I had a mind-bending experience with the Verizon FiOS order system tonight.

I went looking at changing or re-upping my FiOS plan because I realized they raised the price on me in December. I had been paying $104.99 for our Extreme HD TV package and 25mbps/25mbps internet package up until July. (These prices aren’t my total bill, by the way, just the actual package prices before addons and taxes.) At that point, my previous 24-month agreement expired, and I lost the $5/mo contract discount so it then became $109.99. At the time, switching my package wouldn’t have been any cheaper so I hadn’t bothered with signing a new contract. However I noticed that it had gone up to $117.99 in December, so I figured I could find a better deal than that.

Into the depths of the Verizon website I went, with trepidition. I could sign a 24-month agreement on the current $117.99 price, but it seems that you don’t even get the $5/month off if you do that. A new double play package would have the same Extreme HD TV plan we have now, but it would mean going to a 50/25 internet plan instead of the 25/25 we have now. The price for this is essentially $119.99/month, but signing the 24-month agreement would mean I’d get $5 off, making it $114.99/month. $3 cheaper than now, woo. And, hey, it’s faster internet.

Additionally, for some reason there is a second discount for an extra $10 off the first month only, so that would be $104.99 for the first month, then $114.99 for months 2 through 24. I suspect this is just so they can put the first month price in big letters to make it sound cheaper.

I also checked the no contract price out of curiousity, and it looked like it was $109.99. This confused me, because why would it be cheaper than the contract price? After adding it to the cart, though, I realized that the $109.99 was a first month price and every month after was actually $119.99. Yes, I failed to notice that they labeled the $109.99 as a “first month price” but what bugs me is that they did not state what the price would be afterwards, until I’d started the order process. No biggie in the long run, it just added to my general frustration tonight.

So I went back and selected the contract price instead. And there’s where it got really weird…

After I added the contract package to my cart and clicked checkout, I got this pop-up message that I qualified for “bonus offers”. There were three options.

  1. A “$10 24-mo contract acceptance offer”. This apparently means that I get $10 off every month (in addition to the $5 monthly discount I already knew about) instead of just the first month, meaning every month would be $104.99.
  2. A “$5 24-mo contract acceptance offer”, which turns out to mean that it would be $104.99 the first month and $109.99 for months 2 through 24. I think this means you get an additional $5 discount on top of the other $5 discount, but get $10 off the first month instead of the $5.
  3. The third option was basically “I don’t want any special offers”.

I really don’t understand why they felt the need to add this third offer at a different point in the order process. And what’s even more baffling to me is why in the world would anyone choose the second or third option on this bonus offer screen? The first one so clearly seems to be the better deal.

All in all, I’m certainly pleased that I’ll be paying $10 less per month than I thought I would be and $13 less than I currently am, but was it really necessary to give me a headache in the process, Verizon? At this point, I can’t help but feel like they somehow pulled one over on me, even though it seems like a good deal.

It was always an end-to-end system with Steve. He was not a designer but a great systems thinker. That is something you don’t see with other companies. They tend to focus on their piece and outsource everything else.

This is a fascinating glimpse into the internal workings of Apple and Steve Jobs. He may be a little crazy, but it’s crazy like a fox. He’s had single-minded devotion to getting things right. It makes me wonder what will happen to Apple when he leaves. I don’t think they’ll fail, but will they be as “magical”?

The icon for the newly named Twitter for iPhone app has been generating a lot of strong feelings, it seems. Alternative mock ups have popped up by Gerardo Diaz and Josh Helmsley, with many comments from other users chiming in. Some of these comments express a distaste that rises to a level I would not have expected, saying they went back to Tweetie, are looking for a new Twitter client, or won’t display the icon on their first app screen anymore. I appreciate a good iPhone app icon as much as the next one and have been known to pass up some software due to an atrocious icon. But I just can’t see what’s so horrible about this icon. For that matter, I liked the original Tweetie icon over the silver Tweetie 2 icon.

