At Home with Tech

Don’t let your gadgets kill your Zen. Byte back with your inner geek!

Struggling to Pre-order the iPhone 6 Plus

Say hello to my little friend.  Well, he’s actually kind of a plus size.  Wait a minute!  Is that a piece of paper taped to cardboard?!  The more important question is whether I’ve been able to successfully pre-order a real iPhone 6 Plus…

Say hello to my little friend. Well, he’s actually kind of a plus size. Wait a minute! Is that a piece of paper taped to cardboard?! The more important question is whether I’ve been able to successfully pre-order a real iPhone 6 Plus…

When Apple CEO Tim Cook finally verified the existence of the next iPhone last week, I decided to take a little overnight expedition.

A journey of simultaneous necessity and absurdity…

Yes, it’s another trip down the tech rabbit hole, and it began exactly at 3:00am, EDT this past Friday.
The very moment the new iPhone 6 was supposed to become available for preorders online.
(and a full week before it hits stores)

Yes, I had become one of ‘them…’

Am I a crazy devotee who waits on line for hours or days to be one of the first to own the next Apple device?

  • No, I hate lines.

Had I somehow leapfrogged ahead in my tech-ownership rules of engagement and become a cool early adopter?

  • No, I still stand by my standard position to let everyone else work all the kinks out of a new tech product.

Had some smarter life force taken over my brain to simplify my life?

  • Quite possibly.

I Can See the Future
Yes, I would attempt to pre-order an iPhone 6 moments after its release online in the wee hours of the morning. As unnecessary as that sounds, I decided my fanatic decision would also create a cascading sense of well being in my life…

  • It would free me from the need to methodically research whether the next iPhone was any good.
    (I think we all know what we’re getting by now…)
  • And then I won’t be disappointed when the first batch of iPhones quickly sells out.
  • I won’t have to worry about when stores finally restock them…
  • And get angry when it’s still months later until I finally acquire one…
  • And I won’t get all worked up when some of my friends claim to have simply walked into an empty AT&T or Verizon store and picked up their new iPhone like it was a loaf of bread.

All this future heartache is avoidable if I just do the overnight Apple dance and have my shiny new iPhone shipped to my home.
(A more civilized next-morning online purchase plan with a cup of Joe might be too late, resulting in a multi-week shipping delay.)

The Best-Laid Plans…
Truthfully though, who in his right mind really wants to get up at 3am to buy anything?
(even to replace my old iPhone 4S)

But I convinced myself I would also be able to go back to sleep within mere minutes of beginning my overnight mission. I would salvage my remaining R.E.M. sleep and wake up the next morning the proud owner of the next iPhone…

What could possibly go wrong…?

Supersize It?
So like the rest of you Apple die-hards, I’ve been struggling with the new ‘Plus’ choice.

I really like the larger screen size of the iPhone 6 Plus, but the big question is will it fit into my trouser pocket?!

Fortunately, after some quick Googling, I uncovered a useful ‘pre-order picker’ PDF that has posted online. It’s a helpful, printable diagram with accurately sized outlines of an iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

So I printed the PDF, cut out the iPhone 6 Plus and traced it onto a piece of cardboard from a recent Amazon shipment box…

My four year old watched this activity with great interest… Then, he immediately initiated his own project with the remaining iPhone 6 outline.
(Like father, like son… I’m so proud!)

I taped the pieces together and placed my new cardboard iPhone 6 Plus into my pocket.

And then I went to work…

Will the iPhone 6 Plus Fit in Your Pocket?
I carried the cardboard cutout around with me all day.

I took out my paper clone every so often and held it in my hand. Then, I slid it back in to see if it would fall out of my pocket.
Granted, my mock-up was a little thinner and lighter than the real deal, but it wasn’t a bad approximation.

Occasionally, I was in the presence of other colleagues when going through my little exercise.

“What’s that?”

“Oh, this is the size of the iPhone 6 Plus, and I’m testing it out before I decide to buy one.”

“Uh huh.”

If there were two or more people watching me, they’d glance at each other knowingly and roll their eyes.

But then I’d ask, “Do you want to try it?”

And after a short pause, everyone jumped at the opportunity.
Because we were still a week away before anyone could test out a real one in an Apple Store.
(So I had something of an exclusive!)

Everybody took a turn holding my cardboard iPhone 6 Plus.
And then, all my new test subjects quickly had an opinion to share on its larger size.
(It was quite a conversation starter!)

So maybe I’m not such a geek after all.

My informal work survey split about 50/50 on whether the iPhone ‘phablet’ was too big.

But when I got home, I had my decision: I was confident the iPhone 6 Plus would fit into the many pockets of my life!

All that was left to do was to set my alarm clock…


It’s Time to Wake Up!
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with an early wakeup call…
(And midnight really isn’t that late if you happen to be on the West Coast…)

Here’s how it all went down…

3:00am EDT
I jump onto the online Apple Store.
I immediately sense I’m on an endless line.
I read, “We’ll be back…
We’re busy updating the Apple Store for you and will be back soon.”

We'll be back

This continues for the next hour and five minutes.

I decide to check out AT&T’s website.
Yep, it’s selling the iPhone 6, but the small print talks about 14-21 business day shipping. As I ponder the delay, the website crashes (3:44am) and then reboots a few minutes later with “coming soon” next to Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
(easy come… easy go)

ATT is Sorry

I figure I should try calling 1-800-My-Apple. I had nothing else better to do… (except get more sleep!)
I hear, “Due to extremely high call volume, we are unable to answer your call at this time…”
(What am I thinking?! The delirium must be setting in.)

So I wait some more while the Apple Store continues to ‘update.’
Apparently, I am not alone…

I come across a suggestion on CNET to try the Apple Store IOS app.
(It was reportedly standing up better to the online stampede of iPhone buyers.

So I give the app a whirl on my 4S.

Cannot Connect to the Apple Store

But on the second attempt, I’m in!

I feel like I’m starring in a scene from “Mission Impossible!”
Peppy music starts playing in my head as I whisk through each order screen.

But then something unexpected happens.
No, the app doesn’t freeze, but the final ‘Order’ button is grayed out.

A message pops up that suggests there’s been a minor hiccup…

My new iPhone has been reserved, complete with my own reservation number…
…but the order can’t be completed….
…because the Apple servers can’t reach the AT&T servers to confirm my details.


I would receive an email link to complete my order, and I would have to respond to the link within 24 hours or lose my place in line.

We have an iPhone for you

By now, it’s almost 4:30am.
I don’t know whether I should feel satisfied or not.
So I go to bed.

Morning Brings Clarity
When I wake up, I take a look at my inbox and see a confirming Apple email with my reservation number.
(Well, at least I’ve got a digital paper trail.)

I guess the real question now is whether I will receive my iPhone in the first wave of happy recipients, who were lucky enough to complete their order in the first minutes of the release.

Next, I go to see if the online Apple Store is still down.
No… in fact, it’s chugging away… just like any other day.
So I perform a few clicks…

And in less than 60 seconds, I‘m where I had hoped to be at 3:02am.

And I think hard about discarding my reservation and striking while the opportunity is right in front of me. Until I realize it’s all too good to be true…
The shipping date has already slipped to 3-4 weeks.

So I let the reservation ride…

Apple Comes Through
I go to work the next morning pondering the intelligence of my entire plan.
Plus I’ve got a headache from the night’s sleep-deprivation…

The email comes in with the link to complete my purchase.
My heart rate elevates as I quickly navigate to the finish line.


And what will my wait be until I am to receive “my precious?”
I squint at the fine print…
“Available to ship: 7-10 business days”

Well, that’s doesn’t put the iPhone in my hands on the first day it hits retail Apple Stores, but it’s close.

And more importantly… I’m done!

Apple says thank you

Yes, there’s still the little detail of receiving and activating my new iPhone 6 Plus. But let’s assume that goes smoothly.
(If not, I’m sure you’ll hear about it…)

iPhone or Bust
So what’s the learning here?

No, I wouldn’t consider my iPhone purchasing experience especially quick or smooth.
On the other hand, yes, I successfully bought my iPhone on day one.
And all my waiting did occur in the comfort of my own home.

And now I can’t help but feel a little Schadenfreude as I read that
pre-orders for the iPhone 6 Plus are having ever growing shipping delays.

I guess all my effort paid off after all.
Soon, I will be at home with my new iPhone.
(Cue some Tech Zen music.)

Now, it’s time to catch up on some sleep…!

How to Boost Your Smartphone’s Signal Strength

Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean your smartphone is.  And even though you’re trying to get away from it all, you probably still want to receive that important phone call…

Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean your smartphone is. And even though you’re trying to get away from it all, you probably still want to receive that important phone call…

This past week, I’ve been adjusting to the sad reality that summer is behind us. All that’s left are the fun memories, a thousand photos that need organizing and a few cautionary tech tales.

Like what to do when you find yourself more disconnected than you originally planned…
(Cue “The Twilight Zone” music…)

Losing It at the Log Cabin
It was billed as the perfect vacation getaway…

  • A road trip up to the Berkshires
  • A little log cabin in the woods (with ‘most’ of the comforts of home)
  • A babbling brook nearby (okay… it was more like a roaring river)
  • Time set aside for a little R&R at a little lake in Great Barrington, MA

It was supposed to be perfect.

Until I asked the day before we left if there was decent cell phone coverage at the house.
(Granted, it was a little late in the game to be asking.)

The response:
“You can probably get one or two bars on the back deck.”

That sounded decidedly like code for a different answer…

When we arrived, I whipped out my iPhone and discovered the truth.
There wasn’t a morsel of a signal bar on my phone as I walked around the entire house, grounds and deck.

I was cut off!!

…and I started to panic.
Think. Think. THINK!…

I spotted the broadband modem in the kitchen.
We were not entirely in the digital dark!

Skype to the Rescue?
Yes, at least there was Wi-Fi in the house.

So, we got the modem working,
(First, we needed to reboot the frozen box, downed by a recent power outage.)

I immediately tested my Skype app.

So now people could Skype me, but I was still concerned I couldn’t receive an old-fashioned phone call.

The irony here is I had forgotten all about my online Skype number for my iPhone’s Skype app.
I was so proud to acquire it a couple years back, but the reality is I’ve rarely used it.

That would have solved the problem, as long as I stayed on my Wi-Fi tether.
(and if all my friends and family actually knew about my Skype number…)

Waiting for the Phone to Ring
So I kept searching for a solution to ‘MacGyver’ my phone to somehow access incoming calls to my mobile number.
(I could still receive texts via the Wi-Fi network.)

But if someone called me,
(like my 81-year-old father)
I really wanted to be able to pick up the call.

After a little Googling, I discovered the truth is out there.
You can actually create a few bars for your mobile phone using your Wi-Fi network.
But pulling the trigger on the solution would have to wait until I returned from my trip.

How to Generate Signal Strength
It’s called the AT&T MicroCell, and this little device acts like a mini cellular tower.
You simply plug it into a broadband modem via an Ethernet port and voila…!
You’ve got your very own cell bubble to use!!
(You do have to set it up first online, and you can register up to fifteen different AT&T Wireless cell phones.)

And how much for this slice of magic?
(Available at your local AT&T store… I couldn’t find it online.)


You can take the MicroCell with you wherever you go as long as you plug it into a broadband DSL or cable network and update your location change online.
(and as long as it’s within an AT&T wireless authorized service area)

And if you’re wondering, …
Yes, Verizon offers a similar product with its “Wireless Network Extender.”

Don’t Get Cut Off on Vacation
No, this isn’t a cheap solution, and I think the MicroCell probably is purchasd more to solve signal strength problems at home. But it certainly would have done the trick at our log cabin in the digital wilderness.

I’m not sure how many of you would want to pack a MicroCell with your socks every time you head out on vacation, but if you plan on receiving calls on your smartphone using your regular mobile number, you might need it!

SnapFix Promises to Do All Your Dirty Work

Do you need to do some repairs around your house?  Angie’s List can make the process easier, and its mobile app SnapFix can find a service provider for your job, complete with cost estimate.  All you’ve got to do is sign on the dotted line.  But that last step may be harder than you’d think…

Do you need to do some repairs around your house? Angie’s List can make the process easier, and its mobile app SnapFix can find a service provider for your job, complete with cost estimate. All you’ve got to do is sign on the dotted line. But that last step may be harder than you’d think…

Lately, I’ve been spending some time on Angie’s List, the consumer review site, to try to get some maintenance done around the house.

The idea of finding a highly rated, local carpenter or plumber via one website is really appealing. Sure, there’s a subscription fee of $10/year, but if that is what it takes to access valuable crowd-sourced opinions, I’ll gladly contribute an Alexander Hamilton.

SnapFix to the Rescue?
Last month, Angie’s List let me know about their new mobile app, SnapFix.
(Because every company needs an app, right?)

SnapFix is designed to uber-simplify the entire process of hiring a local service provider.

  • First you open up the app on your smartphone and log in as an Angie’s List member
  • Then, you take a picture (or video) of the work that needs to be done
    (while still in the app)
  • Write a short description of the job
  • Provide three convenient service times
  • And you’re done!

SnapFix does the rest of the work for you…

  • Angie’s List finds a highly rated service provider
  • A concierge team representative is assigned to your job
  • The representative texts with you via the app
  • And provides you with the company info and a cost estimate

How easy is that?

Well, frankly… it was a little too easy.

Not Enough Room for the Details
I had some follow-up questions regarding how the service provider was going to do the job, and my representative shared a somewhat generic response from the company. It pointed to the likely reality that a technician would figure things out when he got to my house…

Then, there was the cost estimate… it had a pretty wide range.

And that pointed to the real problem here.
The ‘bidding’ company was partially blind, because all the service provider had to work with was one picture and my written description.
(I later wanted to send additional photos and a video, but the app didn’t seem to allow for that.)

And I was also kind of in the dark, because I couldn’t talk to the company directly.

A Leap of Faith
All that was really in front of me was a big button on the app to click and accept the proposal.

It really was such a snap.
But I just couldn’t pull the trigger.

What made this app so wonderfully easy to use was exactly the problem that was preventing me from doing the job… So much of the human element had been stripped away, I felt too disconnected.

I didn’t trust that the work would be done properly for the right price, because I had zero connection to the service provider.

So I sat there and stared at the app.
And then I closed it.

My concierge texted me if there was anything else I wanted to know.
(That’s a pleasantry for “Why are you stalling?”)

A week later, I received an emailed satisfaction survey from Angie’s List.
What could I say?

SnapFix did everything it promised.

But I just couldn’t move forward with the job…

My Lack of Commitment
Relationship building takes time.
And that key ingredient shouldn’t be entirely extracted out of the equation with a convenient app designed to do all the heavy lifting for you…

It doesn’t satisfy my need to develop some level of trust before letting someone through the front door.

I think Angie’s List is great, because its crowd-sourced opinions can narrow down the field significantly.

But at the end of the day, don’t you also want to talk with someone or look him in the eye… before signing on the dotted line in a convenient… but cold and silent app?

Sure, you’ve got a ‘concierge’ on your side, but when there’s dirty work to be done, you’ve probably got to roll up your sleeves a little bit too.

Otherwise, the destiny of the ‘job’ is in someone else’s hands…


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