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Questions About Apple’s iPhone

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

This week, I was swamped with questions about Apple’s hot new iPhone, so this is a special all-iPhone edition of Mossberg’s Mailbox.


Can you physically remove the included AT&T SIM card from the iPhone and replace it with another AT&T card or one from another wireless carrier?

Yes, and no. The SIM card, which carries the iPhone’s account information, can be removed by inserting a paper clip into a tiny hole at the top of the phone. However, Apple says that if you replace the included card with one from another carrier, like T-Mobile in the U.S., or Orange in Europe, the phone won’t work. According to Apple, some non-iPhone AT&T cards may work, but some may not.

iPhone

It’s possible that hackers will figure out a way to override this lock on other carriers’ SIM cards. But, as of now, the iPhone will work only with AT&T. Even overseas, at least until Apple does deals with foreign partners, you won’t be able to use SIM cards from other carriers. The iPhone will work overseas, but you will have to roam with AT&T and pay high charges. For instance, according to an AT&T spokesman, if you make a call in Europe, it would cost $1.29 a minute. It would cost 99 cents a minute if you are on one of AT&T’s $5.99 per month international plans.

Since the iPhone battery is sealed in and can’t be easily replaced by the user, what happens when it dies? Will you have to buy a new iPhone?

No, but you will have to send the phone to Apple, or drop it off at an Apple store, to have the battery replaced. The battery is covered during the phone’s one-year warranty period. After that, replacing the battery costs $79, plus $6.95 for shipping, and takes three business days. Details are at apple.com/support/iphone/service/battery/. Some small companies may eventually offer to do this for less, or in less time, as they have for the iPod.

One twist: because a phone is a necessity, Apple is offering loaner iPhones for $29 while your phone’s battery is being replaced, or for the period of any other repair on the iPhone. You will have to switch the AT&T SIM card from your own phone to the loaner, and then back again. Details are at apple.com/support/iphone/service/faq.

In addition, Apple warns that all the data on your iPhone will be wiped out during a battery replacement, but notes that it can easily be restored by simply syncing again with the iTunes software on your computer once you get it back with a fresh battery. That’s because, whenever you sync your iPhone with iTunes, it backs up the data on the phone. You can also use this method to fill your loaner iPhone with your own data.

Can I use the iPhone via a Bluetooth wireless connection in my car? Can I use Bluetooth to transfer files or other information between the iPhone and a computer?

In my two-week test of the iPhone, I succeeded in connecting it without much trouble to the built-in audio system and microphone on a friend’s BMW. Almost instantly, the over 700 contacts I had on my test iPhone were displayed on the car’s dashboard screen and calls could be made and received through the iPhone.

However, this first iPhone can use Bluetooth to connect only with cars and with wireless phone headsets. It cannot use Bluetooth to transfer any data to or from a computer, to play music through stereo wireless headsets, or for any other purpose. As with many other missing features, Apple has the ability to add these to the iPhone through software updates delivered by synchronizing with your computer.

If the iPhone’s Web browser is so good, why can’t it play video on Web sites I visit?

At launch, the iPhone version of the Safari browser is missing some plug-ins needed for playing common types of Web videos. The most important of these is the plug-in for Adobe’s Flash technology. Apple says it plans to add that plug-in through an early software update, which I am guessing will occur within the next couple of months. However, a separate program included on the iPhone can play a limited selection of videos from YouTube, and the phone can play videos you purchase from Apple’s iTunes store, and certain videos you create yourself.

You have been critical in the past of some smartphones that don’t allow you to delete emails with a single click. Can the iPhone do this?

Yes. If you are reading an email and want to delete it, you just tap on a trash can icon at the bottom of the screen and the message disappears into the trash can with an animation that resembles water being poured through a funnel.

However, in the iPhone email program’s list view, it takes two steps to delete an email. You have to swipe across the message header or preview with your finger, and then tap the red delete button that appears. You can also press an “Edit” button, which allows you to delete emails in the list view, but this still requires two taps per message.

Unlike on a BlackBerry or Treo, the iPhone doesn’t allow you to delete whole groups of email en masse by date, or even to select large groups and then delete them en masse. This would be a good feature for Apple to add down the line.

Can you buy an iPhone and just use it to play music and videos like an iPod, and to surf the Web or get email over Wi-Fi, without signing up for an AT&T service contract?

No. None of the iPhone’s functions, except calling 911, will work unless the phone is covered by a two-year AT&T service contract, and has been “activated” by AT&T. That will cost you $60 a month at a minimum. If you are thinking of buying an iPhone, you should plan on being an AT&T customer, and if AT&T coverage is poor where you live, work and travel frequently, I advise you NOT to buy an iPhone.

You and many others have criticized AT&T’s EDGE data network, which the iPhone uses, as slow. You have noted that AT&T has a much faster data network. Can the iPhone be upgraded to use that faster network?

No, it can’t. This first edition of the iPhone can’t use any cellular network faster than EDGE, which is much, much slower than the fastest cellphone data networks available from AT&T, Verizon or Sprint. It can, however, use very fast Wi-Fi wireless networks, when you are in range of them.

Apple hasn’t said anything about future iPhone models, but I fully expect a future model that can use these faster cellular networks, which are usually called 3G networks. So, if this is very important to you, I’d suggest waiting to see if such an iPhone emerges. But I don’t expect this to happen anytime soon.

In the past few days, AT&T seems to have tweaked its EDGE network, at least in some locations, so it runs faster than it has in the past. In my own speed tests, around Washington, D.C., I have seen repeated speeds of around 150 kilobits per second, roughly 50% better than the 100 kbps I have seen with EDGE in the past. However, I have also recorded speeds as slow as 82 kbps. And, even the new, faster speeds are way below those of the faster American cellular data networks, which can easily reach 500 to 800 kbps on a phone.

How good is the iPhone’s To-Do list or Task function?

Awful — in the sense that it doesn’t exist. The phone does have a calendar, of course, which syncs with the most popular calendar programs on Windows and Macintosh computers. And it has a Notepad, which doesn’t sync with any program on any computer (though you can email notes to yourself and others). But it has no To-Do list function at all.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com


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