Last Friday, people all over the world joined in and queued up to buy Apple’s latest iPhone – the iPhone 5– which is actually the sixth iPhone, and is a bit bigger than the iPhone 4 and has a different shaped connector. At the central London Apple store alone, a total of 1,297 people were queuing as the doors opened at 8.01am. This beats the previous record, also set by Apple, with the iPhone 4S in October 2011, when 778 people were queuing as the doors opened. (This was repeated everywhere. As many as 1,000 people were waiting outside the Apple Store at Bluewater in Kent, some having arrived at 2am to create “the biggest queue ever seen there”.) You get the picture. Despite costing hundreds of pounds, many, many people – men, mostly – felt compelled to queue up to buy one, even though it would be financially prudent to wait a few days and get a better deal. It’s not about that, though, is it?

Also on Friday, as luck or a compelling narrative would have it, I also picked up my first smartphone. Typically for me, it is a 3G phone, and one that’s three models out of date even in its own manufacturer’s range, which is not Apple. That’s because I aim to stay at least 2G behind the technological curve. This way, I can avoid paying £30 or thereabouts per month for the privilege of having a phone people will queue up to own. Nobody is queuing up to buy the Samsung Galaxy Ace. They might be prepared to wait for up to 5 minutes in a phoneshop to buy the Samsung Galaxy S III, but not the Ace I, which was unleashed onto the smartphone marketplace in February 2011 and has since been superseded by the Galaxy Ace II in any case. But the original Samsung Galaxy Ace is the one I have gone for, as I got a really good deal on it, and you pay £5 a month more for the Ace II, for the privilege of watching iPlayer, which I seriously do not intend to do on my first smartphone.

I have, as regular readers will know, resisted and resisted buying a smartphone. Chiefly because I really didn’t want to become one of those people who plays with their smartphone, on trains, while walking along, at dinner parties. And yet, because I only took delivery of it on Friday, and only took it out into the world for the first time a couple of days ago, I am now, ironically, spending all my time fiddling with it.

The reason I am fiddling with it is that the instruction booklet for the Samsung Galaxy Ace is about two pages long, and the size of a bus ticket. It pretty much tells you how to turn it on and off, and pop the memory card into a slot. So, like someone’s granddad, I’m having to learn how to operate it by trial and error. Plenty of error. On Monday, I left my first message for someone and literally couldn’t work out how to end the call. I didn’t even know I hadn’t ended it until I dialed another number and wasn’t able to connect, because I was still connected. I basically left a message followed by a couple of minutes of atmos, like someone’s granddad. (Funnily enough, my parents, who are also grandparents, recently acquired an iPad, and they seem pretty cool with it. Better than me, at any rate.)

Here is why I took the telecommunications plunge and put my days of carrying a cheap Samsung 2G phone that doesn’t even have a camera [pictured, above] behind me: I went to Edinburgh for the Television Festival and for those pretty intense three working days, for much of which I was out, on my feet, in venues and green rooms and bars, it became blindingly obvious that I could no longer expect to be taken seriously, on a professional level, if I couldn’t check my emails on the hoof. (I have grown used to the fact that, in order to check my emails, I need to have my laptop open, which restricts me to when I’m on the train, or at a desk, or in a coffee shop.) So I caved. So many of the emails I get back say, “Sent from my iPhone,” or “Sent from my BlackBerry,” it’s clear that other media professionals are checking them while on the move, and I’m afraid the smartphone revolution, which happened about five years ago, has finally overtaken my Luddism.

So, as is my way, I spent weeks poring over every deal going until I was finally satisfied that I’d found the best deal within my budget, and the best phone for my needs. I consulted the Twitterhive, which is what I call the “hive mind” of my collective followers, and fielded some positive noises about the Galaxy Ace, and felt that it might be the entry-level 3G phone for me. Although I had decided to buy online, I ventured into a Three Mobile shop in South West London to see if I could play with a phone. I must admit, I always feel old and in the way in phoneshops. Maybe it’s the way they are always laid out, and the way that the young assistants skulk at the back, if you can find a young assistant at all, but I always feel as if I smell of victimhood when I cross their thresholds. As it happened, a really nice, helpful, seemingly sympathetic young woman in Three came to my aid, and explained, as if to an imbecile, that the phones were arranged around the walls, left to right, in ascending order of price. She pulled up a Galaxy Ace I and a Galaxy Ace II and let me play with them. I found both to be light and easy to use, even for an inexperienced screen-swiper like me. She didn’t try to push me into buying anything more expensive, and didn’t even try to tempt me into the Ace II. I told her that it was my first 3G phone, and she didn’t laugh in my face.

