iPhone 4S: taking the plunge

I’ve had an iPhone 3G (not 3GS) since whenever the darn things came out back in the summer of 2008. Over the years, I’ve had a number of cell phones, but they were all real clunkers in many ways. When the opportunity came up to get into the world of iPhones, I entered. Wow—what a difference a good device and OS makes! I remember watching the keynote when Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone back around the start of 2007. One thing he said stuck with me: the killer app on the iPhone is the ability to make calls.

Steve was 110% correct. All the cell phones I’d had before had crappy keypads, tiny screens, and if you wanted to put a name in your phone book, well, be ready to spend a little while tapping the 2 key three times to get to the letter C. The iPhone’s phone app was clean, intuitive, very Mac-like. Almost all cell phones before my iPhone usually ended up collecting dust. I didn’t want to carry them around, I didn’t want to use them. I’d leave them in the car’s glove box in case of an emergency (along with a charger that plugged into the car).

The iPhone, however, was a joy to use. It was the first phone I ever had that I actually wanted to use. The other apps were simply icing on the cake. Its camera was good enough that I finally understood why a camera in a cell phone could be a good idea. (Having a child a year later makes a camera phone almost a necessity–I’m not one of those parents who photographs everything, but having it comes in handy.)

My iPhone 3G is about to retire. I’ve never had a single problem with it, no battery has died, the screen is still almost pristine. But it’s a bit slow after a couple of iOS upgrades. When the iPhone 4 came out, I upgraded my wife’s iPhone 3Gs to a 4. I did that largely because of the better camera as she was taking photos of our son regularly. Still, I figured I’d wait until the next revision came out.

This week’s introduction of the iPhone 4S has been met with some degree of disappointment by many. I also felt like the new iPhone didn’t live up to the hype created by all of the speculation and rumor sites. There wasn’t any of the “holy cow I gotta have this!” excitement that accompanied other product introductions from Apple. I appreciated the increased speed and souped up camera/video capabilities, but that was about it. Maybe I’d wait until the iPhone 5 that many were expecting.

But as I thought about it during the week, I realized that it is time to upgrade my current iPhone. Who knows when the iPhone 5 may come around, and the ability to take plenty of good pictures and HD video will come in very handy during our upcoming vacation. Those who own iPhone 4 devices really don’t have much need to upgrade (other than the desire to have the latest version), but older models are going to be challenged by iOS 5. So, last night I decided I’d go ahead and take the plunge. Looking back, this is the point where I must have gone insane.

Late in the day I read about when the iPhone 4S would go on sale for pre-order: midnight on Friday the 7th, Cupertino, California time. That’s 3 a.m. for me. The Cult of Mac web site had an article to instruct folks how to make sure they would successfully order one when the iPhone 4S became available. I read the advice carefully, set my alarm for 2:45 a.m., and went to sleep.

When you hear the phrase “dead of night,” it means setting your alarm for 2:45 a.m. I’m convinced of that now. That is the time when you wake up, no other sentient being in the house is even close to being conscious, and you wonder what the hell you were thinking. Still, I was up. I picked up my iPad, fired up the web browser, and then spent the next two hours banging on the Apple and AT&T web sites trying to place an order.

The many problems I encountered are documented around the web, so I won’t bother to detail them here. Suffice it to say that some time after 5:00 a.m. (when I’d normally be up anyway) I finally managed to place my order. All indications are that the new iPhone will ship to arrive on October 14, but nothing is guaranteed.

Why on earth would anyone try to be among the first to order a new iPhone? Having been through the process, I have no idea. My only concern was that waiting until later in the morning might mean the new phone wouldn’t arrive before vacation. There are legends that speak of Apple shipping times slipping back by several weeks within hours of a launch of a new iPhone or iPad. I didn’t want to be in that situation.

Although I had to wake up early (and will be desperately wanting a nap around lunch time), at least I know I won’t have to stand in line at an Apple Store next weekend and pray the store has phones in stock. Would I do it again? Only if the arrival schedule somehow matters. This experience has none of the excitement of standing in line to buy concert tickets or camping out overnight before Notre Dame football tickets go on sale to students. It’s a lonely process (unless you’re at an all-night coffee shop with free Wi-Fi and a group of other people banging away on their iPads and laptops), and one I can’t recommend as a matter of practice.

Tim Cook, if you happen to be reading this, please figure out a way to stop this insanity. 🙂

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