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  • Another iPhone Rant: Did Apple Forget Call Quality?

    July 18th, 2007

    Sure, the company formerly known as Cingular Wireless widely advertises itself as having fewer dropped calls. Maybe they’re telling the truth, although they’ve had their share of quality and customer service problems in the past.

    For the sake of argument, I’ll assume they are right, or at least that the incidence of dropped calls on their network is on par with Verizon Wireless and the other top-tier wireless providers. But one thing AT&T doesn’t talk about, and Apple’s silence is just as deafening, is the sound quality of the calls you actually make on the iPhone. This is something that isn’t discussed all that much, and it has to be a significant issue.

    After all, you don’t buy wireless phones just for playing music, browsing the Internet and sending text messages. From time to time, you will make and receive phone calls, I suppose.

    My limited experience in that area seems to indicate that the iPhone sounds pretty much the same as any other wireless phone. Some report an “echo” effect, which may be related to the way you hold the device, or some network issue. MacFixIt’s Ben Wilson will tell our listeners, in an interview taped for broadcast on the next episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, that voicemail audio quality is a little tinny. I haven’t heard that from anyone else, but will accept his report as being correct. He was, after all, an AT&T wireless customer before he bought his iPhone, so he is familiar with the level of service they provide.

    So why did Apple forget what to many is the important feature of a mobile phone? It’s not as if they can’t do it. Look at all the technology embedded in the iPhone, from the intelligent touch screen to the visual voicemail. It’s even got the standard iPod EQ settings, so why can’t they add a setting, default or otherwise, to optimize the audio quality of an ordinary phone call?

    Sure, call quality can vary all over the place, even during a single connection as the load on the cell tower and your location shifts. It may range from one’s voice being immersed in a haze of digital grunge to something that approaches the clear, crisp signal on a traditional land line.

    But surely Apple can compensate for all this with its state-of-the-art operating system and the proper EQ tools. Wouldn’t that be something neat to advertise? The first wireless phone that actually sounds better than other wireless phones?

    Or does Apple feel that filling the iPhone to the brim with lots and lots of cool playthings will make you forget hot pathetic calls sound on digital wireless networks?

    Of course, you shouldn’t forget that the iPhone is actually a work in progress. Over time, there will be software updates to add features and fix bugs, such as the failure to display a fully charged battery when, in fact, it is full of juice.

    Moreover, I don’t think that software to automatically optimize call quality is a terribly difficult thing to create. Take a look at any audio application, and some of the cool plugins, which are often available for free or just a small license fee, and you’ll see that the technology is already there. It just has to be applied to the specific requirements of a wireless phone call.

    Apple, in fact, ought to be the best company to develop this capability. After all, they have created multimedia applications that are widely used in the entertainment industry.

    But perhaps the biggest obstacle is easier to quantify. Maybe you just don’t care. All the ads that tout superior wireless service that I know about don’t mention call quality. Saying you have fewer disconnects isn’t the same thing, because there’s still no promise as to how good your caller’s voice will sound even when the connection is solid. Having the largest network doesn’t count either, because all that means is that you’ll be able to make a connection in more locations, without regard to connection quality.

    However, it is true most people seem to hate their wireless phone companies. You consider yourself lucky if the bill is correct, and you can make and receive calls most of the time. But do you really have to settle for mediocrity?

    We all know that Apple is the company that can empower you to master even the most sophisticated technology. So, how about an iPhone update that will make calls sound even better than a land line? Is that too much to ask?

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