Interestingly, having discovered from the Twitterhive that the Ace II accepts Flash and thus supports iPlayer, for instance, which is one of the big drawbacks of the Ace I, I asked the young assistant to confirm this. She didn’t know about it, but confirmed it by trying to download Flash on the Ace I and being told by the phone that she couldn’t. (I had already decided to go for the Ace I at this point, but was glad to expand her knowledge of the phone.)

I had no intention of buying the phone from her, so felt a little dishonest when I left the shop, but I was signing up with Three, so the company was still getting my custom, even if this young woman would not be getting the commission.

I appreciated her help even more a week later when, having taken delivery of my phone, I went back into the same branch to ask for technical help – I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to export all the contacts on my old SIM to my new phone. This time I was accosted by a young male assistant, who conformed to the stereotype of the phoneshop employee: cocky, confident, fast-talking. He definitely thought I was an idiot when I showed him my two phones, and, without listening to my query properly told me, with great amusement, that I could not transfer contacts from a 2G phone to a 3G. I didn’t believe him, and pressed the issue. I cannot lie, I hate young people when they are like this: all talking, no listening. He eventually – grudgingly, I thought, even though I was a Three customer now – took the SIM cards out of the two handsets and, using a magical device, copied all the contacts from one to the other. In other words: if he’d actually listened to my very clear request, he’d have known that he could do what I wanted to do.

Once the old contacts showed up on the Galaxy’s screen, I was delighted, and called the young man “a genius”, which was meant as a compliment. But I could tell that he already thought he was one, even though that genius does not extend to listening. I was glad to be out of there, and vowed to avoid going into a Three shop again, if possible.

A day later, I went into a Carphone Warehouse to purchase a dedicated case for my new Samsung, as I have previous in terms of smashing screens. I found one and took it to the counter. It cost about £12, so nobody was going to get rich from this purchase, but I didn’t expect to be treated like an irritant for wishing to buy it. This time, a young woman intercepted me at the till. Unlike the young man in Three, she was not hyperactive and full of herself; she conformed to a different stereotype, the kind of young person for whom everything is an effort. She told me that the credit card reader wasn’t working and asked if I had the cash. I did not. She went to another till at the back of the shop and shouted me over. I went over. She scanned the case and rang it up. Then she asked for my surname. I told her, politely, that I didn’t need to give her my surname in order to buy a £12 accessory. She insisted that it’s what the till was telling her. She went out the back and found a superior, who was also a young man. He looked at the till and could not make the till stop asking for my details. So I left the case on the counter and left the shop.

Needless to say, I bought the case on Amazon and denied Carphone Warehouse a sale. It arrived two days later. Phoneshops can be pretty horrible places, or at least, they can be if you are not young, and therefore don’t count. I continue to applaud the young woman in the first Three shop, as my other encounters with phoneshop assistants has been pretty unimpressive.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the phone, if finding the onscreen keypad difficult to use, and I’m still unable to get it to accept the correct details for my Plusnet email account, which I’d persevere with if the onscreen keypad wasn’t such a fiddle, and if everything I’ve already typed in could be saved so I didn’t have to keep typing it in. I think I have crossed some kind of rubicon in my life, whereby I am now old. In many ways, I prefer it here. There is less to prove.

Oh, and as a postscript: apparently Carphone Warehouse are in some kind of financial trouble and have had to lay off hundreds of staff. I feel bad for anybody who loses their job – plus, I guess it would be demotivating to work for a company that’s losing business – but maybe if the company made it easier for customers to buy things in their shops, and trained its staff to treat customers with a bit of respect and patience (there was no apology when I was told that the card reader was not working, for instance, and little eye contact at any stage), it would not be in so much financial trouble? Just a thought.


14 thoughts on “Phonestrop

  1. I empathise with many of your experiences, Andrew (for example, I’ve just had to re-type your name due to my fat finger/touchscreen keyboard issue, and this on an iPad). BUT I would like to put a word in for the Carphone Warehouse staff in the branch I frequent, in Glasgow. I find them unfailingly polite, helpful, enthusiastic and non-judgemental.

  2. I, too, resisted the allure of a smartphone for similar reasons. I’d tried a Blackberry before but you need freakishly thin fingers to use them, so I always reverted to my trusty Nokia. A colleague, who hated Apple, converted me (on lifts into work) to NEVER buying Apple. I am fickle, capitualted & bought Samsung Galaxy Ace. I love it & now play with it all the time, despite hating people who do that. P.S. The Apple despising colleague is now in a different job & he loves the free Macbook he’s been given.

