My iPhone Doesn’t Work, but I Love It Anyway

Inside the mind of an Apple obsessive.

A consumer holds her new iPhone

Stab me, punch me, kick me, scoop out my guts with a spoon—do what you must, but please don’t touch my iPhone. That’s what I was thinking as I walked through the less-than-mean streets of my Washington neighborhood at around 5 a.m. Saturday morning. I was returning home from a party where at least half a dozen guests fawned over my shiny electro-bauble. All the while I felt my self-esteem grow. Not since I purchased my first iPod have I felt so warmed by the reflected glow of a shiny object.

I should note that I’m not a completely neutral observer. Ever since I belatedly hopped on the iPod bandwagon, in mid-2004, I’ve rapidly descended into Applemania. Since then I’ve purchased seven iPods, an iBook, a Macbook, and a 24-inch iMac. Strange as this may sound, I’ve even taken to buying and eating actual apples. I’m thinking seriously about getting a couple of enormous Apple Cinema Displays (check out Al Gore’s fancy setup), and I’m eagerly awaiting Apple’s 90-inch keyboardless multi-touch computer sensorium of my dreams. You might be wondering why I’ve purchased all of this stuff. Well, I killed one (month-old) laptop by spilling water on it, a few items were gifts, and, yes, two of my iPods did fritz out on me Poltergeist-style. But did I kvetch and moan? Not at all. I saddled up and went back for more, and I don’t regret it in the slightest. Apple’s products have made a material contribution to my life. They have quite literally brightened my days with their elegance and ease-of-use.

As soon as Apple announced the iPhone in January, I knew I had to have one. Verizon kept calling me—at work, no less—to suggest that I renew my contract. But I let my contract lapse, despite Verizon’s peerless wireless coverage. I was planning ahead. I knew I’d be jumping ship.

When June 29 rolled around, I was ready. After exercising and stretching, I armed myself with a backpack full of protein bars, water bottles, an old laptop, a couple of books, and the 60GB iPod I use for long trips. A reconnaissance mission Thursday night led me to choose an AT&T Wireless store that was relatively close to my house and close to a wide array of local businesses and restrooms. The five hours went by like a dream—several of my cronies came by to cheer me on, and in one case to bring me ice cream. Meanwhile, the line burbled with rumors. Did each store only have 10 units? Twenty-five? I was No. 11, so this made a difference. Somehow, though, I knew that Steve Jobs wouldn’t let me down. He didn’t. By 6:30 p.m. on Friday I had my iPhone. By about 8 p.m. I had more than 7GB of music on my 8GB iPhone, all of my contacts were loaded, and I was ready to make my first call.

I chose my parents as the lucky recipients. My mother, who calls me “Pritu,” picked up the phone. (The following dialogue is translated from Bengali.)

Mom: Hello, Pritu?Reihan: Hello? Ammu, I jssssshgggrrrrrfzzzzzzzzzzzz the iPhone! Isn’t beeeeuuuuwmmmmkhhzzzzz great! I can merge calls! Seriously, phhhhzzzzzzzzzz!Mom: Wha? Hellooooo? Prit-ooooooo? What did you bbbrrrrrrzzzzzzz? Pritu, are you underground?”

The conversation continued maddeningly in this vein. I finally told my mother I’d call her back after investigating the ffffffrrzzzzzzz.

You may have heard that AT&T’s wireless network is not so hot. That is the understatement of the century. Right now I can’t make or receive calls inside my house. With Verizon, I could get calls inside, outside, anywhere. The service was so good, in fact, that I never bothered to get a landline. With AT&T, I must retreat to the backyard, where mosquitoes drain me of blood. Worse yet, my iPhone often takes five minutes to even detect service in the backyard. After figuring this out, Irecounted some of these difficulties to my mother. She suggested that I keep my Verizon service as a backup. This led to a brief argument in which I angrily defended AT&T, claiming that the telecommunications giant was making major infrastructure upgrades. My mother hung up on me. Yes,AT&T’s crappy wireless coverage is tearing my family apart.

Apple probably didn’t intend to release a phone that will make me less technologically accessible than before. The iPhone: the mobile device that forces you to get a landline. OK, I don’t really have to get a landline—I could just move to another house. But even though I can’t use it to make phone calls, I still love the iPhone. Let me count the ways.

For one thing, I often wear slim-fitting pants. Back when I was carrying my mobile phone, my work-issued BlackBerry, my iPod nano, my wallet, and my keys, I looked like I had many disconcerting growths concentrated around my crotch. The iPhone can’t open the door to my house or pay for my burrito bolyet—but it eliminates the need for a whole panoply of electronic devices. Granted, this is true of any all-in-one mobile solution. But those gizmos didn’t have the sleek lines, the seamless Mac OS X-integration, and the massive hard drive of the iPhone.

It must also be said that whenever I’m far away from my house, the iPhone does its job beautifully. Safari works almost exactly as it does on my iMac. Rotating the screen or resizing a page to get a better view is easy and fun. The same goes for reading e-mail. The onscreen keyboard is extremely intelligent—apart from a minor misadventure while trying to spell out Afghanistan, the iPhone got pretty much all of my words right, including Reihan. (To this day, Microsoft Word tells me “Reihan” should be spelled “Reagan.” No one loves the Gipper that much.) In part, the keyboard works for me because I have tiny hands. As opposed to the giant-handed David Pogue, I’ve been using two thumbs from the get-go. I’m probably alone in this, but I find it as easy to type on the iPhone as on my old BlackBerry. That’s no small thing.

Then there are the millions of other things I can do with my iPhone. The iPod is intuitive and rad. When I couldn’t figure out how to repeat a song, I clicked below the title. Voilà! I can repeat, shuffle, and skip around. Google Maps helped me navigate my way out of a suspiciously leafy neighborhood. While I couldn’t find my favorite YouTube video (of rocker Jenny Lewis performing “The Frug,” live), I was able to watch some very popular videos and chuckle softly to myself while waiting for a smoothie. The Season 3 finale of Lost looked vastly better on my iPhone than on my video iPod—so good, in fact, that it made one friendly stranger gasp.

Despite my massive AT&T-induced hassle, I’m not about to give up on my iPhone. Yes, I can still return it for another two weeks, and yes, I won’t be able to make or take calls when the temperatures fall below zero. But if I become harder to reach, perhaps those closest to me will come to value my friendship more. I’m also confident that, as I told my mother, AT&T Wireless can only get better. Steve Jobs wouldn’t play me like that.

Should you buy one? Only if you’re absolutely sure you need it. If I didn’t have to compulsively check e-mail and listen to music to maintain my tenuous grip on sanity, I’d much rather be one of those shoeless guys who live “off the grid.” Also, the iPhone is pretty damn expensive. I don’t drive a car and I don’t drink, so I figure I can safely splurge. Then there’s that whole “phone” thing. Even though this revolutionary device is called “the iPhone,” I can’t really enthusiastically recommend it as a “phone” per se. Visual voicemail is amazing, sure. But when I think of a “phone,” I usually think of a means of communicating with other people who are physically far away through speech. Right now, I’m finding that aspect of the iPhone pretty frustrating.