Friday, August 31, 2012

Unlocking an AT&T iPhone - Experiences after a 3GS, 4 and 4S.

So far I've legally unlocked 3 contract-complete AT&T iPhones (I don't think you can legally unlock Sprint or Verizon iPhones, so this is a real AT&T advantage). Time to share my experiences.

The process I've followed is described in this April 2001 OS X Daily post. AT&T has recently added a pure web based approach but I've not used it. The short version of the process is:

  1. Get your phone's IMEI and Serial Number, but really you need the IMEI.
  2. Go to AT&T's mobile site and look way down the page to the tiny 'contact' link. Or click on the 'bot helper and say you want to unlock your phone.
  3. Say you want a technical support chat.
  4. Fill out the form, you'll be asked for the IMEI and your last four of your SSN (if you forget, just Google it. Amazing that this is proof of identity.)
  5. You're told it will take a few minutes to get the email and 1-2 days for things to be processed; which doesn't seem to make sense.
On two occasions I got the email within ten minutes. On a third occasion I waited 48 hours with no email. I contacted them again, they said their part of the process was done and they resent the email. The email just says to backup, then "Restore" (wipes the phone and reinstalls latest OS) then "Restore from backup". (Yeah, that Restore stuff is confusing).
After the "Restore" (wipe phone, reinstall OS) when the phone mounts in iTunes, but before it's been registered, you see the unlock indication.
Screen shot 2012 08 31 at 7 21 55 PM
After that just restore and then you're asked to register your phone with your AppleID [1] then do the restore.
AT&T's newish unlock portal has some details on the process.

AT&T will unlock an iPhone under the following circumstances:

The person requesting the unlock is:

a current AT&T customer or a former AT&T customer who can provide the phone number or account number for the account

All contract obligations, including any term commitment, associated with the device to be unlocked have been fully satisfied; and The iPhone has not been reported lost or stolen.

Current customers will be allowed five (5) unlocks per account, per year, so long as their account is in good standing with no past-due amount or unpaid balance and has been active for at least sixty (60) days. Former customers will be allowed five (5) unlocks per former account so long as they owe AT&T no Early Termination Fee or other unpaid balance.

The 5 unlock limit is interesting, I'm actually closing in on it. It's interesting they'll even process unlocks for former customers.

We have one iPhone 4 a friend gave us (needed repair), I'd like to unlock that one too. It sounds like she could do the unlock so long as she can provide the account number that the phone was purchased with. I'll have to give that a try sometime, I'm curious to know if it will work if I 'restore' that phone to my AppleID.

I really don't understand why AT&T ended its previously infuriating eternal lock program - a lock that applied even to a fully paid off phone [2]. It's so unlike my image of them. It's equally mysterious why Verizon gets away with their eternal lock.

[1] Currently I have one phone on one Apple ID, and a bunch of phones and computers on another. Apple's ID system is so very broken. [2] Note, however, even a carrier-locked AT&T phone will work with AT&T resellers such as H2O wireless

See also:

Update 9/17/12:

I unlocked another iPhone 4, this time using their new web form. This phone had an H2O wireless SIM and was registered to my Mac account, but I was able to unlock it with the prior owner's AT&T number (she still has active account and the number that was previously used with this phone) and the last four of her SS. I can't remember if we needed anything else. It did take several days for the unlock email to arrive.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Don't lose your Apple iPhone SIM extractor tool (or other small things)

Old time iPhone users have an official Apple SIM extractor; they came with the 3G and 3GS. I had two, just lost one.

I put a plastic lock tie through the handle of the remaining one; I'm now much less likely to lose it. A key chain would work too.

So why don't I think of these preventive measures before I lose things? (See also: kids are not allowed to bring electronics into the bathroom.)

A toilet dunked iPhone cannot be serviced by Apple (but is the real policy don't ask don't tell?)

Note to past self - children should not be allowed to take electronic devices into the bathroom.

