iPhone 4 thoughts, part 3

My iPhone 4 says 16 GB on the box.  Under Settings > General > About it says “Capacity 14.0 GB” with 2.8 GB listed as available.  I checked all of the display models at the Apple store today, and they all reported the same 14.0 GB, as did my first iPhone 4.

Does this mean that the OS is taking up 2 GB?  Or that the 16 GB are actually 14 GB when formatted?  Or some combination of the two?  Strange, because my old iPhone 3G, also running iOS 4, also sold in box as a 16 GB model, currently shows a capacity of 14.5 GB.

The old phone lacks a lot of features such as multitasking, yet half a gigabyte seems like a lot. If you’ve seen anything different or have any explanation let me know.

iPhone 4 thoughts, part 2

This morning as I was using my iPhone 4 with Bumper on in a room that normally has poor signal strength I noticed the signal dropping.  I was on wifi as well, so connectivity was fine, of course, but the bars declined in the same manner as yesterday when held without Bumper on.

I shifted the Bumper and the bars returned.  This means that, in areas where signal strength was, with the iPhone 3G, questionable, the iPhone 4 antennas are more vulnerable to the bridging interference than in strong coverage areas.  This corresponds with findings posted by others.

I then removed the bumper and the problem was easily reproducible by holding the phone in my left hand in all areas of the house, regardless of coverage strength.  I’d been debating heading back to the Apple store, and this pushed me over the edge.  I got on the bus.

When I got to Stonestown Galleria, having not used the phone at all on the cold bus ride (this is San Francisco), the problem wasn’t initially apparent.  I sat in the food court for ten minutes, debating what to do and holding the phone with full 3G signal.  I’ll note for others that when I say “holding the phone” I mean lightly, not some death grip, and in a very, very standard way, not in any special fashion. My hands are not and were not wet.

After about ten minutes, while I was trying to come up with a way to explain this bug to the Apple store staff, the bars started dropping.  Note that the Galleria is much warmer than the outdoors, so I believe the antennas are more vulnerable to interference and detuning at warmer temperatures.

I went to the Apple store and demonstrated the problem to the first staffer I found.  He referred me to the Genius Bar, made me a walk-in appointment, and asked me to wait. I did, and while doing so tested the phones in the display area.  None of them dropped immediately but I did not hold any for more than a few moments, as I was trying to test them all. During this time I was not holding my iPhone 4.

When the Genius called me I explained the problem and he asked if I could show him. I pulled out the phone (sans-Bumper) and held it lightly.  The bars began to fade.  He said that this was the first time he’d seen it, and asked to try.  When either of us let go of the phone the bars come back, and when he held the phone the bars dropped.

He was impressed, and said that after hearing about the problem he’d tried to reproduce it, but hadn’t been able to on the display models.  I told him I’d tried and failed also.  He took the phone and ran tests, including restoring it from DFU mode. He also got me a new phone.

After restoring it the phone did not immediately demonstrate the problem, but once we’d held it for a few minutes the bars began to drop again, until the phone lost signal and began searching for a network.  I should note here that the Apple store has excellent AT&T coverage.

He said they’d send my old phone off to engineering, and they were excited to have one with a reproducible problem.  He and another staffer set up my new phone and activated it, and asked if I wanted to try it before leaving. I said yes, and held the phone. Having been synced with iTunes moments before it was already warm and bars began immediately dropping.  Both Apple store staff reproduced the problem with the new phone.

At this point I was very relieved to know that it wasn’t just me, or just my phone. Strange, but the fact that it’s widespread, or at least more widely spread is comforting.  The Genius who’d been helping me then said that they think it’s either a firmware or a design issue, and that there wasn’t anything else he could really do, because they had to find a solution internally, and that they were learning as they went.  He was very polite and genuinely interested in solving the problem.

I said I understood and that I’d take the new phone home, and he told me to swing back by if it became a more serious problem.  He then said the most interesting thing:

“I tried to reproduce the problem on the display units, but I definitely didn’t hold them for as long as we’ve held this one.”

“Me neither,” I said.

“Now I know how it works though,” he said, “I’m glad to see it.”