Some Twitter reps have commented on the above mock ups. It’s nice to see a reasonable discourse about it, and I’m glad they are responding to their user base. There’s some back and forth on Josh Helmsley’s post between Mark Otto (a Twitter UI designer) and Matt Gist (a designer, but not for Twitter) about how the new icon was meant to fit in with the basic iPhone apps, with the white icon on a brightly colored background. Matt says, essentially, “it is not the concept that is at fault, it is the execution.” I’m no designer, but I agree. The idea of the icon is fine, but there is something off putting about the gradients and shading, which I could never have described. As Matt puts it, “the execution is down-right terrible when it comes to lighting, the heavy upper glare and the bland shadow emanating from the bird have no place in the crisp, candied example given by the iPod, MMS and phone utilities.” Mark said they will try to improve the icon, so hopefully it will turn into a better version of itself along the way.

Several people, including John Gruber, have said that it reminds them of uninformed or spam Twitter users, since it is similar to the icon Twitter now displays for users who haven’t set their own. I can see the logic there, but I guess I don’t see as many of those accounts, because it doesn’t provoke such a negative reaction to me.

I liked what Tim Van Damme had to say, which also aligns with my thoughts. Basically, yeah, the icon’s kind of off, but it’s not that bad, people!

I signed up for a MobileMe account recently. I never resubscribed after my initial .Mac offering, since it seemed like a lot to pay for mostly features I didn’t really need. It still seems like a lot to pay, but the desire to keep my calendar and contacts synced more often between iPhone and Mac and my soon-to-be iPad (that’s another rant), as well as the handiness of Find My iPhone drew me in again. I found a $70 MobileMe package on Amazon (which is at least vaguely more reasonable than Apple’s $99) and paid up.

Some time after, I went shopping at a local Apple Store. It was a few days later that I realized my receipt had gotten mailed to my new MobileMe email instead of the e-mail address that it usually goes to. This miffed me a bit, but I forgot about it. Today I started to research the issue and found out that Apple had created another Apple ID using my @me.com address. That makes three Apple IDs I have! I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. My first Apple ID is an @mac.com address that was created automatically by signing up for .Mac. After letting the .Mac service lapse, I set up a new Apple ID with my normal email, because either it wasn’t possible to change the e-mail address on the @mac.com Apple ID or I couldn’t figure out how to do so. Later, I was able to update the e-mail, so I went back to using my @mac.com Apple ID to try to consolidate my iTunes purchases going forward, as well as my product registrations.

I’m annoyed that signing up for a MobileMe account somehow overrode my existing email preferences for where to send receipts. It must be because I added my credit card to the MobileMe account for the subscription renewal? Even though that credit card is already used in iTunes with my other Apple IDs? I think the initial association of email to credit card during a store purchase was done by them typing my address in manually, so I don’t know how MobileMe got its claws in there. I logged in to the new Apple ID to update the e-mail to my standard e-mail address. I wonder if that will help? Hard to say until my next purchase.

Apple IDs seem to be a major source of confusion to me. It’s way to easy to end up with multiples, because they don’t make it easy to know that you can update your current ID when your email changes. You have to go to some obscure link on the support page. There really should be a way to merge them. Your iTunes purchases and product registration and support info are linked to them, so you don’t want to lose track of that stuff. Come on, Apple! You’re so good at making things easy!

Except when you aren’t.

It’s amazing how you can call customer service multiple times and get as many answers. I got the boyfriend an iPhone. Apple told us they couldn’t make my month old iPhone and his brand new one be on a family plan, so they set us up with a second individual line of service under my name. The guy at the Apple store said I could call AT&T and they would be able to make it a family plan afterward. I’m not crazy about this idea, because I don’t trust wireless companies in the least, but I agree.

Later that night, I check my AT&T account online and see that I can combine them online. Excellent! No talking to people! But after clicking through a couple screens, I find that it won’t take place until the next billing cycle. Since that is December 3rd, and it’s only November 7th now, this a less than optimal solution. I cancel the action, and call AT&T.

