Surprise, surprise: Why I refuse to upgrade to iPhone 3G

I’ve had the money in my wallet since July 11, but I refuse to spend it on iPhone 3G. And this really, really surprises me.

As the second generation iPhone went on sale, I wrote down several concerns — or predications, depending on how you look at it — and waited a month for everything iPhone 3G to shake out. I wanted to use hindsight to tell me whether I made the right or wrong decision not to upgrade from the original iPhone.

So far, I have no regrets. And here’s why.

$200 less is $40 more

I may be one of the few people in the U.S. who believe this, but I don’t think Apple and AT&T should have subsidized iPhone 3G, which allows Apple to sell the 8 GB model for $199 and the 16 GB phone for $299 in exchange for more expensive two-year service contracts.

I can save $200 when I buy iPhone 3G, but the changes to the AT&T service plan actually cost more over the lifespan of the new contract. I’d rather take the hit up front and save money on my monthly bill.

Subsidies cheapen the product

People outside the U.S. are used to paying for non-subsidized or lightly-subsidized phones for more favorable contracts or the ability to use the phones on different networks. That won’t fly here as Americans are hooked on free or $50 cell phones in exchange for ridiculous two-year contracts.

Subsidies cheapen the product. Look what happened to Motorola’s Razr, which went from must-have to everybody-has — and the quality seemed to tank with it.

No more “free” text messages

I find it morally wrong for AT&T to take away something that’s included in the original iPhone plan — 200 “free” text messages — only to begin charging for them in the iPhone 3G plan.

Suddenly the $10 extra a month I would spend on the iPhone 3G data plan is actually $15 as I would be charged $5 for those same 200 text messages.

Charging for something that was given away for “free” — or, more like it, built into the cost of the service contract — smacks of opportunism, greed, and taking advantage of text-hungry youth.

Speed is relative

Apple says iPhone 3G is twice as fast, yet people I know who have owned both iPhones report that iPhone 3G is only slightly faster. Is this really the reason to upgrade?

Not for me. I try to use Wi-Fi as much as possible, and Wi-Fi and 3G have scored close in various benchmark tests. When I’m out and about on the slow-as-molasses AT&T EDGE network, yes, I want to slit my wrists, but I try to keep things in perspective. EDGE works fine for checking email and updating Twitter.

Another reason not to upgrade is AT&T’s still-in-its-infancy 3G network. It produces advertised speed in certain cities and metro areas but not in others. Will I get true 3G speeds — what I pay for — throughout my day or am I just paying for that potential?

GPS baby steps

I am interested in having a phone with true GPS capabilities, but iPhone 3G has not delivered this — yet. There is no turn-by-turn support. And the social, location-based network softwares like Loopt and Yelp are in their infancy, bound to improve as iPhone 3G’s GPS improves.

So why rush to upgrade? For now, triangulation-based mapping suits my directions and location needs just fine.

What wasn’t upgraded

I didn’t think Apple would deliver video capability with the second generation of the iPhone, but I was hoping for a slightly improved camera. When neither of these happened, out went another excuse to upgrade.

And while I am not a proponent of cramming every possible feature and function into the iPhone, it would have been nice for disk support so I could carry a few important files with me — and not having to rely on third-party software solutions to provide this capability.

Battery life sucks

I have not met one person, or read an article or blog post, where someone says iPhone 3G’s battery life is improved. Apple says so. But when you factor in the energy-sucking 3G chip, the GPS, and the additional processing required from the third-party applications, there’s no way iPhone 3G’s battery is better than the original.

And it wasn’t the best to begin with.

Apple bit off more than it should have

I thought it was a lot to pull off then — rolling over .Mac to MobileMe, rolling out iPhone 2.0 software update, opening the Apps Store, and introducing iPhone 3G. As it turned out, Apple has been experiencing issues with all of these, including cracks in the hardware.

I’ve never been one to wait, but I had the feeling this might be the time to do so.

Tired of waiting in lines

Waiting in lines is fun at the Apple Store — the day before or the day of an event but not afterward. The build up and excitement is gone. All that’s left is frustration — do they have any in stock today or not?