Hope that works for a different multiverse. In my multiverse #2 child dropped his inherited, unlocked, iPhone 4 into the toilet.

That's bad, but I knew that Apple will often replace out-of-warranty soaked iPhones with similar refurbished models for a flat rate that varies by model. In my case I'd expect to pay about $200 for a refurb with a fresh battery; much cheaper than the $500 or so cost of a similar unlocked no-contract device.

Alas, toilet phones are considered a biohazard. They can't be touched by Apple. If you think the phone is clean enough, (maybe you could soak it in a disinfectant?) you might consider selective truth. Hey, Romney lies, so it must be ok.

You could also try saying it got wet, or simply "it's not working" - without specifying how that happened.

I'm a lousy liar, so these options don't work for me.

This isn't a new policy; I've seen mention of it as far back as 2007. I suspect enforcement may vary, but it's the rule.

Do consider not allowing iPhones to approach toilets. Personally, I'd be happy if the iPhone 5+ was relatively water resistant (Blackberry is almost waterproof.)

PS. If you do drop an iPhone in water, this post has advice. We keep a set of DampRid packets on hand. Briefly: Dry it. Power off. Sandwich between DampRid packets in airtight air-exhausted baggie. Pop SIM card. Place beneath warming light. Do not touch for 24 hours. Retry. Unfortunately son #2 waited until the audio cut out before confessing his crime. I think he was hoping it would all go away.

Update: A friend, who is obviously more clever or duplicitous than I, suggested I clean the phone, then dunk it in the sink. Then I could truthfully report it fell into the sink.

Update 8/29/2012: Curiously neither of the water indicators appear to have been triggered. This fits with other stories I've heard; they're not always very sensitive. (No idea how specific they are.). More curiously, the phone is now making calls, at first it didn't. Likewise the external speaker is working again. That was out of order yesterday. Of course it would not be surprising if they failed in the near future.

Thinking back to my 'genius' (tech really) encounter, I think he was heavily hinting that he'd have had much more leeway if I'd just said the phone wasn't working -- or if I'd said it had gotten wet but not where or how. He had no options because I made the mistake of entering the explicit details when I registered for my appointment. In some cases I think the techs practice "don't ask, don't tell".

Along similar lines, Laura Tucker replaced a toilet phone a year ago -- and none of the various Apple stores she visited objected to the repair. In the end she used Apple's Express Repair Service; it starts with this screen. If you use it I suggest limiting your comments to the known problem (ex. no speaker). For an out of warrantee 32GB iPhone 4 the replacement cost is $30 (ERP fee) + $7 (shipping) + $149, + applicable tax. So about $200 -- assuming Apple gets the defective phone within the 10 day limit. This particular iPhone 4 is unlocked, I suspect a refurb replacement would be locked.

Update 8/30/2012: A NYT post on waterproof cases suggests toilets may be a majority of iPhone water incidents; "don't ask don't tell" must be the real policy. They liked:

Liquipel got a positive review from one tester. LifeProof's Amazon reviews are pretty negative, so it's certainly imperfect. Joy Factory reviews are entirely bleak.
Prices will fall after the iPhone 5 comes out, I'll look at the LifeProof then. Liquipel should be something Apple applies, or perhaps Hzo (website).
I wish there was more pressure on Apple to make iPhones more water resistant. Again, BlackBerry did it. We'll see if any of those linked rumors come true. For me that would be an iPhone 5 killer feature.
... An industry article published in November 2010 ( lists the top five ways to protect your cell phone against water damage:
Never bring it with you to the bathroom;
Place your cell phone in a waterproof case;
Make certain that it is well protected from storms or rain;
Always remove your cell phone from your pocket the minute you get home;
Make sure your cell phone is waterproof by buying waterproof gear.
This is great advice, but obviously of little actual value...

Update 9/17/2013: 

The phone is still fine. I didn't expect that.