I get a very nice lady named Charity who says she has to look up how to do what I want, then goes on to say “no problem”! Faint alarm bells are going off in my head, but I proceed. They should have been louder. She makes her changes, and tries to apply the family texting plan I wanted, but seems to run into trouble. She says she has to remove some MMS block, but is able to proceed. I look at my account online, and it says the FamilyTalk plan will start on 12/3. I ask her about this, but she assures me it is correct in her system. I give her the benefit of the doubt (hah!) and wait. Two days later, it is still listed for 12/3.

I call AT&T again, and get another lady, who understands my request. She confirms that indeed, it is set to go on 12/3, not immediately as I was told. I ask her to change it, but upon checking, says she is unable to do it before the next billing cycle. Sigh, that is patently ridiculous, okay, fine, but at least remove this family text plan, which I suspect was forced onto the account and would probably result in my being charged twice. She does, and I go on my way.

Fast forward a week. We have plans with some friends Sunday morning. I send a text message Saturday night to find out when we’re supposed to meet. I get no reply, so I go to bed. She calls me at 9am, saying that we’re meeting at 11am, and she sent me messages last night. Hmm, I didn’t get any messages. At first, I chalk it up to SMS oddities. But then, a light bulb goes on in my head. An dark, ugly light bulb. So I call AT&T a third time. I explain a bit of the recent history to the gentleman and my suspicions of the account changes being at fault. He tells me that I have no text plan at the moment, not even the default pay per use one. Ah hah! I ask him to put the pay per use plan back until the family plan kicks in. “Do you want me to make it a family plan?” he says. But those other people couldn’t do that. “Doesn’t mean I can’t,” he says. Huh. So, he does it, and bam, I have a family plan. And unlimited texting. All like I asked for over a week ago.

It drives me crazy that you have to hope that you get some customer service rep who knows what they’re doing. You can just as easily end up with some clueless person who does unspeakable things to your account. All in all, this didn’t come out too badly. My account turned out how I wanted, after some frustration for a week. At least, it looks good online, anyway. Let’s hope that porting his number and getting the caller ID modified get done also.

Fios is now up and running completely. I’m a little annoyed that we didn’t get the correct HD channels for several days after it was installed, but when we returned from Canada, they were active. It’s mildly disturbing that both my initial order and then the order to fix the missing HD went wrong somehow. They had to send the HD correction order to the problem resolution team, but at least they resolved it.

I even got my first bill, and it seems to be correct. It looks like it includes all the promotional and bundle discounts. The first bill is always a little weird with prorating, but nothing looked out of place. Yay for not having to call and fight for discounts!

Picture quality is pretty darn good, at least to my eyes. The standard definition content looks miles better than Dish or Comcast, and the high definition content even looks better than Comcast. I also like the set-top box interface much better than Comcast’s. I just wish the hard drive in the DVR was bigger. C’mon, Fios! 160 GB is not enough. Tuning channels is super fast.

The internet service is pretty zippy, and we haven’t had any problems yet. So far, so good, Verizon!

Verizon came back yesterday, seems the provisioning problem was indeed taken care of. I wasn’t here, my boyfriend was, but the install sounded like it went smoothly enough. The TV looks pretty good, except for one thing… somehow, we’re missing most of the HD channels. He called Verizon yesterday and they said the HD wasn’t on the account and sent him to the orders people. I’m not sure how HD can not be on the account when we get the locals in HD and the premium movie channels in HD and there is nothing in Fios that you specify to get HD on your package. WTF? Although, pretty close, Verizon, pretty close. They told him yesterday it would be a few minutes, and today they told him it would be by the end of the day. Still not there. Really, how long does it take to modify my TV package? Seriously. I haven’t called yet, because I was at work, but I will be calling tomorrow before we leave for Montreal.

Still, I’m pretty impressed with the picture, and the interface on the set-top boxes is pretty slick. Hopefully it will be stable too. We had a little hiccup earlier with the DVR displaying little flickering lines all over the screen, which unplugging and replugging the power fixed. If recording dependability holds up, then the biggest drawback of the DVR becomes the relatively small amount of hard drive space to store HD material. Part of me still kinda wants a Tivo HD, but that’s still a fairly expensive option, and it seems like the future of cablecards is slightly murky.

