We've been talking on cell phones for a long time. Most people have one, and many use them exclusively. I haven't had a home phone line in years, instead opting to use my iPhone as my primary means of communication. I do a lot of travel, so it is an added bonus to have a phone line that goes where I go rather than return home to a dozen voice mails. In today's world, being tethered to anything physical is rather difficult. That's why we have cell phones, that's why there's a 3G version of the iPad, and that's why many people use portable 3G routers and devices for their laptops. Given all this, and the evolution of cell phones over the past 20 years, you'd think cell phone networks would make similar advancements. Not only do they seem to be failing miserably, but the near future for quality of service seems to be in question.
I saw an ad recently by AT&T for a promotion they are doing. For $150 you can put a 3G MicroCell in your own home to dramatically boost your 3G signal strength. They began test marketing this in Charlotte, North Carolina, and are working toward a nationwide roll out. If building your own mini cell tower isn't enough, for $20/month you can be your own phone provider, meaning the minutes you use talking through your MicroCell won't count against your monthly allocation. That's right, for the low low price of $150 down and $20 monthly you can save AT&T the trouble of having to build quality towers in your area! Outragous? It gets worse. The MicroCell actually routes your cell phone and 3G activity over your home WiFi connection. In other words, if you have poor signal strength where you live thanks to insufficient or overloaded towers, paying for your cell phone service plan isn't enough. You now have to pay them for equipment, pay a monthly fee, and pay for a good quality internet connection at home. And have WiFi. I sure hope you're not using TW Roadrunner in La Jolla, or good luck carrying on a conversation without being dropped every 90 seconds.
Is that the future for carriers? Are they hoping we'll all buy their devices and sign up for home 3G plans so they can dump our 3G traffic out over our WiFi connections? I don't mean to pick on AT&T too much--the only reason I tend to mention them is that I'm a loyal customer and like to stick to what I know. I give them kudos for investing in their San Francisco area infrastructure ($65 million+ between 2008 and 2009) as well as taking on the iPhone single handed. However, I think it is outrageous for them to charge customers so they can charge customers, because they didn't build to proper capacity. I can only imagine what would happen at ServInt if we tried this. "Sure, you get 5 TB bandwidth with that, but if you want to push more than 1 Mbps you have to pay extra fees. Yeah, I know 1 Mbps doesn't let you use what you pay for, but we don't have capacity on your switch." We'd be fired. Repeatedly. If I tell a customer they can use 5 TB/month bandwidth, you can be damn sure the server is capable of pushing it, the network is capable of handling it, and the bandwidth is available to do it without a hint of slowdown. So what lets the phone companies get away with it?
I've carried an iPhone since the 3G came out and I use it all day long. In fact I'm writing this on my 3GS right now. The iPhone represents some truly amazing technology, and one feature I really like is auto-correction when I'm typing. Let's face it--a touch screen isn't tactile, and therefore it doesn't make for a very good keyboard. It seems like every fourth or fifth word I type has to be fixed by auto-correction, else my emails and text are completely illegible. It isn't always the savior of all thumbkind, many times it corrects things when it shouldn't (try typing grrrrr and see what it shows you) and sometimes it takes a perfectly-spelled word and replaces it with a different word altogether.
What I find completely outrageous about auto-correction is that it completely misses the boat on a few simple concepts. First of all, if it is smart enough to know I meant to type an 'e' instead of an 'r', or an 'm' instead of an 'n', why can't it be smart enough to realize I don't want to capitalize letters in the middle of my word? If you take a look at your keyboard, you'll notice that the A, S, and Z keys are really close to the shift key. If you're typing a word that includes the letters A, S, or Z, odds are you've accidentally hit the shift key more than once, and ended up with a frustrating result. The word sizzle becomes siZle. Press delete 3 times and type 'zzle' and you end up with siZzle. Now you have to press delete 4 times, toggle the shift, and again type 'zzle.' That's an awful lot of keystrokes to resolve the simple problem of having accidentally thumbed the shift key instead of the Z key.
It seems like it should be fairly simple for Apple to update the auto-correction to recognize that SHIFT is just as easy to mistype as any other key. Update after update comes out, and so far nobody seems to think it is worth fixing. Maybe they simply don't know about it. Perhaps all the testers at apple have pencil erasers for thumbs, or they only type words that use the middle of the keyboard. I don't think it would be very hard, however, for them to code in some extra intelligence to solve this. Maybe if enough people consider it a priority and bring it to their attention, they'll decide to do something about it and make a great device even greater.
I also have issues with the space bar, and the area of the screen just above the keyboard. This is probably because I'm a fast typer, over 150wpm on a regular keyboard, and faster than any of my friends on an iPhone. Technically speaking, these aren't quite as easy to fix as the shift key, so I'm not formally suggesting it be done. It would be pretty hard for them to figure out that I'm not typing two different poorly-spelled words when I smack the space bar with my thumb while typing, or that I didn't really want to jump down several lines on the screen when my thumbs miss high and land above the top row. It sure would be nice though. Until then I'll try and slow it down a bit.