Before you buy that iPhone – don’t get handcuffed

With the release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, its as good a time as any to talk about the devious tactics the American wireless carriers use to get you to overpay for your new phone.

Of the American carriers, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint offer subsidized pricing at $199 / $299 / $399 for the iPhone 6 configurations, and $100 more for each iPhone 6 Plus configuration. You can buy these phones off contract for $450 more. Apple currently sells the T-Mobile edition of the phone for $649 / $749 / $849 for the iPhone 6 and again, $100 more for the iPhone 6 Plus.

Now you may be thinking that the T-Mobile prices are higher than their subsidized versions, but you would be wrong. Sure, the carriers are giving you a $450 credit on the purchase price of the phone, but they more than make up for it over the length of that 2 year contract.

If you want to save yourself hundreds of dollars, opt for paying for the full price of the phone upfront. If you go this route on the Verizon, AT&T or Sprint, you will forgo many of the ‘gotcha’ fees that the carriers attach to cover their outlay of that $450 subsidy.

If you want to save yourself even more money, buy the phone unlocked and off contract (with a T-Mobile SIM), and choose a carrier who isn’t going to handcuff you to a 2 year contract.

Apple has traditionally offered a ‘Unlocked’ model of the iPhone, but it usually doesn’t go up for sale until 30-60 days after the initial launch (probably to appease the carriers who see huge spikes in membership during the iPhone launches). This year however, Apple is offering the T-Mobile edition of the iPhone at launch.

Now, here’s the secret: If you buy the phone from T-Mobile (even though you are paying full price for it), the phone will be locked to their network. If you buy the phone directly from Apple, and don’t go through the activation process with the T-Mobile SIM card that comes with it, the phone is unlocked to a carrier, and will work with any GSM network.

Here are the options you have for contract free GSM networks here in the U.S.:

1) Straight Talk Wireless – Run by Walmart, using AT&T’s & T-Mobile’s network as a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator). Straight Talk has one plan for $45/month for unlimited talk, text and data. On Straight Talk, ‘unlimited’ data means 3GB of data in a 30 day cycle. After you use that up, you are reduced to 2G (or EDGE) speeds. Straight Talk recently added LTE (if the phone you bring is LTE capable) speeds to their plan.

2) Cricket Wireless – Cricket is a venture by AT&T to offer a contract free, low cost offering. Cricket uses AT&T’s networks and offers great nationwide coverage. Cricket has 3 plans that start at $40/month and increase by $10 depending upon data offering (1GB data for $40/month/3GB of data for $50/month/10GB data for $60/month). Cricket also has a ‘auto pay’ discount. Give Cricket your credit or debit card for your monthly bill and have them auto bill you each month, and you’ll receive a $5/month discount. Cricket offers LTE speeds (where available) and is overall a great option. There’s one small downside though: Cricket limits your top LTE speed to 8mbps. 8mbps isn’t slow by any stretch of the imagination, but if you are used to LTE speeds double that (any many LTE offerings can burst to 2x-4x that speed), this might be deal breaker for you. But Cricket overall has the most rounded plans and offerings in the no contract world at the moment. $55/month (with prepay discount) for 10GB of high speed data on AT&T’s network is an amazing deal.

3) T-Mobile Monthly 4G – T-Mobile has prepaid offerings in addition to their standard ‘Simple Choice’ plans. Their most popular prepaid offering is their $30/month plan for unlimited data and 100 minutes of talk. To get this deal, you will have to go to Walmart and buy the T-Mobile SIM Starter Kit for iPhone. Walmart charges $40 for this kit, but you get a $30 credit on your first month of service, so you are getting the SIM for $10 essentially. This plan gives you 5GB of LTE data (after which you will be throttled down to 2GB speeds, and 100 minutes of talk. Additional talk minutes are available for 10 cents/minute. T-Mobile’s prepaid plans don’t require a credit check, so if your credit is in the crapper, this plan can be helpful in re-establishing your credit.

