Saturday, 23 August 2008

Groucho wouldn't buy an iPhone

iPhone Credit: Apple ComputerIt appears I am more rational than my fellow Singaporeans. We are at Day-2 of iPhone availability from SingTel and I'm thinking it's not a club I want to join.

The latest e-mail from SingTel avoided previous faux pas and was text, not an enormous graphic. It was also spam trapped so I didn't even see it for 24 hours. It briefly describes the pricing plans and tariffs that we already know and invites me to book an appointment. This morning, SingTel's website carries the following advice:

Please come on and not before your allocated time. You must have an appointment to pick up your iPhone 3G. Only people with appointments will be able to collect an iPhone. You must be the account holder to collect your iPhone. Please bring with you your ID and your confirmation receipts/emails. Please be prepared for a 2 to 4 hour wait.

So let me get this straight. I have to book an appointment, and I must keep the appointment, but then SingTel will keep me waiting for 2 - 4 hours? At least the queue seems to be real customers. The Polish iPhone launch by Orange has been caught out hiring actors to create fake queues in front of 20 stores to generate a marketing buzz. At least in Singapore, the queue seemed to be genuine with the first buyer waiting 24 hours in line in the tent erected in front of CommCenter.

What continues to puzzle me is the ridiculously low data caps. It's a "3G" iPhone. Its main claim to fame is the increased speed of data download, otherwise it's essentially the same as the 2G (Ok, they did add GPS). If I chose the basic iFlexi tariff, I get 1GB of bundled data. SingTel don't give the overage charge on their website, so I called Customer Services on 1626 and after a hugely irritating message about iPhone delays, repeated in Mandarin, and 3 voice prompts later, I was queued then quickly talking to an efficient and well spoken Indian man.

The overage charge (the amount I pay for data beyond the 1GB) is 0.5 cents per kilo byte. So if I use 2GB of data in a month, I have to pay for the extra 1GB: (0.005 * 1024 * 1024 ) = S$5,242 (£2,011). It's no wonder there is already an online petition about the niggardly data caps.

To his credit, the CSO pointed that for "people who want to use a lot of data", they are better off choosing one of the normal SingTel tariffs and adding a 50GB mobile data plan on (on offer for 30% off). Funny, they don't mention that in the FAQ.

Just wait until you see the fine print. Calling Line Id is free (footnote: for 3 months only). Auto roaming is free (footnote: for 3 months only). Voice mail is free (footnote: for 12 months only). Incoming calls are free (footnote: until Dec 2010 only). Am I the only one who thinks this is borderline bait'n'switch?

You may be wondering are there any phones out there as good as the iPhone? The Samsung Omnia i900 is often mentioned. I tried one at the CommunicAsia show a few months back. Don't bother, it's rubbish. Sure it looks nice but it runs on Windows Mobile with some custom applications so it's schizophrenic, switching between an iPhone-esque touch interface and the underlying Windows madness. I was left dazed after trying to use it for 5 minutes.

I guess my problem is that I don't do Hype. The iPhone is nice and I'm willing to pay for one, but I hate the bullying marketing antics of mobile operators, the oppressive lock in contracts and the scary small print. I reckon StarHub and M1 will have better data tariffs later this year. And perhaps the final realisation is that I no longer want to be associated with the people who are buying iPhones. Groucho Marx would understand.


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