Apple Pay Experiences

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Monday of this week saw iOS 8.1 land on Apple devices, and perhaps the most expected feature in the update was Apple Pay; the new NFC based, Touch ID approved payment service that was going to revolutionize how we pay for things. Or not, because of course NFC based payments have existed in Android phones for a while now, and even in plastic credit cards (mostly outside the US, but my Wells Fargo Visa card has both a chip and touch pay capabilities).

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iPhone 6 Case

Waterfield Smart CaseAll my iPhones to date, starting with my 3GS, have lived inside a Smart Case from Waterfield Designs; my iPads have likewise lived in one of their Ultimate Sleeve cases. They are a local firm here in San Francisco, and I love their products and their service. 

When I pre-ordered my 6, the site I visited next was theirs to get an estimate of when they would have my favourite case ready for the new phone.

But there was no Smart Case listed for the iPhone 6. I reached out to them on Twitter, and it seems it will not be there for a while. They do have a number of other options, but none really appealed to me in the way the Smart Case had (and I have had 3 of them now spanning 5 years of use, so they have become familiar).

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AT&T’s “GeorgeA” Was Right

Of all the people I spoke to earlier in the week about the sudden change in the estimated delivery date for my iPhone 6 from delivering on 9/19 when I ordered it to delivering 10/13-10/31 when I checked the online status, only GeorgeA from the @ATTCustomerCare Twitter team suggested that the reason the order could not be canceled was that it really was still scheduled to ship in time for September 19 and it was the new estimate that was incorrect.

Today’s status on AT&T’s site has changed from estimating delivery in the second half of October, to shipped and expected to arrive tomorrow:

Shipped

It amazes me that their e-commerce systems can’t keep track of things a little better, but it would almost have been better to just say they didn’t have a delivery date available than to estimate delivery over a month after the order date. I’ve heard of under promising and over delivering, but that’s taking it to an extreme!

Thank You GeorgeA

I would like to say a big thank you to GeorgeA both for spending the time earlier in the week explaining what he saw and what he thought it meant, and for being the only AT&T employee I spoke to on Tuesday who could work out that the error actually meant.

Latest From AT&T on iPhone 6 Delivery

After creating a new Twitter account specially to communicate with @ATTCustomerCare (since they were ignoring/blocking my regular account), I finally found somebody who reached out and called me.

He too hit the problem that the order cannot be canceled, and he tweeted the error message to me:

Error Message

That is a little cryptic, but WMS apparently means “Warehouse Management System” and he also added the comment “It’s suppose to go out on 9/19” followed by “Remember it’s a system that is calculating that but since you ordered day one I don’t forsee a problem.” That is certainly what the original date showed on the order, and I live in hope that the earlier comments I received yesterday were wrong and in fact it is the estimated delivery window in the status message that is inaccurate.

Meanwhile, I am going to compare the cost of T-Mobile for our five lines and see how that would work out.

AT&T Bait & Switch Update

After getting no reply from @ATTCustomerCare, but seeing them tell several people it is possible to cancel a pre-order, I thought I would call the regular customer service. After sitting on hold for almost an hour (being repeatedly told how much they value me as a customer), I spoke to somebody who tried to cancel the order several different ways. No dice.

She then transferred me to Premier support, which left me on hold for a bit longer. At the end of that, I was told that the order could not be canceled once it has been submitted (I would have thought it would be harder to cancel one that had not been submitted, but not in the world of AT&T). Almost 90 minutes on the phone & still no progress whatsoever.

Pending Shipment

This is what my order status currently shows:

Order Status

Apparently, they will be preparing it for shipment for the next month or so. And in that time there is nothing I can do.

Refuse Delivery

The helpful advice I got was that I could simply refuse delivery of the phone when it arrives. Really? The best solution to canceling an order that won’t ship for several weeks is to have it ship to me, and then tell the delivery firm to return it?

I also learned that this glitch (the word he used) is something they know about and they are trying to fix.

Meanwhile, my line is not eligible for upgrade, so there is nothing I can do to source a phone elsewhere.

Twitter Support

The lack of responses on Twitter is puzzling too. So I created a new Twitter account and sent a question about my upgrade from that account. Sure enough, I got a response within a few minutes. Is it possible that despite “following” me (and being followed by me), they have somehow decided to block my regular Twitter account? If so, what does that tell me about how they feel about my business. Perhaps I should just cancel the service and move to T-Mobile.