These 3 MVNO GSM carriers are your best bet for low cost, no contract cell service in the U.S. Depending upon your location, there may also be regional MVNO carriers available to you.

If you do a lot of talking, and can keep your data under 3GB/month, Straight Talk is a great option now that they are offering LTE speeds. If you want flexibility and want the best network possible off contract, Cricket Wireless can’t be beat. They offer a 3GB plan for the same $45/month as Straight Talk, but it’s on AT&T’s network, and you have the option to ramp it up if you need more data (10GB for $55/month) or down (1GB for $35/month). That level of flexibility can’t be matched by any of the other MVNOs at the moment.

If you are a cheapskate who doesn’t like talking to other people, and can keep your minutes at 100 or less each month, the T-Mobile $30/month plan will save you lots of money. T-Mobile is also the only carrier (when used with the iPhone 6) that will give you Wifi calling, a nice feature if the carrier’s signal in your home isn’t very strong. One thing to note however, is that even though your call may go out over wifi, it’s still counting against your minutes. Of course, there’s always Google Voice or calling with Facetime Calling to avoid using minutes.

AT&T and Verizon still dominate the landscape with their draconian wireless plans, but things are steadily improving. You now have many options for low cost, great feature, no contact smartphone plans nationwide. And if the trend continues, we should see many more pop up over the next couple of years.


Category: Cellphones,iPhone

iPhone 6 Mock Up & Case

So much for doubling down on secrecy.

Time will tell whether this mock up and case are the real deal, but if they are, you have to wonder… With using 3rd party labor and manufacturing, is it even possible for Apple to keep something under wraps anymore? Is the secrecy that preceded projects like the iPhone and iPad a thing of the past?


Category: iPhone,Rumor

How the U.S. lost out on iPhone work

20120121 181520 How the U.S. lost out on iPhone work

Great article from the NY Times:

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

The article skirts some of the main reasons why types of jobs aren’t coming back” Specifically, no mention is made of the high taxes companies pay in the US (which results in these jobs being filled overseas by ‘contractors’, whom Apple is not liable for).

Jobs is probably right that these jobs are never coming back to the U.S. though. And that scares the hell out of me. One day soon, the Asian companies that produce the hardware will figure out how to produce software that is good enough, and once that happens, the American companies who have used these Asian manufacturing companies will find themselves cut out of the chain, and competing with their manufacturers, who will be able to seriously undercut them.


Category: iPhone,News,Steve Jobs

My iPhone likes to party

So everyone is up in arms over the revelation that the iPhone (and 3G iPad) collects and stores information on every place it has been. More accurately, it stores information and location on every cellphone tower it has connected to. The longitude/latitude data that is being stored is obtained by cellphone triangulation, which iOS uses to determine location when no GPS hardware or signal are available.

The iPhone stores this information without your consent on both your iPhone and on your computer, if you are syncing your iOS 3G capable device to your computer and letting it create a backup of your devices data.

Pete Warden and Alasdaid Allan have crafted an app that scans this information, and places the coordinates on a map, along with a date scrubber to see where your device has been.

Looking over my data, it showed what I already knew – that apart from trips over the last year to Minnesota (business), Florida (family) and North Carolina, I lead a pretty boring life.

However, there is one anomaly that was odd.

I bought my iPhone 4 new last year on the day it launched, June 24th. However, the location data on my iPhone shows that it traveled down US95, right outside Las Vegas on June 23rd. I’m assuming this where the iPhone entered the country on it’s trip from China, and then was routed to a plane that took it to the Apple Store in Buford, GA.

iphone4 location1 My iPhone likes to party

The odd thing is the phone wasn’t activated until the next day. I had assumed that for the phone to log the location data, it needed an activated SIM card. Apparently, that isn’t the case.

So apparently your 3G iOS device will log it’s connection to each and every cell tower it connects with, even if it hasn’t been activated yet.

