I’ve never had a cell phone before, but I knew I would be getting one for my trip. My wife Marsha has been nothing but encouraging regarding the tour, but this was one area where she put her foot down: I had to have a cell phone.
I totally understand the advantages having a mobile phone provides, and I was even looking forward to exploring everything you can do.
So I did some research about which device I should get. Marsha has an iPhone and an iPad, so I have used them to some extent. I find that typing on the iPhone, even a text message, is very annoying. Words are often misspelled, and even after taking more time than typing on a standard computer keyboard, the accuracy rate is much lower.
After using Marsha’s iPhone, I can totally understand why text “speak” has evolved, replacing “you” with “u” and “to” with “2”, etc. The more characters you have to type, the more likely you will spell something wrong, and either have a garbled message or spend more time deleting and re-keying your message. I also understand why Twitter came to popularity: anything more than 140 characters on a phone is madness-inducing.
Of course, I intend to blog about my trip as I make my way across the U.S., and the idea of writing a lengthy blog post on the little touch screen of a phone was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.
So I wanted to have something a little bigger than that. I also want to take pictures as I go, also for the blog, and rather than carry a standalone camera, why not just get a phone with a built-in camera?
With Marsha’s iPhone and contract through Verizon, I could easily be added to her plan at just $10 per month, and through Verizon I could get a discounted iPad Mini (still $350, even with the discount), which is more compact than the traditional iPad (smaller=better for everything on my trip) and you can get a protective case that doubles as an external keypad. The iPad Mini has an option of cellular service, meaning I could get access through Verizon’s better country-wide coverage and I confirmed with a Verizon rep that the iPad Mini with cellular service could make calls and send and receive text messages. Sold!
So the iPad Mini came in the mail, and I took it out and started setting it up. I added in my AppleID, I set it to my fingerprint, I download some apps for my trip, including a bicycle GPS, Google Maps, a GMail client, a bike tour app, and even an app for something called WarmShowers.org, which connects bike tour enthusiasts with like-minded folks who might be willing to put them up for a night as they pass through the area. There were several along my route!
There was a problem, however. I couldn’t get the text message or the phone service to work. The iPad Mini came with a cell number, and I could use that number to connect to the Internet when not using a Wi-Fi network, but simple phone services were not working, no matter what I tried. When I was first setting everything up, I was able to send one initial text message to Marsha’s iPhone, but all subsequent messages failed. Marsha was never able to text me.
Finally, after fiddling with it for awhile, I called Verizon tech support. I am currently not employed, so I called during the day, when wait times should be low. However, since I was not the primary owner of the account (since I was simply added to Marsha’s account), I could not actually speak with anyone.
I had to wait until Marsha to get home, and then for her to find some free time to make the call and the initial contact. Once she did that, she simply handed the phone over to me, since I was the one with the problem. So far, not great customer service.
I spoke with a Verizon Tech Support representative, who informed me that I had been misinformed by whoever I had spoken to earlier, and the iPad was not authorized to make calls. I would NEVER be able to make calls with the iPad Mini (or any iPad) unless I used some 3rd party app like Skype or something similar. The same thing goes for texting: I also would NEVER be able to text on the iPad Mini.
This was not good news. The whole reason I had make this choice, after confirming with someone from Verizon, was because it would allow me to text message and call, in addition to everything else I wanted.
There were still some things that confused me, however.
In some ways, I could understand the limitation regarding phone service. You can’t make phone calls from your computer, right? And the iPad is supposed to be like a tablet computer, so maybe it shouldn’t be all that unexpected that you couldn’t make calls. There is no phone app that come pre-loaded on the device. I don’t like it, and I don’t agree with it, but I could understand it.
The same thing is not true, though, for text messaging. There is a text message app that is not only pre-loaded on the iPad Mini, but it is in the “essential apps” list at the bottom of every screen, along with Safari and Email. If you can’t text message using the iPad, why is that even there?
Also, I was able to successfully send a text message when I first started to set it up. Why did that one text message get through if the iPad was, by default, not able to text?
I asked these questions, and I guess they were more complicated than the simple script that was provided to the Tech Support rep, because I got bumped up to a Verizon Senior Tech Support Manager.
I explained everything to him all over again, and he confirmed that an iPad cannot normally call or text. However, he pointed out, you can make calls using Apple’s FaceTime app, and you can text message with other Apple devices (iPads and iPhones) using iMessage (as opposed to regular text messages with non-Apple phones, which use SMS messages). These apps will work on the iPad Mini, so I should just use those instead.
Except that FaceTime and iMessage were not working for me either. I had tried them both, and both had failed. He had me try some simple troubleshooting steps, including logging out of my AppleID and the logging back in again, resetting the network connection, trying a hard reboot of the device, and trying first over Wi-Fi and then again over cellular. Nothing worked.
While I was doing that, he put me on hold for a bit to find out if there was anything they could do for enabling calling and SMS text messaging, since I had been promised that by someone. After awhile, the answer came back: nope, I was stuck.
After these steps all failed, the issue was beyond the Verizon Tech Support Manager, so he bumped me over to an Apple Tech Support rep.
I explained everything once again to the new person, including everything the previous people had me try. She had me connect to a computer with iTunes, through which I wiped the iPad Mini and reinstalled the operating system (OS), resetting the device to the factory conditions. Of course, this wiped out all the apps I had downloaded for my trip, but they were all free apps that I could reinstall later once I got the darn thing to work properly.
After setting up the iPad Mini again, with my fingerprint, and signing in with my AppleID and everything — the whole process, to download the OS and reinstall and then set up the device took about 45 minutes to do — I tried to send an iMessage to my wife’s iPhone, but once again, no iLuck.
The rep said this proved that this was a hardware issue and not a software problem, so that ended what she could do. So she bumped me to another Tech Support rep for me to try and fix the hardware problem. I explained everything to him, including all the various troubleshooting and attempted fixes everyone had tried, and he said he was not able to actually do anything. He would send a message to some other Tech Support people at Apple to see if there were any other fixes I should try, and if they said no, he would send me out a new iPad Mini, and that would hopefully fix the problem. But these other Tech Support people were not currently available, and they usually take at least 12 hours to respond to any requests, so could he call me back tomorrow?
What choice did I have? So yes, he could call me back tomorrow. We’ll see if he actually calls me back. I did at least get a case number, so if I end up having to call back again, I’ll have some reference number so I won’t be starting completely from the beginning.
So after more than two hours on the phone, taking to four different people from two different companies, there was no idea what was wrong with my iPad Mini, I discovered that I had originally been told incorrect things about very basic functionality, and that the best case scenario would involve me being sent a new device and starting from scratch in setting it up all over again. As an added bonus, the special $50 scratch guard I bought to protect my screen from any damage can’t be removed and I’ll have to buy another (or deal with possibly scratching my screen).
And after all this, I STILL won’t be able to call or text people! And there is simply no reason why that should be, at least not from a technical standpoint. If an iPhone can make calls, there is no functional reason why an even larger iPad Mini (or even a regular iPad) cannot make calls. It has a phone number. It connects to a cellular network. The reason must be a BUSINESS reason, like some deal with the cellular networks, or the desire to get people to buy both an iPhone AND an iPad, or something not having to do with way the device actually works.
For someone who has so far resisted getting a mobile phone or other device, this entire process did not make me change my mind one bit. I still think getting a mobile device is a scam, and I still don’t want one, other than the direct advantage I will get from it over the next three months. After I get back from my trip, there’s a decent chance I’ll throw the thing in a drawer and never use it again, the two-year contract be damned.