AT&T iPhone 6 Pre-Order “Bait & Switch”

Wavered on whether to pre-order a new iPhone 6, or just wait, but in the end I thought I would pre-order. When I got to the AT&T site, they were still reporting delivery dates of “on or around” September 19 for the iPhone 6, though only for the 128GB model. I went ahead and ordered one and thought everything was set.

Then, early this morning (around 3am PDT), I saw a tweet telling me how to check my order status, so I did. Much to my surprise, rather than the September 19 estimated delivery date I had seen when I clicked the order button, the AT&T site was saying October 13 – October 31. That’s almost a whole month later than they promised. Had they said that on their site when I ordered it, I would have ordered it from Apple (who even today are saying the first week of October), and I would probably have stuck with the 64GB which was my first choice.

No problem, I thought, since it is 4-6 weeks out I can just cancel the order and either try my luck at a store on Friday or order from Apple. So I called the number on the web page, waited 25 minutes to speak to somebody, only to be told she couldn’t cancel the order. I asked for a supervisor, and waited another 5-10 minutes. When he came on the line, he said it was impossible to cancel the order because it was at the warehouse being packed. Really? What do they do to these people to make them believe it takes 4-6 weeks to pack a phone in a box? Of course it is not at the warehouse being packed. It is still an electronic order awaiting devices to arrive to be fulfilled. And they don’t expect those for several weeks. So canceling the order is not impossible at all.

Twitter Support

The normally responsive Twitter support team also seem to be totally ignoring me this morning. I have tweeted to them and even sent them direct messages, but still not a peep back. Amusingly, Verizon responded faster than AT&T!

Perhaps it is time to just take my business to a carrier that does care. It seems clear that AT&T don’t care, and neither can they operate an online business. Bad enough that they advertise one delivery date, and then shift it by a month after the order is placed, but to not have a way to easily cancel a pre-order is ridiculous. Perhaps I should call American Express and dispute the charge for the taxes on the phone – I suspect they’d be able to cancel the order then.

Canceled Orders

Then I started seeing replies to other people on Twitter with iPhone 6 order issues, and to be honest it looks like AT&T were totally unprepared for people to order this phone. Was it really a surprise to them that lots of people would be pre-ordering it? Haven’t they done this before?

Some Examples From Twitter

(At least they received a reply from AT&T – I have had no response at all. Apparently I am on some kind of no response list.)

Pebble Battery Life

Given how random my Pebble’s battery life can be these days,I thought I would extract the battery level information from the logs they keep (tip: if you want to see these, just start the process to generate a support request but when the email editor opens change the recipient to your own address before sending).

The graph is quite telling:

That is a little over 6 days worth of data and clearly shows periods where the consumption is far faster than it should be to allow for several days of battery life. The last two days, I have had to charge the watch every night or risk having it run out mid way through the day (and I don’t want to carry the charging cable with me everywhere I go).

The most recent firmware was meant to address the crazy power consumption issue, but it looks from this chart as though their fix doesn’t change anything.

Pebble: Still Not Ready

Sadly, I have to say the Pebble smart watch is still not ready for general use. There are still too many bugs in the firmware, and too many limitations for it to be acceptable to anyone outside of the early adopter crowd. Even a year after they initially shipped.

In the early days, the regular firmware updates seemed to improve things. Unfortunately, the most recent updates seem to have made things worse. 

Battery Issues

The new stainless steel watches were launched with version 2 firmware and the Pebble App Store all of which seemed great. Except that the battery life of the watch could suddenly drop from the several days normally achieved to just a few hours. And it could go from super efficient to super inefficient at any time. Given that battery life is one of their key advantages, this was a pretty serious regression. Something that should have been caught during testing.

The fixed firmware was released recently, but apparently it is still not really fixed. My watch took around 24 hours to drop from fully charged to 89% (that is pretty much the normal rate I have observed – around 10% a day).

