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iPhone Second Impressions: On activation, UI, EDGE and answering questions

David Chartier

Another quick round of first impression stuff that covers some user problems with activation, EDGE speeds, Google Maps and Mail. We're working on some more focused, in-depth posts that explore individual features in their entirety, such as Safari, the keyboard, Mail, etc. For now, let's get started with trying to solve some of these activation pains and go from there.

  • Readers at TUAW and across the web are reporting all sorts of activation problems, and I'm truly sorry to hear about it, but I might have some tips that could help get your iPhone on its feet. As I recall, iTunes gave me an error message during the activation process, but the iPhone still kicked me back out to the home screen once it was done, and I received the standard 'your phone is activated' email a couple minutes later. I immediately was able to receive a phone call, and SMS and make an outbound call. I was also an existing AT&T customer, so all I had to do was add the $20 iPhone Data Plan during the process. I'm not trying to brag here, just provide context; by my rough calculations, existing AT&T customers seem to be having less problems than those who are first signing up or porting over service, as those operations probably entail a bit more work in the back-end on AT&T's part.
  • There are a couple tricks that might help here: First, some owners are reporting that simply soft resetting the iPhone (hold the power button at the top of the phone for a few seconds to receive the power off slider) and then booting it back up fixes the issue. Just for the heck of it, why not wait a few seconds or even up to a minute? It couldn't hurt, and it might work some network voodoo to wake AT&T up and get your iPhone rollin'.
  • I honestly don't know about this one as it is simply an idea I had, but: if you have a second Mac or PC lying around with the latest iTunes 7.3 installed, you could try plugging it in to see if the activation process begins again. However, remember: this is just an idea I had, and I have no idea whether that will illicit any results or get your activation process even more borked up on AT&T's books. I honestly don't believe it could do any damage, but I certainly am no AT&T activations engineer either.
  • This is another theory that I haven't seen tested or mentioned anywhere, so take this one with a grain of salt as well: If you're an existing AT&T customer with a SIM card in your current (or - hopefully - soon to be replaced) phone, you could try swapping out the iPhone's SIM card as outlined in the iPhone User Guide (not included with the phone itself). Simply open that in Preview and search for SIM; your first result should be a guide for removing the SIM card and inserting a new one. Then plug your iPhone back into iTunes to see if a new activation process can begin. Again: this is just a theory; I haven't tested or heard anyone try this as a solution for activation problems.
  • Update: More readers are reporting that turning off your old phone before activating the iPhone might help with activation issues. While this tip won't do you any good if you're already caught in the limbo of AT&T's activation system, it might help if my idea of re-trying activation with a different computer is worth anything.
  • It's surprisingly fast. The best speed test I've found so far for Safari on the iPhone is, offering a really scaled down page with a few download size options and no-nonsense results. I'm getting, on average, about 150 kbit/sec downloads on my phone. In light of the drawbacks of EDGE's (traditional) speed, the only reason that makes sense as to why Apple and AT&T didn't make some massive announcement of a network upgrade is that they're getting hammered this weekend with iPhone activations and people tinkering around with surfing via EDGE. If they're going to announce this at all, waiting until maybe sometime next week makes sense as the iPhone storm might be dissipating to more manageable levels where most users will see this increased speed across the country. Of course, this is just speculation on my part, but the tests don't lie: users across the nation are reporting that EDGE has upgraded from its previous 20 kbits/sec speed to anywhere from 100k - 200 kbits/sec. This is great (unofficial) news.
  • Call me crazy, but I think YouTube is serving up different movies based on whether you are viewing via Wi-Fi or EDGE. I've watched three separate videos via both wireless methods, one of them user generated with crummy equipment to start with, and I swear I see a higher quality version over Wi-Fi than when watching with EDGE. Whether this means there are literally two separate files encoded at different qualities or if YouTube is working some streaming + compression magic I have no idea, but I would love to hear other iPhone users chime in on this one.
  • Google Maps usually impresses me with its speed when viewing satellite images over EDGE. Simply viewing the standard map and searching for a location is almost always snappy over EDGE (sometimes there seems to be a delay, but not often), and even downloading satellite imagery is usable.
Google Maps
  • This was probably demoed and I just don't remember, but I'm talking to enough iPhone owners who didn't know this that I felt it warranted a mention: you can pinch to zoom in and out of either Google Maps views. This is fantastic.
  • Traffic reports are usually pretty snappy, again even over EDGE.
  • The Bookmarks feature of Google Maps (accessible by the blue book in the address bar) is a great way to save frequently used routes and quickly get at the addresses of contacts.
  • At first I was slightly disappointed that I can't hook the iPhone's Google Maps up to my actual Google Account, but after exploring that Bookmarks feature, I deem it a non-issue, at least for me.
Mail, selecting and deleting items
  • Some readers are asking about doing operations like deleting more than one Mail message at a time. While you can slide your finger across any single message to invoke that red delete button for just that message, hitting the Edit button at the top of any message list will invoke red buttons to the left of every message in the list. While this isn't exactly the same as holding the Command key on a Mac, selecting a bunch of messages and hitting the delete key once to trash them all, this is the quickest way I can find to perform large deleting operations.
  • This seems to be the UI for any situation where you have a list of items that can be deleted; there's no way to select a few of them at random and hit one delete key - instead, you enable a 'delete mode' which makes it easier to delete more than one message, but still one at a time.
  • I'm slightly disappointed at the lack of the 'One Inbox to Rule Them All' like Mail in Mac OS X has; if you have more than one account synched to the iPhone, you have to drill down into each account's inbox to view any new messages, drill back out to the accounts list and then drill back into a new account and inbox to view that account's new messages. It's clunky, but it's also becoming inspiration for me to consolidate email accounts.
That's about it for now. Like I said, stay tuned for those more in-depth posts on individual features, but in the meantime, I hope everyone's activation problems can get solved soon.

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