Monday, January 19, 2009

"Let me transfer you to Unsupported Devices."

So I'm perfectly happy with the T-Mobile G1, which uses Google's Android OS. The phone is clunky, and the UI has that beta software feel, but as a remote internet terminal it's great. Especially the push email and IM.

My wife likes the idea of Android, but not the form factor. It felt like a brick to her. So instead, we bought a secondhand iPhone 3G, jailbroke it, installed yellowsn0w, and stuck in the T-Mobile SIM. Voice worked immediately. When we called T-Mobile about the data plan, we were reluctant to admit that we were trying to attach an AT&T phone to their network - but they were perfectly at ease with it, suggested a data plan, and told us when we could expect to have the plan kick in.

So if we both had smartphones with always-on internet, why would we need that expensive SMS plan? We'd just IM each other, we decided, and cut the SMS. "Are you sure?" the T-Mobile rep asked my wife. "He sent over 1200 text messages last month alone!"

The next day, the iPhone wouldn't catch the internet, so we called tech support. "Let me transfer you to Unsupported Devices," the T-Mobile representative said. The name was an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp" or "military intelligence" or "too much garlic." Anyway, the tech at Unsupported Devices quickly identified the problem and led me through the steps.

Then we came to an ugly realization: The iPhone doesn't support push email and IM. You actually have to check it yourself. Yes, AT&T has some sort of enterprise plan and a more general service is in the works, but that will be based on their network; T-Mobile won't support it. So our plan to IM each other had run into a real snag.

Today, we turned SMS back on. Expensive? Sure. But we rely on that instant connectivity more than we knew. And I also began to realize that we text our friends and family a lot - people who don't check email or use IM or own smartphones. That is, we weren't paying for the service so much as the network to which it gave entrance.

My wife has concluded one other thing. She had thought the iPhone would be like a little computer. But it's crippled: you have to connect it to a desktop or laptop computer in order to download applications, and other independent capabilities are similarly stunted. In contrast, the G1 never has to be connected to a device - and if it is, it's just seen as an external drive. "I want the iPhone and G1 to get married and have offspring," she concluded, "and that's the phone I will buy. It will have the body of the iPhone but the brains of the G1."

So here's what I will conclude. I really appreciate T-Mobile's attitude toward unsupported devices. If only we could extend that to all devices, allowing us to switch them from network to network seamlessly and without gray-market hacks! How much effort that would save us. Open devices, open standards, open roadmaps would increase the value of these devices and the services attached to them - at least for us.


John Jones said...

Is it the jailbroken software that won't let the iPhone add apps without a computer? I never add apps via the computer, just with the phone.

Clay Spinuzzi said...

Ha, that's what my wife told me. I mentioned it to her and she said, "Maybe I just don't know how to use this thing." Tried downloading an app and, magically, it worked.

Do you have a solution for over-the-air synching with Google Calendar?

John Jones said...

It doesn't seem like Google Calendar will sync with the iPhone Calendar app. You have to use GC through the web.

Bill said...

looking for something like this too...found this:

Don't know much about it yet.

Bill said...

oh, and you can set to poll every minute...not quite push, but good enough.