”

And he then demonstrated exactly why Apple is so good at retailing by spending half an hour with me patiently solving a problem with my account that had prevented me from upgrading online a year or two earlier. (This involved my calling AT&T, and he actually stood there waiting with me while I waited on hold. He was so generous with his time, I was almost embarrassed. And there were plenty of other customers around he could have been helping.)

(In fact, while I was waiting on hold with AT&T, I looked around the store, and I was amazed by just how many friendly red-shirted people there were. The store was bustling, and there were almost as many red-shirted folks as customers.)

Anyway, AT&T figured out the problem eventually, and my friendly red-shirted friend set up iCloud for me (I had never gotten around to that, either) and transferred some stuff to my new iPhone 5. I’ve bought Apple gadgets before, and I never cease to be amazed when they emerge from their boxes with their batteries charged. That is a brilliant, beautiful little customer-service detail that, along with the friendly red-shirted fellow, reminded me why I love Apple and why it is the most valuable company in the world.

The friendly red-shirted fellow swiped my credit card into his own iPhone, and then I was done. And then, naturally, I started using the phone as I walked up the stairs.

None of my apps had transferred, which seemed odd, but by the time I had walked a couple of blocks, I had downloaded some critical ones. And by the time I got to the office, I was up and running on Twitter, Business Insider, and basic email.

I got a good five hours of usage out of my iPhone 5 before it broke.

Here are my high-level observations:

  • It is indeed significantly faster than my 3GS, in terms of app-loading speed and web-usage. The speed is very nice. Not critical, but very nice. The added speed is by far the biggest improvement.
  • The screen is a bit sharper than my 3GS (the “retina” thing that gadget folks keep going on about). I was plenty happy with the screen on my 3GS, so this really isn’t a big deal for me, but it’s better.
  • The taller screen size is a very modest improvement (very modest), but it actually doesn’t make things any easier to read. I use the phone in portrait, mostly, so having extra “height” doesn’t really make a difference. I would have preferred some extra height AND width. I tried the Samsung Galaxy S3 a few times a couple of months ago, and loved the size of that screen. But I had already invested three years into learning how to operate an iPhone in my sleep, so the subtle differences between the OS’s made having to “learn” a new phone frustrating. That’s one of the reasons I decided to stick with Apple.
  • It’s beautiful and light and thin and all that. If I hadn’t already had an iPhone 3GS, this device would be an absolute miracle. But over the last few years, I’ve gotten used to how amazing these gadgets are. And this one isn’t that much more amazing than the one I already had, even from a design perspective. (Jony Ive, Steve Jobs, and co., were pretty good back then, too).
  • I can’t get iCloud to work (at least the photo-stream part). No idea why. It just doesn’t work. I handed the phone to one of our gadget gods, Jay Yarow, and even he couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t work.
  • The new cord is indeed annoying. I have a bag full of regular Apple cords, and there’s one pretty much everywhere you look in my house. That makes charging the 3GS or any of our other devices a snap. Now there’s only one cord in my life that will work with my new phone. One of these days, probably today, I’ll forget to bring it with me, and then I’ll be S.O.O.L.
  • The battery level declined at a startling rate. By the end of the afternoon, after tinkering with the phone, I figured that this was the result of pretty much everything being switched “on” (bluetooth, location services, “push,” etc.), so I turned most of that off. If and when I get the phone up and running again, I’ll see if that helps.

The bottom line, after five hours of usage, was this:

The iPhone 5 is a modest improvement over the 3GS. I loved my 3GS, and it did almost everything I asked of it (except take better pictures). The iPhone 5 is better, but it’s not so much better that I wish I had waited in line for hours to buy it several months ago. And, frankly, I’m not sure it’s so much better that it was worth the ~$240 I had to pay for it.

(I drop my phone pretty much every day, so I had to get a case, too.)

And those were my feelings when the iPhone 5 was working.

When I emerged from the subway in the evening, unfortunately, the phone stopped working.

Specifically, it stopped being able to find the AT&T network to connect to. It just perpetually said “Searching …,” which is the same thing it still says 12 hours later, after a night of recharging and recuperation. I walked home “in the blind,” trying the usual tricks to get the phone to connect, but no joy.

Later, when I got home and asked Twitter what was wrong, several people snickered that the problem was just crappy AT&T, but that’s not it. I have always had good AT&T network service in my neighbourhood on the 3GS, and the phone has never failed to connect.

I tried everything that everyone recommended. I switched the connectivity on and off a few times (“aeroplane mode.”) I reset the network settings. I rebooted the phone several times. I popped out the “SIM card” and “blew on it” and then popped it back in (a Twitter suggestion), scratching the phone with a paper clip in the process.

Nothing worked.

Eventually, I searched online and found that this is, if not a common problem, a known problem for iPhone 5s. Some people think it’s an iPhone 5 “bug.” Others just blame the SIM card. I corresponded with several of the friendly Apple geniuses in my Twitter stream, and most people agree that I need a new SIM card.

So, someday, when I have the time, I’ll go back to the Apple Store or, I gather, to an AT&T store and get a new SIM card. Or maybe a new iPhone, if it’s the phone that’s the problem.

I don’t know when I’ll have the time to do that. Hopefully soon. I use my phone constantly, and I need it.

In the meantime, I’m thinking it’s probably smarter to just call up AT&T and switch back to my 3GS. I miss it already.

 UPDATE: This being tantamount to a productivity emergency, I went straight back to the Apple Store. Wonderful experience, as expected. Turned out the phone was, in fact, busted. Genius bar guy figured that out quickly and replaced it. Says it’s the first time he has seen a hardware problem with the 5. I then worked away on it while walking a mile to a conference. New phone fast and clean. Especially fast. That really is the biggest difference between the 5 and 3GS — speed of processor and speed of Internet. And, no, it is not a “transformational” difference. It’s a nice difference, though!

UPDATE 2: Two days later, my new new iPhone is working like a charm. The speed is GREAT. Can’t say enough about the speed. I’m not sure that’s the iPhone so much as LTE, but whatever it is, I like it. And I’m coming to appreciate the retina screen. It’s not the “sharpness” of the latter that is the difference. It’s the apparent brightness. Also, now that I’ve turned off all the “push,” “bluetooth,” et al, the battery is hanging in there. So, overall, very pleased.


* Oh, by the way, because the new iPhone 5 still works on WiFi, my daughter was able to “play with Siri” for 20 minutes or so after I got home. This is the best use I have seen for Siri in the year or two that Siri has been in existence: Siri is temporarily amusing to kids whose parents have iPhones that have Siri. I listened to my daughter make requests of Siri, including many basic ones. Siri understood about half of the requests. My daughter thought it was funny when Siri said something silly in response to a basic question like “What vitamins are in a banana?” And, sometimes it was indeed funny. But the exercise reaffirmed my belief that, beyond her entertainment value, Siri is frustrating, annoying, and pretty much useless. I’m glad that Apple finally seems to understand that and has stopped advertising her.

** From a business perspective, my five hours with the iPhone 5 confirmed another suspicion I’ve had, which is that each successive generation of iPhone now offers only a marginal improvement over the last couple of generations. Because much of the improvement in the phones is coming in the software, moreover, even the old hardware gets better. There will always be folks who wait in line for days to buy the latest, greatest thing, but for those whose priorities are what you can do with technology as opposed to the technology itself, the big leaps in smartphone innovation are over. And that means that Apple (and other smartphone vendors) will likely get less and less of a sales “bang” from each new product generation.

SEE ALSO: The iPhone 5, Unboxed