iPhone 4 - Great, Except the "Phone" Part

As long as "everything" doesn't include shitty phone service
I used to work for Apple, so I'm generally loathe to criticize the company, for fear that they'll go back in time and kill me before I ever worked for them "Terminator" style. Also, for the most part, I'm very happy with the products they produce (and since I haven't paid full price for an major Apple product since March of 2002, the price issue isn't really a concern for me).

However, watching yesterday's WWDC Keynote Address left me feeling something I hadn't felt in awhile -- indifference, if not disdain, toward a new Apple product.

As Steve Jobs went through each of the 10 major features of the new iPhone (known officially as iPhone 4, since "iPhone 4G" would have implied something that the iPhone doesn't support), I couldn't help noticing that none of the features actually covered the "making calls" part of the device -- inarguably the most deficient part of every iPhone release since 2007. I think it's telling that Apple dropped the word "Phone" from the iPhone OS (now called "iOS 4.0), since it's the part Apple cares the least about.

Think about it: the new display, the iMovie app, the improved camera, the gyroscope... how do any of these make your calling experience any better? They don't. Nor does sticking with AT&T. When Steve Jobs was having connection issues during yesterday's event, someone in the crowd shouted out "Get Verizon" or something of that nature. Well, that's not happening.

Now, I don't expect Apple to make major changes to the Phone app, since there's really not much you can do with that. However the service is an entirely different story. In the past, I've tried to defend AT&T's service, but let's be honest, it's crap. Dropped calls are a regular fact of life, and there are strange pockets of non-service (for example, previously I had 3G coverage for my entire daily commute. Now, out of nowhere, there's a 3-mile stretch of I-84 in East Hartford/Manchester where I drop down to EDGE, unexplained).

I could live with sub-standard service (not really, but I have for 3 years, so clearly I can) if it were a good value, but it's not. I currently pay AT&T $40 per month for voice service, and in exchange I get 450 "anytime" minutes, 5,000 night and weekend minutes and unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling. That seems like a great deal, except last month, between all three services, I used a grand total of 112 minutes.  In my 30-day billing cycle I had 19 total calls. On average, I have approximately 375 rollover minutes that expire every month, because I couldn't possibly use them.

This isn't an uncommon occurrence for me. I'm just not a heavy phone user, but it is the largest single cost associated with my iPhone on a monthly basis. Part of the reason for that is that I've come to distrust AT&T's phone service, so I've replaced my phone usage with e-mail, texting (for which I pay an additional $5 a month) and even personal contact.

I suspect that on some level, AT&T uses the heavy iPhone voice costs to subsidize the relatively low cost of data, though with the recent new data plans, that's no longer as much of a need for the company. What I wish was an option -- and what used to be an option -- is for me to simply pay for minutes as I need them, or get an iPhone without a voice plan entirely. Now, that may be difficult, since I also no longer have a home phone (and haven't since 2005), but I think I could go personal phone-less (I also possess a portable work phone, and while I tend to make most of my work-related calls on my iPhone, I could easily change that).

Over the next month I'm definitely going to monitor my iPhone usage -- both voice and data -- and see if it's not something that could be replaced by a combination of an iPod touch (though I'll definitely wait until September to see if the next generation of iPod touch incorporates some of the hardware features of the new iPhone) and a cheap pay-as-you-go phone for emergencies only. Am I crazy to think I could go phoneless? Maybe. But I figure it's worth a shot.