To begin: I’m a big proponent of Apple devices. I believe they’re the best option for people who would rather have their computing devices “just work” than to have to work to get their computing devices to do what they need. I don’t want to “root” or “jailbreak” or “hack” or choose between kernels or otherwise have to manually manage or deeply customize my computer/tablet/phone – I just want to open the box and start using it, and I want to be able to continue using it the way I did when I opened the box until the device dies. (Said device failure preferably coming 5+ years after purchase… and though I don’t expect to still be the primary user of a particular phone after that many years, I do expect it to still be working as, say, an iPod Touch for someone without a smartphone.) Nearly every computing device in my household is from Apple, from the wireless routers to the iMac, Macbook Pro, iBook, iPad, and several iPhones and iPods. (We don’t, yet, have an AppleTV. Maybe soon.)
We don’t compulsively upgrade our devices, certainly not with unsubsidized phones. We can’t really afford to. Instead, we typically wait as long as possible before updating. So, for example, I bought the original iPhone (the day after they dropped the price) and didn’t upgrade until the 3GS was available. Then I got married and, when we wanted to move Mandy over from Verizon to AT&T onto a shared plan, we never even had to put her on a contract – she just used my original iPhone, at first. With two phones, two lines, and one not under contract, it would be easy enough to buy one of the latest iPhone every year, putting every other phone line on a fresh 2-year contract – and since I’m the tech geek and last-year’s-iPhone is still a really good smartphone, just shuffle the devices so I have the newest and Mandy has the next-newest, and my sister gets the no-plan-use-it-as-an-iPod-Touch two-versions-old device. Due to other influences (including planning for possibly heading to Japan, a plan currently moved once more to the back-burner) we never did get a second contract on our account, and had nearly let mine run out entirely – though this spring when Mandy’s 3GS started going mad (I think I determined in the end it was Gmail’s fault) using 10x-100x more data than it had any reason to, we did renew my contract for 2 years to got me a new 4s and give her my 4 (my sister is now much happier with the 3GS-as-iPod-Touch than she was with the original iPhone).
So now we’re to the release of the iPhone 5. It looks great, and I’d love to have one, but it’s not necessary. The closest thing to failure on our devices is that the home button on the 4 isn’t entirely reliable – which has been a problem for years; I dealt with it, but it frustrates Mandy quite a bit. (In case you hadn’t heard, some iPhone 4 home buttons are less-than-perfect. Sometimes you press it and nothing happens. Other times you press it and it registers as a double-press. Since the introduction of multitasking to iOS, this is somewhat inconvenient.) What we’ve decided is that tonight we’ll try the anecdotally-recommended solution to the button problem, WD-40, and if it kills the iPhone 4, we’ll buy an iPhone 5 tomorrow morning (I’m excellent at waiting in lines) and do the old iPhone-shuffle. And if it fixes (or doesn’t change) the button problem, no problem, we’ll just stick with the hardware we have until something goes wrong (or there’s an irresistible upgrade, like the retina display was).
Now, some readers may be wondering about the AT&T situation. Some people really don’t like AT&T. I guess some people have terrible reception/service/whatever where they are. Or they don’t like blue, or … something. I don’t know what. What I do know is that a decade ago I was happy with AT&T Wireless, and that when I moved to Pine in early 2003 I was forced to switch to Verizon (the only carrier up there, at the time). Verizon’s service in Pine was fine, but when I moved back to Phoenix in 2004 I immediately began having issues, the most striking of which is a near-total inability to make or receive phone calls inside my own home. Step outside, even just 3 feet out the door, and reception is great. Step inside, and miss important calls, texts, and voicemails. When the iPhone launched, because it was only available on AT&T, I switched back – and haven’t really looked back, since. I get reasonable-to-great service inside my home, which is where I make and receive 90% or more of my phone calls. The only places I haven’t had service are the places I expected that to be the case, such as deep-in-Yellowstone, or hundreds of miles from anywhere, on back roads, on long road trips – places I know from experience with Verizon there isn’t much signal, either.
What about cost? Well, I still have my old unlimited-data plan with AT&T. I could even, apparently, grandfather it over to an iPhone 5 and an LTE plan: $30/month for 5GB of LTE data (and unlimited throttled data, after that). Mandy switched from the old 250Mb data option to the old 2Gb data option
when her 3GS was acting up (when Gmail was acting up), so that’s $25/month. We’re on the super-secret lowest-possible-minutes plan AT&T offers for Family Plans, which is $50/month + $9.99/extra-line, or $59.99/month for 550 minutes on the two lines – because between the two of us, most months we use 120 to 150 minutes, total. And we have rollover, so there are forever 5k+ rollover minutes available, should we somehow ever exceed the 550 minutes allotted to us at the beginning of each month. Oh, and since switching her to the iPhone 4, Mandy hasn’t gone over 255Mb of data usage; she normally uses 140Mb-199Mb/month. And since I work from home, I use a similar amount. The only time we use a serious amount more data is when we travel – we’ll easily use, say, 1GB on a vacation. Between the two of us. (Because, seriously, there’s free WiFi almost everywhere, these days.) Oh, plus we pay $5/month for 200 text messages each. (Yet another no-longer-available option, there. Now you can buy texts in “unlimited” and “per-text” only, from AT&T.) I’ll typically use 40 txts/month, and she’ll typically use 60. (Except during this year’s PHXComicon, where Mandy was apparently managing her entire team of moderators via text messages, and used nearly 500.)
All told, that’s $125/month ($139 with taxes/fees) for 550 minutes (73% unused), Unlimited + 2Gb data (90%-94% unused), and 400 texts (75% unused). We could theoretically save up to $15/month by putting us both on the currently-cheapest data plans of 300Mb/month for $20/month, but most of what we’re paying for would still be unused capacity.
Since the last time I looked, all the major carriers have also launched data sharing plans, too, so Mandy and I could “share” the same pool of data. AT&T, in fact, is making their Mobile Share plan a requirement for iOS 6’s facetime-over-cellular feature (admittedly, we’ve never really used facetime at all) and they’ve sweetened the deal by adding tethering/mobile-hotspot to all their Mobile Share plans. (For comparison, we’d have to switch both lines to the 5Gb for $50/device/month plans to add mobile hotspot with our current plans, adding $45/month over what we’re paying now, for a feature that would rarely (but certainly occasionally) be used.) The way AT&T has priced their Mobile Share plans, it would cost us $40/month for the core plan, plus $45/device/month, (that is: $130+fees (probably $146/month)) for the cheapest 1Gb/month option. (Plus unlimited minutes and unlimited texts – which we already effectively have, since our usage is so low.) The next step up from 1Gb is their 4Gb plan at $70/month plus $40/device/month. (that is: $150+fees (probably $165/month))
Which is to say that, for only an additional $7/month, I could add more minutes we’ll never use, more texts we’ll never use, and take away 4Gb*/month from our mostly-unused data-access capacity, while adding the options of using our iPhones as mobile hotspots and of using facetime over cellular. (*6Gb if I get the iPhone 5, calculated based on un-throttled data access on my “unlimited” data plan.)
But what about the cost of upgrading to the iPhone 5, you ask? Well, to do so while staying on AT&T, it would cost us $299 (well, maybe $399 – I normally just use the 32Gb model, but I’ve finally begun bumping up against that, lately), plus maybe the $36 activation/upgrade fee.
To switch to, say, Verizon, since that’s what some people think would be the thing to do, the only option now is the Share Everything plan (no, really, it’s that and pre-paid, according to the Verizon site), which they price at $40/device/month plus $50/month for 1Gb (i.e.: $5 more per month than the equivalent plan at AT&T, $12 more than we pay now), and I’d have to buy out the current contract on my 4S at AT&T ($265) and buy a new 2nd phone, since despite the 4S having the CDMA capabilities built in, Verizon apparently won’t allow you to activate it on their network if you didn’t originally buy it as a Verizon iPhone. (Because
Verizon American mobile phone companies suck s.) So add another $99-$299 for a Verizon-accepted iPhone for Mandy. Wow, the more I get into this, the harder it sucks. Looking at a minimum of $663-$863 up front to switch, plus an extra $288 (or more) in monthly fees for their cheapest applicable plan than we’re paying now (or $120 more than we’d pay if we switched to AT&T’s share plan), over the minimum 2-year contract. Plus maybe not have any service at home. Plus maybe an activation fee or two. Screw that. I know some people are saying it’s cheaper for them to buy out their contracts and switch carriers, but I think that’s because they’re planning on upgrading all their phones to the newest device, and have several, each with about a year left on their contracts.
Why am I blogging all this? I don’t know. It’s been on my mind, and writing it out is part of how I think through it, obviously. Still, with 1.6k words on the subject I seem to have come to the same conclusions I began with: Stick with AT&T. Probably stick with the devices we already have, but maybe buy an iPhone 5 if WD-40 kills Mandy’s 4. Think about whether we have any use for mobile hotspot, and maybe switch from our current plans to Mobile Share, but probably not.
What about you? Thinking of upgrading? Or perhaps downgrading to Android, because you like the idea of having to work to get your phone to work?