See also:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mountain Lion's WiFi bug

I haven't had any problems at home, but on the road I ran into this Mountain Lion problem at my parents home. They have a cheap Dlink dir-615 (dir615 rev C1), and this report fits my experience ...

HT1338 upgraded to mountain lion and...

My wifi connection was also dropping every few minutes. I could expedite the drops by streaming a couple videos at the same time. Snow Leopards wifi was never perfect for me either (it would drop about once a week) but it was stable. Upgrading to ML made it so much worse. I had found a solution that made it completely stable (see below) but still looked for a proper fix:  

Enable WLAN: Yes Mode: IEEE 802.11g Only Channel: 7 Transmitting power: 100% Enable WMM QoS: No   Not having EXACTLY this brought the problem back.

… I went to the dlink website (i have a dlink dir-615) i found a new firmware version had been available for the past 2 years. After updating the routers firmware my wifi is running so so smooth with whatever settings i choose...

I've made the firmware update, but hard to know if it works. Sounds like the issue relates to 802.11n. Hard to know if this is a real bug, might be a security fix that the old router doesn't support.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In praise of Google Voice

I dislike G+, but there are some old-school Google products I love.

Google Voice might be at the top of the list.

It's not just that I save over $1000 a year on long distance charges because Google lets me call Montreal for free from my AT&T 4S.

It's also that when I travel I configure my Google Voice business and personal numbers to send me email only. Then I forward my mobile and home numbers to my Google Voice [1]. I get all my messages by email when I've got WiFi -- and I don't run up any roaming charges. Tonight, for example, I picked up a message that VISA had locked my card due to international charges (easily fixed, next time I'll call ahead).

It's a great service. I worry that Google is going to drop it -- they don't seem to have a way to make money from it. I wish they'd just start charging me.

[1] There's a bit of a trick to this. You can't forward from a number that's associated with the GV account -- you just get your voice mail interface. Since I have two GV numbers I can work around that.

Why does glitch in cities?

We've been using Navigon for iOs extensively during our latest US/Canada road trip.

It does well in rural areas, but in urban areas we've twice run into significant glitches. On two occasions, just short of a key junction, Navigon abruptly changed its recommendation.

Navigon acted as though its lost track of where we are, and it transiently thinks we've missed a turnoff. We get the recommendation for backtracking -- before we go off track.

It's like getting a message from the future; a self-fulfilling message because the updated directions make us go off-track (so causality is not violated). This can be disturbing, as when Navigon sent us for an unplanned tour of Detroit.

I assume this is a GPS satellite access problem, perhaps exacerbated by a lack of useful wifi data. I've not seen this discussed much however. I'd  like to know, for example, dedicated devices have less problems than iOS devices. Do some software packages handle this better than others? Are there ways to minimize glitches? (Example: try not to vary speed as one approaches key junctions).

I'm quite fond of my 4S/Navigon package and the car windshield mount we use, but I could do without the unexpected tours. At least I've gotten enough experience that when the GPS goes haywire I'm less prone to make a sudden, dangerous, lane change.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Using an MacBook as a car server for multi-device home sharing doesn't quite work

Home Sharing is cooler than i'd realized. Since all our family devices use one Apple Store ID [2], and all media in the home was purchased with that Apple ID [1], each of the kids can stream anything on the family Library to any of their iOS devices. So in Videos we all can see ...

Since I've been envious Charles Stross' AirStash I wondered if I could move the movies to my Air, set it up for Home Sharing, then create a computer-to-computer network for use in the car.

It almost works. I can create the network (128 bit WEP at best on my Air, I used no security) and if I force the phone into Airplane mode/wireless enabled I can connect to the media library. Connect, that is, after a long pause where I suspect something times out. After connecting I can't see anything.

Given the long time out I suspect the phone wouldn't connect because it couldn't authenticate.

So it almost works.

