Image: Text message from Apple and AT&T
Suzanne Choney
Starting last Friday, a free text message from Apple and AT&T was sent to customers with the iPhone 3G to let them know about a software update that may help with 3G reception issues.
updated 8/25/2008 11:21:44 AM ET 2008-08-25T15:21:44

Owners of Apple’s iPhone 3G began receiving text messages Friday from Apple and AT&T telling them to upgrade their phone’s software to deal with “bug fixes” for the new device.

Some owners of the phone, which went on sale July 11, have complained about problems with dropped calls and poor reception, and said the phone’s 3G, or third-generation wireless, network is not working as fast as was promised.

Apple issued a 2.0.2 iPhone software “update” Aug. 18 to deal with what it only describes as “bug fixes” with the new device. To get the update, customers need to sync their iPhones with Apple’s iTunes program on their computers.

Smartphones like the iPhone are mini-computers themselves, and require similar extra care and feeding than a regular cell phone.

And because smartphones, which handle e-mail, Web surfing and software programs, are relatively new to many users, they’re not in the habit of backing up the phones’ data to their computers, or going to their computers on a regular basis to check for software updates to the phone.

Last Wednesday, I suggested in this space that because of those factors, two of America’s gynormous companies should let the million-plus owners of the new iPhone know about the software update by texting customers, especially since the companies certainly know how to reach them all. AT&T is the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the United States.

I had heard about the software update by checking Web message boards, something I have more time to do than most folks because of what I do.

I sync my iPhone with Apple’s iTunes software on the computer on a regular basis, but the last time I did so was three days before the update was issued. If I hadn’t heard about the update via the Web world, I wouldn’t have known about it.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said that the free text message “went out on Friday,” to let customers know to “sync their phones to iTunes so they can get the software update Apple issued last Monday.”

I received the text message on Saturday, but heard from others who got it on Friday.

Can we expect the same notification to happen the next time such an update is available?

Siegel said he doesn’t know.

“I just can’t speculate on what we might do in the future,” he said.

'Really glad I got the text'
As of Monday morning, Apple had not responded to questions about the text message, which said: “A free message from Apple and AT&T: An important software update for iPhone 3G has been available on iTunes since this past Monday. To get it, simply synch your iPhone 3G with iTunes and click the ‘Check For Update’ button.”

“I’m really glad I got the text, and I hope Apple and AT&T make this a standard way to notify people of software upgrades. It’s efficient and unobtrusive,” said Holly Birge, an iPhone 3G owner who lives in Seattle.

Birge said she hadn’t synced her phone since “some time in July. I just don’t need to. If I want an App (an iPhone application), I use the App Store on my phone. I have MobileMe (Apple’s Web-based program) for e-mail and contacts, so that syncs automatically. And I have a separate iPod, so I don’t keep any music other than ringtones on my iPhone.”

It’s still not known whether this “bug fix,” as it’s described by Apple, will indeed fix the problems reported by some iPhone 3G users.

Bill Levin of Portland, Ore., whose family owns two iPhone 3Gs and an original iPhone, said "the reception and band switching issues may be slightly improved" with the new software.

"That feeling comes from my observation of the increased number of bars indicated while in parts of my house that previously had little or no indicated reception," he said.

Levin said he "was pleased to get the text message regarding the update. Failure to communicate with your customers is unacceptable," he added. "The bugs were not unexpected and are obviously being addressed, but Apple and AT&T must improve their communication with their customers. I hope this first joint text notification is the beginning of a trend to make customers feel more like loyal customers instead of only being tied by contract."

Apple saying little
Last Tuesday, Apple told The Associated Press that the software update provides “improved communication with 3G networks,” but said little else.

Apple has not commented on news reports that said part of the speed and reception problem could be from the phone’s chip, made by Infineon, a German company. An Infineon spokesman declined comment to a Reuters reporter, but did say that Infineon has provided 3G chipsets to other phone manufacturers and there have not been any snags.

Last week, an Alabama woman, Jessica Alena Smith, filed suit in federal court against Apple, contending the company’s “Twice as fast. Half the price.” advertising campaign is misleading, and that she has been able to get 3G service less than 25 percent of the time, and is routinely experiencing dropped calls.

In the meantime, Apple and AT&T, I hope you’ll continue to keep users in the loop by communicating with them. The free text message was a good start. Thank you for doing it.

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