The original vs. the copy

To me the original iPhone was a piece of art, perfectly sculpted, pleasing to look at, well balanced, high tech but simple, and highly desirable. iPhone 3G is still elegant but, with its all-plastic case, it feels cheaper, more like a copy of the original. (One reason to upgrade, though: The plastic case is supposed to have improved reception and voice communications significantly.)

My conclusion

If I didn’t already own an iPhone, I’d have stood in line and bought iPhone 3G. It’s still a great product, and the platform and ecosystem that’s being built by Apple will continue to evolve and mature.

But having owned an iPhone for more than a year, the justification to upgrade — surprisingly — just isn’t there. As long as I don’t accidentally drop my iPhone in the toilet (which I once did), I guess I’ll be waiting for iPhone 3.0, not 3G.

Illustration credit: cnet.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

9 Responses to “Surprise, surprise: Why I refuse to upgrade to iPhone 3G”

  1. I completely agree with your thoughts Dan. The text message issue alone was enough to steam my clams on the upgrade. I started to think about the whole concept in general. Why on Earth are we paying so much extra for something so trivial? How much could it possibly cost AT&T to distribute text messages? I’ve had mixed success moving most of that “microblogging” meta-mess over to services like Twitter, but I really hope that Apple will update the App Store with an iChat app when Push Updates arrive in September, giving me something a bit more robust and enjoyable other than AIM and altogether an alternative to the expensive SMS plan that I have on my account.

    Personally I like the feel of the plastic case a bit better. It’s a warmer feel and is much less resistant to scratches. The MacBook Pro is a work of art with it’s aluminum enclosure and most Mac users go to great care to keep their cases perfectly scratch free as much as possible, but when you get a scratch or a ding, it really has an impact on how you feel about the product. It’s literally an extension of you and when it hurts, you hurt. (Though that sounds really awkward to admit… I have a good gut feeling that’s true for most Mac users). The iPhone is an even better example of this because it’s something that usually doesn’t go in it’s case everytime we’re not using it. There are times when your case isn’t there, or you take it out of the case to use it and something meshes against it… your car keys or whatever. Scratches form and it really detracts from that work of art. On the flipside, one could argue that fingerprints have the same impact on the new plastic case of the iPhone 3G, but those are easy to remove with a little wipe.

    Given the choice again, I’d probably upgrade. Would I stand in line all day? I’m not sure. I’ve done it three times now for various other people. haha I think in time that AT&T’s prices for text messaging will come down and perhaps the overall cost of the 3G service data plan will drop as well (provided they gouge plenty of money from us in the interim). I hope however that this “investment” of sorts will pay off and perhaps around the corner there is some upcoming cool app or service that Apple will release that will take advantage of the 3G functionality. Such an advancement would likely also be compatible with Wi Fi (and even some things currently are still Wi Fi only and not 3G compatible, like the iTunes Wi Fi Store), but I digress. I tend to be one of those early adopter folk anyway. Great article Dan and a very solid review.

    P.S. We’re in the same boat with Mobile Me. Why does Apple have to make it so integrated and convenient? If only it were more functional.

  2. Dean Terry says:

    Spot on, Dan. ATT is definitely taking advantage here, at multiple turns. I look forward to a future post where you describe true, revolutionary disruption coming the carrier space. Boy do we need it.

  3. Michael says:

    I only have one comment on the whole post (since I agree with most of it) but, the iPhone 3Gs battery life is much better than the original iPhone, especially if you live in an area that doesn’t have 3G coverage, it’s practically double what the old one was getting. The people who are saying the battery life is terrible are the ones who can spend all day on the device. I’m using the old iPhone right now and I use it pretty exhaustively but I can still make it a full day and a half on a full charge (that’s with listening to a lot of music, playing games, and browsing the internet on it). I don’t know these people who complain about the battery life personally but it seems to me they are either playing games on it non-stop or are using the GPS functionality every 5 minutes all day long.

  4. Simon Kāne says:

    $40 more? I get something close to $160 more ($35 × 24months + $200 = $1040) vs ($20 × 24months + $400 = $880). No matter, this is an injustice which the American consumer is willing to accept.

    I believe we haven’t really seen the true fallout from the wide spread adoption of the iPhone 3G. When the next device comes out (and it will be in less than 2 years), there may be huge issues with people trying to upgrade to it. If AT&T is going to require iPhone 3G users to pay an early termination fees to get the iPhone 4G (3.5G?), then I hope to see riots in front of the stores (instead of a line of people waiting for no inventory).

