October 3, 2011

∴ The Night Before iPhone

It's been sixteen months since iPhone 4 debuted as the newest Apple product on the AT&T network. That device's successor appears tomorrow at 1 PM, EDT. Engadget, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Boy Genius Report, pick your poison, they'll all be live-blogging the event. No matter what Apple unveils tomorrow, though, here are a few points worth considering before you jump into the new device(s):

  • Wait for a point upgrade to iOS 5. Apple has a solid reputation for not "gamma testing" their software on unsuspecting customers, but the expansion of the iOS 5 user base from developers and beta testers to the wider public will stress test that new operating system beyond what Apple could accomplish. Every new OS release brings with it a handful of bugs, some benign, some disabling. iOS 3 debuted with a bug that prevented some iPhones from ringing on incoming calls. Every call went to voicemail. Apple fixed it about a month later in the first subsequent point release, in fact, Apple reserves the first point release number (.0.1) for that first, quick update to every new operating system about one month after it first appears.
  • Wait before jumping into the iCloud service. You, me, and everyone else who use iOS devices are eagerly awaiting the first multi-device sync service to tie together all of Apple's computing devices. We all have documents, spreadsheets, photos, music and more to upload to the cloud and redistribute to all of our iOS and OS X devices. And every one of us who adopts iOS 5 this week will begin a data flow to Apple's data centers at about the same time. Unless Apple decides to roll out iCloud service in waves, expect it to suffer periodic slowness until the glut of new users passes. There's the possibility of initial bugginess, too. Save yourself the disappointment of the new Christmas toy that arrives broken by waiting for the first iOS 5 point release before jumping in.
  • Use that waiting period to decide to which carrier you want to commit two years of expensive monthly fees. Many iPhone and non-iPhone wireless customers had planned to jump on an iPhone when it first debuted on Verizon, earlier this year. They were disappointed when the new device was just an iPhone 4 with a different radio chip, and patiently waited for tomorrow's debut of the new iPhone. If the rumors prove correct, we'll all have a choice of AT&T, Verizon or Sprint for the next phone. So which is best? AT&T has had problems with voice call disconnects, but unless tomorrow's phones bring 4G capability (probably not) they're still the only service to allow for simultaneous voice and data use. And their voice service has improved over the past couple of years. Verizon has a solid voice and data network, but their voice quality is of somewhat lesser quality than AT&T's, and there's the either-voice-or-data issue. Both of these companies provide widely available native voice and 3G data availability, although Verizon has the edge on 3G coverage. The new player will be Sprint. They have a spottier voice footprint and their 3G footprint is akin to Swiss cheese, but they're the only carrier offering truly unlimited data plans. So there's a lot to consider before leaping into a new plan. Take the month before iOS 5.0.1 appears to survey what Sprint iPhone customers have to say about their service, and if 4G is part of the new iPhone, how it works on AT&T and Verizon's networks.

The Steve Jobs reality distortion field may not obtain from a non-Jobs product announcement, but it'll be mighty tempting to jump into a new iPhone/iOS combination anyway. Resist that urge and come November, or later, you'll be glad you did. Then enjoy your new gadget.