The phone is awesome, and I’m glad to have it.  The Bumper seems to make the problem almost disappear.  However, the problem is both real and reproducible, and affects more than just one unit.  If you’re not seeing this, that’s wonderful, but it’s something I’d test for if I were going to buy an iPhone 4.  It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s big enough of a problem that a) Apple should give out free Bumpers and b) you want to know if your phone does it in case there’s a widely-issued fix or recall.

iPhone 4 thoughts, part 1

It is very odd to hold a device that is glass on both sides. Without looking the direction it is facing isn’t apparent.  Also, coming from the 3G, it feels very, very slick.  So did the iPad initially, and the constant fear of dropping that has ebbed with familiarity.

The much-discussed problem whereby holding the phone in the left hand so as to bridge the antenna gap causes the signal to gradually degrade and disappear on 3G is definitely real and immediately obvious. If you are buying a phone in store as opposed to delivery this is something you should be checking for.  Hold the phone for 15 seconds with your palm over the gap while it is on (which requires in-store activation).  Hopefully there is a fix, but I assume that it is a hardware problem, as only some phones seem to exhibit it. The rubber Apple Bumper case fixes this, which lends more credence to it being a hardware problem, as the case is non-conductive.

[Update] This problem is not 100% reproducible. I just sat in the car and held the phone, sans-case, in my left hand and the signal did not drop. Returned to house, took case off, and the signal drops immediately when held in left hand as noted above. Could this depend on signal interference as well, such as the wifi network in my house? Will report further. [/Update]

The screen is very, very good. Almost bizarrely clear, as some text, noticeably in the Messaging app, looks far different than it did on older generations of iPhone.

The camera shutter speed is astonishingly fast… for a phone.

Call volume is startlingly loud.  This means nothing for call quality, which I haven’t tested in any serious way.

It’s still an iPhone.

That was a long line.

We are the world

Once every four years we remember what it is about other countries we so enjoy: beating them at something. People with no normally-visible national spirit suddenly wear flags and stay up all night hoping for the downfall of nations they know so very little about. Countries are categorized swiftly, and on the smallest of things, using words like “rubbish” and “gritty” that are either awkward or insightful. This is the World Cup, and it’s a wonderful time.

At seven am on a Saturday there is a man running the streets of North Beach. He is clad primarily in the English flag, St. George’s Cross, and a hat of the same colors. He leaps and yells, sprints and screams, and pauses occasionally to say “Hello” to passing strangers. He poses for pictures, or at least pretends to, before dashing away. He is mad, or happy, or madly happy, and he elevates the entire neighborhood. It is seven am on a Saturday morning, and they were sleeping. The England v. USA game begins, in this time zone, at eleven, by which time he will be sweaty and flushed, and ready for the throng that greets his triumphant entrance into the pub.

“That’s not a flag he’s wearing, it’s a proper cape!” says one of the onlookers, having caught quite a glimpse on the sidewalk. Indeed it is a cape, perhaps custom-made, and the construction earns him street cred from those wearing store-bought jerseys.

Inside the bar, waiting for pints and waiting for the match, their jerseys do draw comment, a display of camaraderie and knowledge.

“Altidore, nice,” we say on seeing Jozy’s 17, or “Dempsey, looking for a goal from him today.” The US white jersey dominates, this being San Francisco and the US blue featuring a hideous bandolier-style white diagonal. The English supporters wear hats and homemade gear, though Rooney’s top-selling shirt floats around, worn by men who will be strangely quiet once the game begins. Yet in some way they will win this meeting, their language and descriptions dominating, their accents percolating through announcers to the mouths of the American fans. In the United States football may be the rest of the world’s sport, a minor thing, but the language of football is not global, it is English, in the same sense of the word as the man’s cape as he streaks by the window shouting unintelligible enthusiasm.

This is a funny time to be American, to be at home in America, for the oft-repeated notion that “Americans are starting to pay attention to football.” By “this is a funny time” I mean not this month bridging June and July in the northern hemisphere’s summer, but the World Cup. Similar statements were made in 2006, in 2002, in 1998, and in 1994, which is as far back as my memories stretch with accuracy. It is World Cup season, and we Americans are suddenly awake to the globe’s furor.

Yet we are not. In Berlin a friend tells me how as he sat watching the game last Saturday in an outdoor cafe every passer-by would stop to check the score, to ask who’d scored, or to comment on the quality of play. Grandparents, children, women with babies, people on bicycles, young friends, all wanted to know what was happening at that moment in South Africa where Australia was playing Ghana.

“It’s amazing,” he says, of being in Europe for the World Cup, “everyone cares.”