[1] Is this legal? I think so. Is it what media owners want? Of course not. They the five of us to have five Apple IDs, and buy "Captain America" five times -- stored only in the cloud and streamed on demand. Happily for them, very few households have managed the trick of a unified device and media library.
[2] I personally have four. How many do you have? Did you realize you can't get rid of any? That your purchases and hardware registration and email may be scattered among them and even hop around? That your Apple ID is a huge security risk? That Cook needs to demote a direct report?  

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Nexus 7 - first impressions

I bought an 8GB Nexus 7 (Asus) primarily as an eBook reader. I didn't want a Kindle because I really don't want to be locked into Amazon's DRM, and the iPad 8" is still 3 months away.

Ok, so maybe the iPad Mini is only 8 weeks away. I admit, it's not a logical purchase. It's at least a look into the Android world, and I'm sure I can find a new owner in a few months.

First impressions:

  • In packaging and in look and feel it's a poor man's iPad. Instead of Apple's compact power supply, it comes with a mini-brick.
  • It's not gorilla glass, just scratch resistant. There's no slip case in the packaging. (Given Google's negative margin on this, a slip case might bankrupt them.)
  • There's no proprietary connector of course, just a micro-USB cable. It's not obvious which way is up, Apple would have embossed the top side of the connector to make that obvious.
  • If you use two-factor authentication authentication/2-step verification things are bit kludgy.
  • If you have multiple google accounts you need to decide which one gets to be "dominant" (others are currently somewhat second class citizens). Shades of my AppleID problems. The device defaults to the Gmail account used to purchase it, which happens to be my two-factor account. I ended up going with that. That's the account that gets contacts and son on.
  • In addition to the $25 app store credit it included one non-public domain book (Bourne Dominion) and one movie (Transformers, dark of the moon). Neither to my tastes, but nice touch.
  • It includes NFC and "Android Beam"
  • There's supposed to be a dynamic range issue with the display. It's not obvious to me yet, but I haven't looked at photos. 
  • You can select wallpapers from your Picasa web albums. The bundled wallpapers are pretty blah.
  • I got an update shortly after launching. No problems.
  • It includes GPS.
  • I like the range of unlock options. I'm trying face unlock for the heck of it. Is slick.
  • It supports encryption, but it's a 1 hour optional process.
  • You can download offline voice recognition support (!)
  • Backup is to the cloud of course.
  • The gesture controls are different from iOS, but there are similarities. I like the calendar interaction.
  • Most things seem stuck in portrait mode.
  • Text entry and editing is less sophisticated than iOS. Also, it doesn't seem to remember that I've disabled acoustic feedback.
  • You can enter multiple Google accounts, each account with a credit card gets $25 on the store. I have 3 accounts of my own, but this means the device supports multiple users.
    • I'm not quite sure how account switching works. After I entered two Google accounts I can switch between them from Gmail, but not from Contacts. I think my Contacts list may be  sum of all accounts?
    • Overall account management seems to be at the app level, and it's incomplete or rocky.
  • There's a set of Google apps, like Gmail, then there's also a Mail app.
  • The UI is a bit puzzling, but I'm used to iOS/Windows/Mac. I can't say the UI is particularly bad, I'm too familiar with the alternatives.
  • I'm surprised there's no Google Drive or Google Docs apps on startup.
  • Messenger creates a G+ account whether you want to or not. I stopped halfway through. Although I never confirmed Picasa integration I think some albums were converted, the old URLs still work but generate a redirect warning. Google can be a rough companion.
  • It fits a 1 quart baggy.
  • There are no parental controls. Not a surprise.

This is a real computer, and Asus is supposed to supply a keyboard/case combination. It will be interesting how much a future version with LTE support will cost.

The Nexus 7 isn't the $125 Barbie B-Smart Netbook I predicted. For one thing it's $75 more, though it does include a battery. For another it's far better value for the dollar. 

So I guess we've made it back into the price range of the 1982 Commodore 64 (cheaper, adjusting for inflation). The price collapse in computing has arrived later than expected, but it's here.

I suspect Apple will come in at $250 for the iPad Mini, whereas a week ago I'd have said $200.

See also: