I was traveling when Apple launched the new iPhone 14 series. For once, I had no desire to upgrade from my 13 Pro — only a year old. It is a great little device and does pretty much everything I need it to do. However, being the camera nerd I am, I couldn’t resist. The new 48-megapixel camera was a tempting prospect. “48 megapixels is nuts,” tweeted Sebastiaan de With, co-creator of my favorite camera app, Halide. “It’s transformative for iPhone photography.” The pixel binning technology the new iPhone 14 uses reminds me of the pixel binning used by Leica’s new M11 cameras. So I ordered one: the Max in the new purple color.
The phone arrived this past Friday. It was the first iPhone that exclusively used eSIMs — something we started writing about at the old blog about a decade ago. (I know the eSIM-only devices made Stacey Higginbotham very happy.) And from what I had read and seen on YouTube, it seemed that switching the number to the new phone was going to be a breeze. I was about to learn, the hard way, that never believe everything you read in the reviews.
While the setting up on the phone is a breeze — I restore everything from the latest backup on the iCloud. You just type in your Apple ID and password and then let the phone set itself up in sync with the old phone. It doesn’t take that long — thanks to a very fast fiber connection from WebPass. It all went smoothly. I upgraded both devices to the latest version of iOS.
It was time to switch phone numbers. And that’s when everything went wrong. No matter what I did, the eSIM transfer didn’t work. I would initiate the transfer, follow the steps, and then nothing would happen. I tried using all the options on offer — but again, nothing.
I ended up on Verizon support, hoping it would solve the problem quickly. Well, if I could get through their convoluted voice command system. It didn’t go very smoothly. Frustrated, I ended up using Verizon’s chat service in the mobile app. This was a good move because I quickly communicated with technical support. I was lucky enough to find a highly competent, incredibly patient, and very kind technical support person.
She tried to help me as much as she could. We rebooted the phone, reset the network settings, and she sent carrier settings, QR code, and pretty much everything. Still nothing. We tried to use the second IEMI number to see if my phone would switch. Still nothing. However, during all this activity, I suddenly found that both my phones had no networks — just the SOS symbol. Oh, oh!
By then, almost three hours had passed. I was getting agitated. I needed a phone – as it is what I use to stay in touch with my parents. At the same time, I was quite sick, so I didn’t want to be without a phone. It is hard to get by these days without a phone. As the clock inched towards 9 pm, the technical support person suggested that I should go to the store in the morning and get a new SIM card at the very least to get my old phone working. It was a practical idea, but given that I was quite unwell, it felt like such a chore.
The whole experience was a very consumer-hostile experience. Despite being an early champion of eSIM and always being biased towards new technology, I felt Apple was letting me down.
I consider myself pretty adept at navigating and dealing with new technologies. I have previously set up a second line – GigSky using the eSIM option on my iPhones — for international data. I am not easily frazzled by the new. And yet there I was, completely foxed. Now imagine being an older person who is not as adept. Or being someone who stays miles from a store? Or just aren’t technically savvy? This would be an untenable situation for them. Technology is supposed to a panacea, a magic wand of convenience. As we saw in my case, it was the exact opposite. Apple, whose reputation is built on being consumer-first, is the one that carries the burden and perhaps needs to consider every outlier eventuality.
When I woke up the next morning, I decided to explore the idea of switching away from Verizon after nearly two decades. I have always bought into their marketing line — better network in more places — but they weren’t doing such a good job of rolling out their 5G network. Surveys and data showed that TMobile had the best 5G network. At least in urban areas like San Francisco. I am not sure how good they are in rural areas.
On a lark, I decided to review the options on the TMobile website. They were offering unlimited voice and data (which included international data.) It was going to cost $65 a month, exactly half of what I was paying for Verizon. And this would include taxes, scam caller protection, and they would throw in Apple TV plus. That I wouldn’t have to pay $10 a day for an international voice pass to Verizon alone was worth the price.
It seemed like a good deal. So I switched. I got two lines — I also ported my GoogleFi number to TMobile. The total cost is $90 a month, which is significantly cheaper than my total outlay before the switch. So how long did the whole switch take? Less than 45 minutes. I switched to my old iPhone 13 Pro, mostly because I wanted to see how long it would take to switch lines to the new iPhone 14 Pro Max. Switching both lines to the new phone took less than a minute. This is how Apple had intended the eSIM experience would be.
The problem is clearly with Verizon. And they proved to be the case. A public relations executive wrote to me, offering help and clarifications.
“I spent a good chunk of the day trying to figure out what went wrong, hence the delay in responding. And the one good thing that came out of all this was that your escalation helped identify a provisioning anomaly which affected a small number of customer activations. We quickly pinpointed and resolved the issue. That explains why no one in customer service was able to figure out the issue and, sadly, sent you to a store to get it fixed.”
Bob Lefsetz, who is one of my favorite writers, got in touch, and he was facing the same problems as I was experiencing. And I looked on Twitter. There were others who had run into this problem. I wrote back to Bob, who shared my response in his email newsletter.
I can tell that ‘this’eSIM bug” is a much bigger problem than we are being told. How big a problem? We will never know.
I still used a normal flip phone when I signed up for Verizon. I used AT&T when iPhone was launched in 2007, and eventually, when Verizon got the iPhone, I canceled my AT&T line and ported my New York number back to Verizon. At that time, the premium was worth it — they had a reliable network, fewer dropped calls and decent 3g coverage. Despite all that, I am not sure I have ever had a pleasant experience interacting with the company.
Verizon, as a carrier, is so different from the rest that they have always made the customers jump through the hoops when it comes to provisioning new devices or just making simple changes. As a service, they really nickel and dime their customers.
I am quite prepared that my TMobile service is going to suck in places. I am willing to find out. It is ironic — I got my phone number back in the day when TMobile was called Voicestream.
October 5, 2022. San Francisco