Now gimme my HD, Verizon.

I’m always a little trepidatious when I order service from Verizon. I think they are just too big and patchworked and entrenched. It seems like each of the separate departments are totally disparate and have no idea what the other is doing. And so, whenever I make a change, I worry, and Saturday, May 5th, was no exception. That is the date we decided to bite the bullet, and ordered a FIOS TV/internet/phone bundle. We were offered an install date that very Tuesday, but we pushed it off a couple weeks so we could run some coax for the TV service. That successfully completed, we anxiously awaited our optical goodness until today, our chosen install date. Let me note that this is not a horror story, at least not yet. It may all turn out to be innocent in the end.

My boyfriend received a call from Verizon at 8:30am. He says it was a very nice woman who apologized and said there had been a problem provisioning the order, and while she had been trying to push it through since she noticed it a few days ago, it was not done yet, and the install date had to be rescheduled. I really do appreciate the call, by the way. There are stories aplenty on the web of people who waited hours for a FIOS installer that never came. He picked a new day, since he’s the one staying home for it, and called to tell me. At this point, I begin to worry a little more. I notice that the confirmation e-mails I received refer to business FIOS internet service. Also, a page linked off the order status page, which says it will tell me what to do to prepare for my FIOS install, will not accept my order number, saying the page is not available for business service.

In light of the provisioning problem, these sorts of inaccuracies worry me even more, so I called Verizon to check. After being led through a merry chase on the phone tree, I finally got someone who can check my order status. I tell him about all these references to business service and how our install date was pushed back. He goes to check with someone else and returns, swearing that it was a problem in their system and it should be fine now. I ask him again about the business service references and he assures me it is not a concern at all, that everything looks residential on my order. With no further ammunition to argue with, I call it a day and hang up.

So, now we wait, and I have another week to worry. It could be nothing. Maybe the business service stuff is just a coincidence, and the provisioning problem had nothing to do with it, but I am still suspicious. Now I am left to stare at the order status page, with its mystical percentages of completeness. Here’s a clue, Verizon: Telling me my order is 75% complete does not tell me a heck of a lot about how close it is to being finished. Does it need to be 90% in order for the installer to do his work? 95? 100? I will definitely call again in a few days to see if the provisioning is ready, or something.

Bah, I say. Until next week, Verizon. Until next week.

Yeah, okay, it’s been a while. And guess what? I’m here to post about the iPhone SDK again. No, I don’t have a one track mind… honestly!

The SDK announcement has come and gone. As usual, it brought many oohs and ahhs and much wailing and gnashing of teeth. In typical Apple fashion, it has many wonderful and brilliant features, and a few drawbacks in the name of simplicity that draw the ire of power users like a lightning rod.

In this case, the main issue is background processing. Or the lack thereof for third party apps. I have to say that I too am disappointed. One of my biggest annoyances with my Treo is there are no background processes, especially annoying when it comes to the ssh sessions I use for chatting. I also don’t think that apps like AIM will be very useful if they don’t stay connected in the background. Does Apple have a few more tricks up its sleeve? Or is this going to be another case of like it or lump it, at least in the near term?

Much hue and cry has been raised about how Windows Mobile has backgrounding, blah blah blah. I also hear that it’s dog slow. So, although I am a bit bummed, I’m curious to see what will happen with the SDK when it gets out of beta. I’m definitely still planning on getting an iPhone. It’s getting hard to wait. It’s going to be way more elegant than my Treo.

Apple finally coughs up:

Let me just say it: We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers’ hands in February. We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users. With our revolutionary multi-touch interface, powerful hardware and advanced software architecture, we believe we have created the best mobile platform ever for developers.

I fully expected something like this to come along sooner or later, but I’m a little surprised they announced it so early. My boyfriend pointed out that it may have been due to the article in BusinessWeek. Or perhaps they wanted to quell some of the cries for blood after 1.1.1 reversed much of the hacking that has been going on.

While I’m excited to see what will happen with this — I do want an iPhone someday! — it’s going to be a long wait with all the speculation that tends to accompany any Apple announcement like this.