In Japan in 2002 I lived less than five miles from the stadium in Saitama, and remember most the feeling of being *there*. Matches were not just things to watch, but events, and the easiest way to understand was to go outside, to find a huge display, to find a crowd of cheering supporters. The streets of Tokyo were filled with crowds of cheering people sporting colors of nations they may or may not have been born in, a rare combination of accepted nationalism that fit so perfectly into the first dual-hosted World Cup.

Four years later, awake at odd hours to watch matches in Germany, a friend and I lamented our lack of foresight in being so distant. We should move every four years, even if only for the summer. It was absurd talk and a wonderful notion, forgotten in our planning after the tournament’s end.

Yet here we are, four years later, amid the greatest sporting event on the planet, he in Germany and I in San Francisco, only one of us in the proper time zone and neither of us in the correct country. With internet broadcasting, with bars that open early and fans that flash their colors regardless of their current city, we can still be caught up though, and run the streets in our flag. The crazed energy that comes from being on the streets outside the stadium, let alone at the matches themselves, can remain a goal for the future, about four years from now.

The iPhone 4 conundrum

I currently have an iPhone 3G.  After two years of daily use it is definitely worse for the wear, with cracks in the plastic casing and dust stuck under the screen.  The battery is also failing, resulting in a standard 2 hours of usage.  For those curious, the cracks occur between the holes in the plastic (for volume rocker, sleep/wake button, sim tray, screws, 30-pin connector, and speakers) and the metal edge to the front of the phone.  These cracks grow over time, and multiply.

Of course I’ve dropped it.  I list these things as facts rather than as points of failure.  In the past ten years I’ve had a number of phones. Not one survived two years without showing the wear.  This is one of the reasons I take mugshots (via dailymugshot.com), to see if the wear is as visible on my body.  It must be.  The point for the phone though is that two years is a long time to commit to a single object.  It is a lot of hours of use, a lot of strange locations, a lot of potential drops and spills.  There is no other object in my life that spends so much time with me and is so delicate.  And survives.  So a two-year commitment to any single phone seems an odd decision.  But that is the current US cellular climate, and despite my vocal protests and Google’s attempt at direct sales, it will not be changing this week.

I am ready for a new phone.  I enjoy the iPhone, and am not currently enamored of any other maker’s offering, though I watch them all. I had hope for Palm, and believe Android/HTC will tempt me repeatedly, but at the current moment, they do not.  My main desires, for a faster processor, better battery life and nicer display, are all at least partially adressed by iPhone 4.

What hesitation then?  Well you see it comes to this: I live in San Francisco. I spent an hour or so at the Haight Street Fair yesterday (which may or may not be spelled with an additional ‘e’).  My iPhone 3G spent that time bleeding battery into a “No Service” search.  A futile one, because in addition to the thousands of people who would bring down AT&T’s modest network regardless of the location, there is another problem:  AT&T has no coverage on Haight Street.  This is a well-kept secret, as Haight and Ashbury are relatively high-profile streets in San Francisco, and a mainstay of the tourist circuit.

How then can AT&T simply abandon the neighborhood?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But the dead zone, as these things are called, extends some 100 yards up and down Haight on either side of Ashbury, and is reliable enough that, when riding a bus down Haight, I can count down to the moment my phone will lose coverage.  This is not the only such spot, but it is an excellent example of why AT&T customers in San Francisco are so unhappy.

“But we have the fastest 3G network,” claim the ads.  But your network doesn’t work, I say. Yes, in other cities AT&T remains relatively useful.  In San Francisco, however, it is a wish and a prayer.  In my first three hours back from New York last week I made three calls to three different people from three different locations.  They all failed.  Perhaps this is my hardware, save that the same phone had worked fine in New York scant hours before.  Perhaps it is the network.

There is one other thing.  In China, to take as an example a location whose carriers and cellular industry I am at least comfortably knowledgable about, this service would not be so maddening.  In China, at the end of the month, I recieved a bill for the number of minutes used and the amount of data transferred.  If AT&T functioned in this manner (or any US carrier, for that matter) such a dead zone would not be as frustrating, because I wouldn’t be paying for service in it.

The US wireless market remains that rare combination of uncompetitive, expensive, and mediocre.  And yet here I live, in San Francisco.  What to do, what to do?

Luckily I have another 24 hours until iPhone 4 pre-orders to make up my mind.