Either that, or my iPhone spent the night before it’s launch having a grand old time in sunny Las Vegas.


Category: Apple,iPhone

A Dozen Devices the iPhone is Killing

Spot on assessment from Ted Landau:

The very first slogan used to advertise the original iPod, back in 2001, was “1,000 songs in your pocket.” A coming slogan for the iPhone could well be “the only thing in your pocket.”

I’ve been thinking recently about all the stuff I used to carry around that the iPhone has made obsolete for me. Watch. GPS. iPod. Portable gaming device. Consumer grade digital camera. Phone. Put simply, the iPhone is the ultimate swiss army knife.


Category: iPhone,Link Roundup,Opinion

Antennagate

It’s been over a week since Apple held their “Antennagate” press conference, and while it is still early, I would say reaction to Apple’s free bumper remedy seems to be positive.

Apple is really going on the offensive, trying to communicate their point that all smartphones suffer some degree of radio interference when the phone is held in a person’s hand. Apple launched a new top level directory on their website “antenna” with examples of some of the more popular smartphone models exhibiting the same behavior as the iPhone 4. And it’s keeping this page up to date, adding videos of the Droid X and Nokia N97 in the last week to the previous examples.

Two weeks ago, Apple had a serious problem on it’s hands. I’d argue that it was more of a public relations problem than a product problem. They were getting beaten up in the press, and their flagship product, the iPhone 4 was in serious risk of becoming a punch line.

What was striking about the Press Conference was Steve Job’s tone. He clearly didn’t believe the level of noise surrounding the iPhone 4 antenna was worthy of the heaps of criticism it was receiving in the press (for the record, neither did I). He also clearly didn’t agree with free bumper solution. His tone during this part of the press conference can be described as nothing less than disgust. Hell, even the opening/closing music (Miles Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader”)to the press conference indicates this.

I’m sure the lawyers at Apple saw the free bumper as a relatively inexpensive way to make the problem go away until Apple can tweak their manufacturing process to provide some sort of permanent solution to the problem. Delays in the white iPhone 4 from next month to “some time later this year” seem to support this theory as well.

My guess is that Apple is currently reworking the outer band of the iPhone 4 to remove the black lines, so that it’s not quite as obvious where it’s achilles heel actually is.

One month in to ownership of my iPhone 4 and I feel the same about it today that I did on the day I purchased it. It’s the best mobile device I have ever owned. It’s a marked improvement over it’s predecessor in every category – speed, signal strength, size, build, and fit and finish. Consumer Reports may have a hard time recommending it, but I don’t. If you want the best mobile device currently on the market, the iPhone 4 is it.


Category: iPhone

AT&T moves to metered data for iPhones

Well, at least we now know how AT&T plans to fix it’s network woes…by limiting the amount of data iPhone users can use.

From the press release:

  • DataPlus. Provides 200 megabytes (MB) of data – for example, enough to send/receive 1,000 emails (no attachments), plus send/receive 150 emails with attachments, plus view 400 Web pages, plus post 50 photos on social media sites, plus watch 20 minutes of streaming video – for just $15 per month.**  This plan, which can save customers up to 50 percent off their wireless data charges, is designed for people who primarily like to surf the web, send email and use social networking apps. If customers exceed 200 MB in a monthly billing cycle, they will receive an additional 200 MB of data usage for $15 for use in the cycle.  Currently, 65 percent of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 200 MB of data per month on average.
  • DataPro. Provides 2 gigabytes (GB) of data – for example, enough to send/receive 10,000 emails (no attachments), plus send/receive 1,500 emails with attachments, plus view 4,000 Web pages, plus post 500 photos to social media sites, plus watch 200 minutes of streaming video – for $25 per month.**  Should a customer exceed 2 GB during a billing cycle, they will receive an additional 1 GB of data for $10 for use in the cycle.  Currently, 98 percent of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 2 GB of data a month on average.
  • Tethering. Smartphone customers – including iPhone customers – who choose the DataPro plan have the option to add tethering for an additional $20 per month.  Tethering lets customers use their smartphones as a modem to provide a broadband connection for laptop computers, netbooks or other computing devices. Tethering for iPhones will be available when Apple releases iPhone OS 4 this summer.