  3. Andrew, you can download several keyboards on any Android running phone, including yours. Try either Swype, if not already installed, or Swiftkey. Swype allows you to type by sliding your fingers to the letters you need, so you only leave the keyboard between words, at which point it rather helpfully adds a space. The latter has excellent predictive text and sentence building qualities, so the more you type, the more it “knows” your style and gets progressively more accurate at guessing what word you want to use next, saving oodles of key pecking. Don’t worry, its guesses and easily be ignored and over-ridden. Download the Apps from the Google Play store. I paid £1.49 (I think!) for Swiftkey – money well spent. Swype came free on my phone, but I’d guess if you don’t have it’ll be about the same price.

  4. The trouble is you still had to give your name AND your address to buy the case from Amazon…plus they’ll plague you with emails because they have that too! Going with the flow and telling the shop assistant that your name was Jeremy Hunt or something similar might have been easier. You mention that the shop staff were “young” – I normally feel sorry for them as the older generation are probably lucky enough not have to work on minimum wage and performance related pay (as they kick up their feet and relax with their nice chunk of property capital, pensions, no student loans etc… which the young could only dream about as no matter how many over-priced smart phones they sell, some old guy will be creaming the profit).

    • Some fair points.

      Not giving Carphone Warehouse my details was a matter of principle. You can’t order online without giving your details; Amazon have had my details for years. I don’t get plagued with emails from Amazon because I have opted out of receiving emails, as I opt out of receiving emails from anyone else. Beyond that, you’re into spam. If I buy a mobile phone, I expect to give my details. If I buy a leather case, I do not. I give my details only when absolutely unavoidable.

      I admire your sympathy for the young. In many ways, as a generation, they merit a broader social and financial sympathy. That said, I think I can guarantee that every single assistant I interacted with in the phoneshops will have had a smarter smartphone than mine for a lot longer than a week. Young people have many more pieces of electronic equipment than I had when I was their age. Every one of my nieces and nephews – who cover a large age range – has a smartphone. And an iPod or equivalent. And, if not a laptop of their own, certainly access to one. There are iPads knocking about the home, too. (None of my family is a millionaire, by the way.)

      What I’m saying is: it’s impossible to compare my experience of being young (I don’t know how old you are) with theirs. We lived in a simpler age, with less “stuff” to desire and own. When I worked part-time in Sainsbury’s in the very early 80s, I took home £1.17 an hour and spent what I didn’t give to my parents on vinyl records. There wasn’t much else to spend it on! I suspect not one of the young people I dealt with would swap places with me, even if they could.

      And yet, in many ways, the world still owed my generation a living at that time. (It certainly owed us a university education without expecting us to pay back a massive loan.) But I don’t believe I behaved as if it did. When I worked at Sainsbury’s, even though I was part-time, I was trained not just how to stack shelves and work the pre-digital tills, but how to deal with customers, and it involved being polite to them, and showing them which aisle the jam was on if that’s what they wanted to know. They asked; you listened. This has either gone from retail training, or the young people, for whatever reason, don’t feel that learning how to respect the customer is part of their remit any more.

      These are the observations I was making, really. I would not wish to be a young person in 2012. I don’t hugely relish being a middle-aged person in 2012.

        • Martin Lewis/MoneySavingExpert swears by them: sites like Quidco and TopCashback, which sound cheap and nasty, but actually act as third parties between company and customer, offering sweetener deals to the customer when they “refer” them to the host site. Payback varies, and can be a few pence, or many pounds, which is credited to your account (yes, you have to sign up!), and is eventually released to you, the customer. There appears to be no drawback to the scheme, apart from the Wonga-style names of the sites that offer it. (Of course, if others have spotted the flaw, let us know. And let know too.)

  5. Yes. I think the culture of an organisation trickles down from senior management to the shop floor. Thinking this allows me to blame the people with the power in an organisation for any problematic behaviour of low-ranking employees, so it is convenient, but it’s also consistent with my experience of being an employee in a variety of industries over the years. I recently changed my contract with Three after the initial 24 month contract expired, and the person I dealt with in the shop was pretty good (High Street, Birmingham).

    (And ironically I’ve just had a right old time trying to post this dull comment as the WordPress system is insisting that I log in, and then with an account I don’t use any more, forcing me in the end to log in via Twitter. They get you.)

  6. Given that there is a thread here of feeling old in a young person’s world, I just felt like mentioning that I don’t own a mobile phone (for a while I had to use one when on call at work, but that time has now ended), and I honestly, genuinely have no idea what the terms 2G and 3G mean. In fact, although I have heard the term 3G, I don’t think I could have told you that 2G was a real thing. I realise that there will come a time, not far away now, when if I want to know what my children are doing I will be obliged to own one; but until that time, I aim to hold out as long as possible. I like being unimportant enough that it doesn’t matter if I am uncontactable for hours at a time.

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