El Reg lobs iPhone at Genius Bar
Dignity restored for $111.87
Analysis Friday was one of life's great days: I returned my iPhone. I was tired of Apple's adult-proof keyboard. I was tired of AT&T's piddling wireless network. But most of all, I was embarrassed that I'd bought the thing in the first place.
First, I suffered the public humiliation of standing in line with hundreds of people who can't think for themselves, waiting outside the downtown San Francisco Apple store for Steve Job's latest marketing coup to finally go on sale. Then came the shame of being applauded by Apple employees as I paid five hundred and forty-one dollars and forty-two cents for a product that everyone says I'm supposed to want. And as the days went by, the shame resurfaced every time I took the thing out of my pocket. "Is that an iPhone?" was the inevitable question from the next passer by. "Can I look at it?"
Yes, I was just doing my job, trying to dig up some dirt for the good of El Reg. But to quote Paul Newman's Cool Hand Luke, "Calling it your job don't make it right." After two weeks with the iPhone, I was determined to be the first person on earth to return the thing.
As it turns out, I wasn't the first. I wasn't even the second. There's hope for humankind after all.
The UI Is Not Enough
Let's be honest here: The iPhone's all-finger, no-stylus interface is a beautiful thing. With the exception of the on-screen keyboard - which isn't quite up-to-snuff if your hands are any larger than a twelve-year-old's - this is pretty close to the ultimate UI, an interface you can use without a second thought. From the get-go. But $541.42 is too much to pay for an interface. UI aside, the only real reason to buy an iPhone is peer pressure.
When I first bought mine, I certainly had fun flipping through digital album covers with my naked index finger, but a few days later, when I lent it to El Reg hack Dan Goodin so he could kick the tires, I didn't miss it in the slightest. I already have a smartphone. I already have an iPod. And though the iPhone adds a few extra perks, they don't outweigh the extreme mental torture that besets anyone who buys the thing.
Sure, there are the problems everyone else is talking about. You're tied to AT&T's less-than-3G EDGE data network - which is no way to surf ordinary web pages, let alone YouTube. And because Apple has done its best to lock down the phone, you're stuck with the sort of software annoyances that Dan takes issue with.
But that's just a start. The way the display picks up oily finger smudges is cruel and unusual. And what happens if you drop your $540 status symbol? Or lose it. Last week, as my college roommate ran for a San Francisco commuter train, his week-old iPhone tumbled from his breast pocket onto a Bay Area parking lot. Last I heard, a Cringley video podcast was permanently frozen on the display - and that new-age interface was unusable. Dropping a $200 smartphone is one thing. Dropping a $541.42 iPhone is another. And I'm not afraid to say that I was in danger of dropping mine. Or losing it. Or both. My wife will back me up on this.
More importantly, if you carry an iPhone, what happens to your self-worth? I can assure you: It plummets. Carry an iPhone, and you're just one of the lemmings.
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So, on Friday afternoon, I went back to the downtown San Francisco Apple store, iPhone and receipt in hand. This time, the line was much shorter. And I had much more fun.
"I'd like to return this," I said, as I reached the check-out counter.
"The iPhone?" said the decidedly hip-looking twentysomething in the iPhone T-shirt. "Why?"
"I can't bear the network," I said.
"I'll have to take you upstairs," he replied.
[Gulp - Ed]
It seems that if you walk into an Apple store and ask to return an iPhone, you're hauled off to the in-store "Genius Bar." Presumably, one of the local geniuses tries to talk you out of it, giving you clever solutions to all your problems. But the genius I spoke to was at a complete loss.
"You're not happy with AT&T?" he said. "OK. You can return it."
The official policy at both Apple and AT&T is that you can return the iPhone within 14-days of purchase. If the box is unopened, you get a full refund. But if not, you pay a 10 per cent restocking fee. A 10 per cent restocking fee? Are they kidding?
Of course, I still had to cancel my wireless plan through AT&T. But that was relatively painless. As luck would have it, I'd signed up for a prepaid GoPhone plan that could be shut-off at anytime. I was stuck with nothing more than the activation fee and a single monthly payment. In all, I paid only $111.87 for life without an iPhone.
Standing there in the Apple store, as the decidedly-hip twentysomething handed me a new receipt, I couldn't help but ask if anyone else had returned their iPhone. "Yes," he said. "Several people have."
"Did they say why?" I asked.
"Little reasons," he said.
"You know," he said. "They're all upset because it doesn't do some tiny little thing that their old phone could do."
"Oh, I don't remember," he said. "Small things." Which seemed to sum up the problem. The iPhone is a worthwhile purchase if you're interested in doing the things that Apple wants you to do, if you're interested in doing the things that everyone else is doing. But you aren't given the freedom to do things your way. That's true where the wireless network is concerned - and it's true with the software. If you value your sense of self, returning the iPhone is far more satisfying than using it. ®