   Additionally, iPhone plans will be converted from $30 all you can consume to $25 2GB plans.


Category: iPhone,News

Search Warrant for stolen iPhone unsealed

You can read it here in all it’s glory.

Highlights:

  • Hogan (the “finder” of the protoype) was turned in by his roommate.
  • Hogan’s roommate tried to talk him out of selling the iPhone to Gizmodo, by arguing that it’s sale would ruin the career of Gray Powell (the engineer that lost it). Hogan’s response was “Sucks for him”.
  • Hogan states that he was originally offered $10,000 for the phone from Jason Chen.
  • Part of the sale to Gizmodo called for Hogan to be given a bonus in July if the prototype turned out to the real deal.

One of the more particularly juicy parts of this document is the email exchange between Brian Lam and Steve Jobs. Lam tries to justify to Steve why they are going to publish the story about the phone, knowing that it will hurt sales for Apple. Lam tries to negotiate a response from Apple where they would acknowledge it was a prototype, but not a production unit. You can almost smell the shit coming out of Lams mouth in this email.

Reading this affidavit, you can’t help but come away with very bad impressions of Lam, Chen, and Hogan. Three really douchey people.


Category: iPhone,Jackassery,News

iPhone Facebook Developer Done With iPhone Development

Facebook Developer Joe Hewitt has written his last iPhone app. Or something like that. In protest of Apple’s well publicized AppStore approval policies, the iPhone Facebook Application Developer has handed the project off to another developer and is moving on to “more open” pastures.

Joe had this to say to TechCrunch:

“My decision to stop iPhone development has had everything to do with Apple’s policies. I respect their right to manage their platform however they want, however I am philosophically opposed to the existence of their review process. I am very concerned that they are setting a horrible precedent for other software platforms, and soon gatekeepers will start infesting the lives of every software developer.

The web is still unrestricted and free, and so I am returning to my roots as a web developer. In the long term, I would like to be able to say that I helped to make the web the best mobile platform available, rather than being part of the transition to a world where every developer must go through a middleman to get their software in the hands of users.”

I can definitely sympathize with Joe on the nebulous (at best) and nefarious (at worst) review process. Hopefully, Joe’s defection will cause someone at Apple to finally fix the problem once and for all.


Category: iPhone,Software

It’s Up! It’s Down! Play the NetShare game…

When Nullriver introduced NetShare, the iPhone app that allows you to tethter your laptop to it for internet access, appeared on the App Store, many were surprised. Then, without any explanation, it vanished.

On Friday it returned. Those who were smart downloaded it and were able to put it to use. By Saturday, the app had disappeared. Again. With no explanation at all.

While Apple’s control of the App Store can be viewed as a mostly positive thing, the NetShare debacle highlights what most of us suspected: When Apple holds all the cards, people tend to get steamrolled. In this case, the people are the developers at Nullriver. Most of what I’ve read seems to indicate that NetShare doesn’t vioalte the terms of the App Store in any way. So why ban it? And then why reinstate it for 24 hours, only to ban it again?

What’s going to happen to the users who have bought the app already? How are they going to get updates? Will they get refunds if updates aren’t provided?

Apple’s really been stepping in it lately, and unfortunately, this is just the latest example.


Category: iPhone,Opinion

About the author

A user of Macs since they had silly names like Performa and Centris, Theodore Lee is a techie who prides himself on his vast knowledge of all things Apple. OS X Factor was started in 2001 (originally as macosxcentric), and continues to churn out tips, tutorials, reviews and commentary on the tech sector.