Friday, September 25, 2009

iPhone MMS is here ... I think

AT&T released today the long awaiting carrier settings that enables MMS on the iPhone.  This is great, and woefully late given that every other phone has supported MMS for a long time, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Getting MMS enabled involved checking for updates in iTunes and then syncing my phone.  Once done, you have to reboot.  Upon rebooting running the MMS app provides for attaching a picture or when using the Photo app you can now compose an MMS from there.  Great!  So how well does it work?

Alas, I tried sending an MMS to my boss and he received nothing.  I sent again, and still nothing.  So I sent an SMS and that got through fine.  So something isn't working with MMS.  Now, he has not applied the update on his iPhone yet so perhaps that is the issue.  But in the past when an iPhone was sent an MMS at least an SMS was delivered with a convoluted link to a web-site where you could enter a password and view the media, so I'd think it would have still done that, but no.

What are others experiencing?

I'll be able to update another iPhone and try between updated phones shortly and will report back then.

Update: Original try was to a 3G running 3.0.1.  Subsequently tried to one running 3.1 but without the carrier settings and it too failed.  Updated that one with the carrier settings and now it works.  So it appears the MMS hack of the past does not work now if the MMS is sent from another iPhone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Google Sync now supports Mail on the iPhone

I became a Google Sync user awhile ago when they released support for over the air calendar syncing from the iPhone.  It has worked well and I've had no issues with it.  At the same time, and actually before using Google Sync, I have been using the built-in Mail app on the iPhone to access my Gmail account which treats it like an IMAP server and this too has worked well.  As Google Sync didn't support mail, this meant configuring two accounts, one for calendar and one for mail, but you do that once and then you are all set.

I was interested then when Google announced today that Google Sync was adding mail support, and especially push mail support for Gmail.  Now, I have to be honest that I'm perfectly happy with my current setup and in fact am leery of adding anything with push as it is likely to impact battery life and we all know that under heavy use the battery on an iPhone is not its strongest point.  And I'm not really losing anything without push as I get enough e-mail that my phone would be going "ding" all the time and because I get enough mail, I don't really need a notification to know I have new messages so I just go run the app and let it download the messages then and I'm set.  The few seconds spent downloading is well worth not taxing the battery.  But I decided to give it a shot anyway as I can always turn push off and have the optimization of a single account to configure and manage.

So I followed the instructions, deleting my existing Gmail account then going to the settings for the Google Sync account and turning on mail syncing.  Worked great, that is until I went to try to look at my mail.  I immediately get a message saying unable to connect to the server and no messages are listed.  I try again a few times and same result.  After waiting a bit and trying again, it finally works and I can see the messages just like I could previously.  So what, I had that before and while I now have a single account to manage, lets see if push really works as that would be the perk of having this.

I make sure push is turned on, get back to the iPhone's Home screen and send myself an e-mail from another account.  I stare closely at the Mail app to see the unread message count go up and listen for the ding, but nothing.  I wait 30 seconds and nothing.  A minute and nothing.  In the meantime in the web interface on my laptop I saw the message arrive about 5 seconds after sending.  "What's up?" I ask.  I again run the Mail app and get the connection error again.  So I give up for the time being.

An hour or two later I gave it another shot and this time there is a friendly "ding" and the message count jumps up, ... but by 3?  I look at the web interface and only my test message arrived so that doesn't make sense.  So I run the Mail app to see what the three messages are.  To my surprise when I go to my Inbox the Mail app doesn't show me any new messages and proceeds to try to connect to download them.  Huh?  I thought I had push?

I suspect that the failure to connects and perhaps other issues are caused by Google's servers being overloaded, so I may try again later.  But to test the theory out I turn mail off on the Google Sync account and recreate my old Gmail account.  When I use it, the Mail app connects quickly and downloads 200 messages in seconds.  Hmmm, so either it isn't the servers, or the more likely explanation is that the "Exchange" servers supporting the push and syncing are overloaded but the standard servers for serving up POP and IMAP are working just fine.

For me, I'll just stick with my 2 accounts and no push for now.  I may try the push again later when Google figures things out.

But what is your experience?  Have you successfully gotten push working from Gmail on the iPhone?  Post your comments!

Monday, September 21, 2009

AT&T asks consumers to pay more for better cell coverage

AT&T has been the brunt of many complaints from all over about poor cell coverage in certain areas.  I don't know how many times I've read someone saying they would love to get an iPhone but won't because of AT&T's coverage.  Now I actually haven't had too many complaints and have been a PacBell/AT&T/Cingular/AT&T customer for some time.  Perhaps I'm just lucky or not picky enough.

For those that do perhaps have poor coverage near their homes, AT&T is now offering a "personal cell" you can install at home.  Called the MicroCell, it is a femtocell device that is supposed to boost 3G signals indoors, and a phone is supposed to be able to switch to/from it and the regular 3G network.  It is nice that AT&T is doing something to help customers in poor reception areas, but that is where the kudos stop.

First, the way it works is that the femtocell ties into your home internet connection to get to AT&T's network, effectively routing your cell phone connection over your cable/DSL/FiOS connection.  Sounds nice, but if you were going to make calls over your internet connection why not just use Skype or some VoIP provider like Vonage and avoid the hassle of another device?  You say you want to receive incoming calls?  Fine, get a Google Voice number and give that out instead of your mobile number and use it to route incoming calls wherever you want!

Second, while the femtocell (it is a fun word to say so I'm writing it a lot, go ahead, say it out loud 5 times in a row) will give you a stronger signal at home, if you are indeed in a poor reception area, once on a call, you are stranded at home as the call will drop if you leave the range of your femtocell.  So it is really no better than a cordless phone at home and see the Google Voice suggestion above to handle the incoming calls.

Third, they are charging $150 for the device.  Ok, they say there is a $100 rebate, ... IF you sign up for a $20 monthly plan!  So let me get this straight.  I'm already paying nearly $100 a month or more for my voice and data plan, another $50 plus a month for high-speed internet, and because the former doesn't work well you want to use the service from the latter to "fix" it but want to charge me for equipment and another $20 a month on top of that?!

Before piling on too much, it is just a trial right now and pricing when they roll it out could change.  And AT&T shouldn't be singled out as both Sprint and Verizon are reportedly doing the same thing (not but with 3G speeds, so give AT&T credit there!) and are probably subject to the same criticisms above.

So give them credit for identifying a solution for a common problem, just as a consumer don't give in to paying more money on top of what you are already paying.  There is other technology that can leverage what you are already paying for to help solve the problem.

Thoughts?  Agree or disagree?