Monday, February 8, 2010

Hey AT&T, if it Ain't Broke...

As an iPhone user, I've always been a bit annoyed by the way it handles voice calls. Up until recently, I was definitely an apologist explaining to my friends that had Blackberry's and other phones that, "yeah, AT&T's service might not be the best but 1) I don't talk on the phone much and 2) the iPhone's form and functionality more than make up for that fact." After experiencing more than 20 dropped calls during the last couple of weeks here in Austin, TX, I'm not so sure.

It's no secret that AT&T is an anchor around Apple's neck on the iPhone deal. [sidebar, if you haven't read this post by Fake Steve Jobs, it is pee-your-pants funny -- warning, it contains some foul language]. Yes, they may have been the only carrier big enough at the time to handle the iPhone's data needs but since then (hello 4g on Sprint), Apple's deal with AT&T is looking more and more albatross-like every day... to the point where I am considering buying a different device (gulp). Yup, I just said it.

In addition to the obvious annoyances that I've mentioned above,
there are a few things that are driving my willingness to consider a different smart phone. For one, I keep asking myself why it took three years, an embarassing shit storm in New York, a failed multi-million dollar advertising response to Verizon's virtual "pants-ing," and thousands of daily mentions of how much AT&T sucks to realize that maybe they should spend some money and actually fix the problem at hand. I also can't help but wonder why they've yet to really embrace social media when that could go such a long way to help change their perception in the marketplace.

Who knows, maybe I'll stick with the iPhone in spite of the ongoing dropped calls. But probably not. I've already agreed to test out Sprint's new Samsung Moment. And if that doesn't take, Google's Nexus One could be in my future. While I love my iPhone, I think the only thing that's going to save it is if Steve Job's can wiggle out of his contract and strike a deal with Sprint or Verizon. Otherwise, I'm not stickin' around.

Image courtesy Fastcompany (great article btw on this very topic)


  1. Aaron... it's trendy to bash AT&T. But we're not talking about huge differences in drops, when compared to what you get.

    "3G" is little more than a marketing slogan, as the 3G experience is widely different among carriers.

    All I know is I've been on Windows Mobile phones on AT&T for the last 20 months or so, and I don't have the dropped-call problems the iPhone people have. I also have better call quality.

    And I do predict that Verizon's posturing about getting the iPhone ("We're ready, bring it!") is based more on clever sloganeering than their ability to handle the traffic that is coming their way.

    (and when those former AT&T iPhone users start to see how much Verizon limits their service through bandwidth and blocking, the howls will really ensue.)

    For me, the network isn't as big a deal as the phone. HTC makes some kick-butt phones, and I would sooner carry one of those regardless of the carrier.

  2. Aaron,

    Sadly, I think it depends on where you live. You may find yourself pretty fortunate to live somewhere in which AT&T has acceptable service. Here in Detroit, it usually performs as expected. I don't often get dropped calls or data drops. However, when traveling to NYC (where I have been a LOT during the past year) the coverage was terrible.

    In NYC, I experienced several drops during practically every call I made/received. Data service would randomly drop for no reason upwards of 5-10 times a day. It quite simply became such a hassle that I couldn't rely on my iPhone for business calls. I needed to find a landline. If I were forced to live/spend all my time in a city like NYC with AT&T poor performance, it would leave me no choice but to switch to another device/service provider. As much as it would pain me to leave my iPhone, the simple fact is the apps (eye candy) are all useless without the network connectivity that powers them/their content.

    Good luck testing other devices. I'll be curious to see if you switch and the reasons why. I may be close behind you buddy. Please keep me in the loop!

  3. Ike - interesting perspective. All I can tell you is that when I used Verizon in the past, I didn't experience dropped calls. And now that I have AT&T, I do. While that experience is probably exacerbated when I'm in NYC (as Ken points out), it's been equally bad in San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Austin. The most interesting thing you mentioned in your comment is about the limits through "bandwidth and blocking." I heard much about that before so you've definitely piqued my interest.

    Ken - you might be right. Either way, I'll keep you apprised of what my explorations uncover.

    Interesting point of information that counteracts my assertion above (but reinforces my suggestion of using social) is a NY Times article my Twitter friend, @ColeH tweeted to me today:

    All great food for thought.

  4. Aaron, I have to turn 3G off before using my iPhone for a conference call, or biz calls in general. I've experienced similar crappy service, and it's happened pretty much everywhere I am. And don't get me started on AT&T's failure of service during SxSW last year. Couldn't get a signal anywhere downtown. Massive fail.

    On our Alaska cruise last fall, my iPhone rarely had a strong enough signal to connect when we were within coverage area. Yet met sister's Blackberry, on the same AT&T plan, worked consistently.

    I've had similar thoughts of leaving the iPhone--even though I don't use it as a phone nearly as much as a mobile web browser. I dislike AT&T so much (bad experiences over many years) that only the iPhone could have persuaded me to change carriers.

  5. Hey Aaron:

    Timely post. I have days when I drop calls left and right. Some are good. I do like my iphone a lot, and can't imagine life without it, but starting to become a bit sour all because of AT&T.

    What pushed me over the top is I paid for a third phone via AT&T so my mom, who is elderly, could have it in the event of an emergency. Sales rep said I could cancel anytime - no fee as long as I did not change MY, as in MY, core plan. I had to xl the phone other day, after paying for services for years that have been used less than 5x, and AT&T charged me a $105 cancellation fee. Told me the only way they could help is if 1) someone passed away or 2) someone went to serve in the military. I asked if "the AT&T sales person telling me something different qualified" and they said "No, Sorry sir you need to go back to the store and work it out". Wrong answer. My phone bill in the last month was $1,100. I would think I am a decent customer, no?

    So, my relationship is on rocky ground. And hopefully, those of you considering AT&T, will not get screwed over like me. Please note if it weren't for AT&T, I would be writing about how great I think the iphone is and saying you should get one.

    Keep me posted regarding which options you like better.


  6. Connie/Mark - ouch! Your experiences with Ma Bell make mine pale in comparison. Although it's nice to know that I'm not crazy.

    I think what this really begs for is a great social strategy on AT&T's part where they really start listening to what their customers are complaining about (and dispelling myths where maybe the iPhone is at fault). Otherwise, I could see a mass exodus of customers to other devices AND carriers.

  7. Aaron - Great point re: AT&T listening to customer feedback and one I've wondered about since I became an iPhone owner. How much are they doing to listen, gather and learn from convo on the web? There isn't a whole lot of data/news available that sheds light on this issue, but I seem to recall a press release awhile back that indicated AT&T uses Visible Technologies monitoring platform for some listening. Judging by the amount of responses and severity of the problem, one could make the case that AT&T still needs help in the listening department. The insights are there, they just can't see em.....yet.