2014-05-18 04:48:27:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 4224mV 99% hardware charging 0 plugged 0
2014-05-19 02:55:26:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 4095mV 90% hardware charging 0 plugged 0 
2014-05-19 03:00:26:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 4086mV 89% hardware charging 0 plugged 0 
2014-05-19 05:41:26:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 3994mV 79% hardware charging 0 plugged 0 
2014-05-19 08:19:26:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 3927mV 69% hardware charging 0 plugged 0 
2014-05-19 09:44:26:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 3869mV 59% hardware charging 0 plugged 0

But then look at what happened. The next 30% drop took less than 7 hours. And for most of that time I was asleep and very few notifications were being delivered (I get far more during the day when all my calendar event reminders are firing off).

Seems the issue with the battery is still not fixed. I have submitted the logs, but at this point I am losing confidence in Pebble’s ability to fix these serious firmware issues.

Audio Interference

For the longest time the audio quality I have experienced when using my car’s hands free telephone system has been terrible. Very occasionally it would be crystal clear, but most of the time it was crackly, sometimes to the point where I would need to hang up and redial in hopes of getting better quality. It never occurred to me that the cause of this noise was the Pebble. 

Last week though I was driving back home after going to pick up some paperwork and I was stuck in traffic listening to music from my phone connected via the car’s A2DP connection. This had always been good quality (further confusing me as to why the telephone audio should be so bad), but now it was experiencing periodic drop outs. Very short times in the music when there was silence, but easily noticeable. Since I was stuck in traffic, often not moving at all for several minutes, I had time to trace the cause.

Remembering that the Pebble had just updated its firmware, that was an obvious place to start. Turning off the Bluetooth on the watch didn’t impact anything immediately but right then the traffic moved, so I turned my attention back to the road; leaving the Pebble’s Bluetooth off. Perhaps 30 seconds or so after I switched it off, the dropouts stopped. The next time I stopped, I turned Bluetooth back on and sure enough the drop outs re-appeared. So now, the Pebble interferes with A2DP music streams (a clear, and serious regression).

Even more interesting, during one of the times I had Bluetooth off I received a call. It was crystal clear. More experimenting with that showed that the interference I had long put down to an incompatibility between my car and iPhone was in fact also being caused by the Pebble. That is not a regression in the latest firmware though; that has always been there.

Some searching online revealed a thread on their support forums describing the hands free audio interference that is happening in lots of cars. And yet the support response I got merely shrugged it off with the advice that I should disable Bluetooth on my watch when in the car & there was no way they could test all cars. Obviously, nobody would expect them to test all cars, but it doesn’t seem hard to find some that show the problem. And there is even a detailed post in that thread stating the problem can be reproduced on Bluetooth audio quality measurement test equipment:

The Voice Quality algorithm used for this test was ITU-T P.862.1 (PESQ). The scale for the PESQ algorithm is 1-5 (5 being perfect). For all tests, the iPhone is on ATT network whereas the far-end is Verizon PSTN. Each test consisted of 3 different calls, each call sending/recordng 4 voice files. After each test i averaged all PESQ scores.
The average score for iPhone5 without Pebble was 2.71. This is average for mobile to PSTN.
The average score for iPhone5 with Pebble was 1.36. This is considered extremely low.
The average score for iPhone4 without Pebble was 2.40. 
The average score for iPhone4 with Pebble was 1.22.

That makes it pretty clear that the Pebble is interfering with the audio quality on iOS devices at least. Again, this should really have been caught during testing.

Recommendation

At this point in time, if you asked me whether you should buy a Pebble I would have to say no. Not unless you are willing to live with pre-alpha quality software, potentially abysmal battery life, poor quality Bluetooth audio connections and relatively little support. When it is working well, the Pebble is a great smart watch, but the ongoing software quality issues are really letting it down right now.

Pebble: First Few Weeks

What seems like a long time ago now, I backed a Kickstarter project to create a smart watch for iOS and Android called the Pebble. Due to deliver late last year, the project ran a little over schedule, but a few weeks back my Kickstarter Edition Pebble watch arrived in the mail, and I have been living with it ever since. This is my summary of my experiences in those first few weeks, using the watch connected to my iPhone 5.

I am deeming it to be semi-smart though, in contrast to some of the watches that are available since without the connection to the smartphone it does nothing more than tell the time. Even updating the time when daylight savings came into effect was dependent on a ping from the associated phone.

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