    If on the other hand, Apple can convince AT&T to waive the early termination fee (with the purchase of a new device), things might turn out better for consumers.

    Battery performance is better with iPhone 3G when using comparable features (EDGE data, GSM voice). As Steve promised during the iPhone 2G launch – 3G uses lots of power (even the new chips). Since voice data can also transmit via 3G (one of the reasons iPhone 3G sounds better), it can have a major impact on battery performance. I’ve only once ran out of juice doing 3+ hours of 3G voice calls at the end of a long day.

    One nice ‘feature’ that no one talks about (and which I love): no more GSM interference on my speakers/radios/stereos. Anyone else notice this or no what I am talking about?

    Nice article – keep them coming.

  5. Simon Kāne says:

    Anyone else notice this or *know* what I am talking about?

    “datta-datta-datta datta-datta datta-datta-datta-datta datta!” (iPhone 2G talking to something in the universe)

  6. One thing I’m not thrilled about is compatibility with other Apple products, namely my “Universal” dock and iPod Hi Fi. With the appropriate adapters that Apple sells, the product will fit into the dock, but it still tells me it’s not a supported accessory. It’s not a supported accessory? It’s a dock to connect it to my computer! The iPod Hi Fi I can understand, since it’s a speaker system, that it would offer to put my phone into Airplane Mode for better reception (which shouldn’t be a problem if I’m on 3G like Simon says.. haha Simon Says…) but my real gripe about using it with my Hi Fi is that it won’t charge it! How un-Apple is that? They really need to get their ducks in a row. I’m really looking forward to an upcoming article about the App Store. I can’t wait to hear the discussion about that one! 🙂

  7. Simon Kāne says:

    Accessories not working is a problem – especially when they are “Universal”

    The reason for incompatibility is simple – when Apple moved from Firewire support to USB/Firewire, they supported voltages from both standards. However, accessories were not always designed to support multiple voltages, many manufacturers assuming the Firewire standard (with double+ the voltage of USB) would continue to be built into future devices.

    iPhone 3G does not support Firewire–the necessary hardware was removed. As such, the iPhone 3G can’t charge on the Firewire 12 volt line, which was the preferred charging standard pre-3G accessories even those from Apple.

    Someone could make a killing developing something that would catch the voltage from the Fireware 12 volt pins and convert it to the USB standard.

    At least I’m not stuck with an integrated BMW iPod system which can’t charge. I suppose it would be an excuse to get a new car, no?

  8. David Mackey says:

    I actually was happy with the price. I’ve been with Cingular for around three years now – mainly with HTC’s piece of garbage Cingular 8125 (a Windows Mobile device). I was paying an arm and a leg for unlimited internet, a decent calling plan, and a near unlimited text messaging plan (no, I’m not a mad text messager, but I used SMS to receive alerts from my servers – and when something went wrong they liked to tell me about it and keep telling me about it till I fixed them – whose says computers aren’t demanding?). Anyways, I stepped down my voice plan a little and my text messaging to a basic plan as I am no longer working for my previous employer and this reduces my text/voice needs (I’m using Skype now for most calls – with a built-in microphone on my laptop its a piece of cake). Anyways, all said – I get a few less minutes/texts but a heck of a better phone.
    Speed for me has been fairly reasonable…Though when I needed it most (on two occasions!) the 3G network totally conked out (and I was in Philadelphia, a major metro area). Overall, I’m happy. I do wish that the iPhone would connect to my WiFi network and call out over that as my reception in-house is not always the best…
    I love the GPS. It seems extremely accurate. I love its find me feature and the fact that I can watch my progress as a blue dot…and if I go off the beaten track. Granted, it needs voice…but its good. I’m sure someone will beef it up soon.
    Battery life does still totally suck! If you aren’t using it it will last a day, but start surfing the web or using the GPS and expect it to die within a few hours.

  9. Andrew Batchelor says:

    Daniel I agree the iphone is totally over hyped. In New Zealand, Vodafone plans are through the roof. If you tend to be someone who drops phones in the toilet, maybe you should check out the ultra tough Sonim XP1. http://www.sonimtech.com

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