A heartbreaking work of staggering frustration

A heartbreaking work of staggering frustration

Summary: Remember when customers flipped out that AT&T kept dropping calls in iPhone-happy New York and San Francisco? Me neither.

TOPICS: iPhone

Outrage in the technology industry is a funny thing. Just look at the Apple Maps fiasco -- heavy users of the iPhone, who overlap significantly with the press who write about them, were basically calling for CEO Tim Cook's head over a new service that sorta-kinda-depends-on-where-you-live works.

It felt a little like medieval Europe, if you ask me: real yet ultimately trivial issues garnering a truly outsized response. ("You doth speak ill of the king? Off with your head!")

Take two steps back and it's no surprise that Saturday Night Live felt the need to make example of it during last week's show. (Oh, your high-tech service doesn't work even though it says it might not work? Pity.)

Just two years ago, the same outrage cycle happened after AT&T sold millions of iPhones -- then let their calls drop time and time again in tech-friendly major urban centers like New York and San Francisco. I can attest to it -- any time I lost someone during an interview, the first thing I'd ask when they called back was, "iPhone?" Nine times out of 10, the answer was yes.

Dropped calls may not be as frequent as they used to, but they still happen. (This never happened with my old feature phone, but I digress -- times change.) But more recently, something else happens much more frequently: sluggish data.

Check out the screenshot above, which I snapped last time I visited CBSi HQ, during rush hour on my way into Manhattan. This happens all the time in New York, and I understand it happens in SF, too. Undrawn maps: the new dropped calls.

I'd call for someone's head, but I like to think of myself as a civilized fellow. (Perhaps a call for tea? Milk and sugar, please.)

I've seen this affect others in the area, and so I'm surprised to not hear more complaints about this -- particularly since more people use data-driven services on their smartphones than, you know, make actual phone calls. Two years ago AT&T did much to address capacity issues, but there are many more of us using much more data than we were at that time, too. Anecdotally, I wonder if the company is reaching capacity again, but take my experience with a large grain of salt.

Still: where's the outrage now?

Topic: iPhone

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Sluggish data gets old and drains the battery fast.

    That is the single worst part. In a clients building where I spend much time, the signal strength is always 3-5 bars and the cell phone aspect works flawlessly. Data? Almost not at all and if you are stuck waiting for some update, you can almost watch your phone's battery slowly walk its way to 0.0%. WP7, iPhone, Android, BB or whatever. That slow data can kill your battery without even knowing what hit it.
  • Not just dropped calls....

    back then AT&T stopped selling iPhones for about a week in NYC as their network couldn't handle the additional volume of iPhone traffic. Most people also forget that the number of bars on the iPhones were being incorrectly reported due to a "programming error". Once corrected the bars dropped down to their real level, which explained all those dropped calls when you had less than 3-5 bars showing.
    Thomas Kolakowski
  • You could, alternatively, get an app that has preloaded maps.

    "Undrawn maps: the new dropped calls."

    You could, alternatively, get an app that has preloaded maps (NavFree, most paid GPS apps) or does a good job of caching them (Waze).

    Honestly, I've always preferred third party map apps to the built in one.
  • Andrew's perspective, and, Google Maps offline

    Andrew - appreciated your perspective on this! I'm still amazed that I can do my email wirelessly! :) Similar to a comedy sketch I saw, the comedian was saying that we complain when a flight is late, bumpy, or whatever - what the heck - you're sitting in a chair, doing 500mph at 30,000 feet! Isn't that incredible?!

    On the pre-loaded maps front, Google maps are supposed to be available offline now. http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/27/google-maps-offline-android/