What a tech-illiterate old fellow taught me about mobile phones

My (mostly) wonderful CDMA/LTE Galaxy Nexus has a "new voicemail" message permanently stuck in the notification shade. My efforts to remove it have been thwarted at every turn. I scoured message boards, re-set my voicemail multiple times, pulled out the battery (and my hair). Finally, I decided to explore the longest of long shots: I went to my local Verizon store. A Verizon Wireless Technical Expert got right to work scouring message boards, re-setting the voicemail multiple times and pulling the battery (while pulling-to-refresh his Twitter feed too often). I knew it was a fool's errand to expect a different result, but I was at wit's end.

While I patiently waited to hear what I already knew, an elderly man entered the store and told the Verizon Wireless Cheerful Roaming Receptionist that he was "thinking about getting a new phone, maybe one with email on it". Cheerful Roaming Receptionist excitedly replied that she would get someone to help him immediately. She quickly rushed to the main counter and spoke in hushed tones to Esteemed and Goatee'd Senior Representative In Charge of Prospective Smartphone Upgraders, who strolled over to the elderly fellow and informed him that he needed a smartphone. It was the only logical choice.

I kept an ear perked as the staff member led the customer on a tour of Android phones (no HTC Trophy in sight, but I probably had better odds of seeing Lowell McAdam). The staffer explained the merits of each handset as if it were running a completely different operating system (which is no big surprise). He barely mentioned the Galaxy Nexus, the penultimate device in his phone parade. That interested me; maybe that handy "Google" folder on the default home screen is a revenue killer for Verizon? Who would sign up for VZW Navigator when they have Google's Navigation app on the home screen?

While I was postulating, the customer and clerk had reached the iPhone. "This is the one I use", the staffer firmly declared. He spent quite a bit of time explaining the magical possibilities and I covertly watched as the elderly chap tried to cajole a weather report out of Siri. 100% chance of "I'm sorry, I don't understand your question" was the forecast. Then the customer asked something about photos; I couldn't quite hear. I was baffled to hear the Verizon representative reluctantly state, "well, for this [phone] you need a cord". I have no clue what the elderly man asked, but I almost blurted "seriously?" out loud. Before I had time to decipher why you would need a cord to perform Indeterminate Photo-Related Task X, the customer was asking about turn-by-turn directions. Similarly, the staffer responded with "well this one can't do turn-by-turn out of the box, but you could look at the map or download an app". The elderly customer looked slightly displeased.

By now, I was feeling a little smug. What a junker of a phone! What a miserable ecosystem! But my self-awarded Savvy-Consumer-of-the-Month trophy was immediately tarnished by the Tech Support guy asking if I have considered rooting my phone to get rid of the notification. The timing of his question was impeccable and disarming.

Grounded by the reality of my pitiable situation, coherent thoughts began coalescing in my stressed-out mind. It's not about what apps are or aren't available, processor specs, shutter speed, or timely software updates. That phone, the iPhone, has some unique mixture of features and style that make people love it so much. Why else would the Verizon representative continue to defend his recommendation? It could have been out of pride (wouldn't you recommend your phone to friends?), but I have a feeling that if the customer walked out the door with an iPhone, he wouldn't be walking back in for tech support. He'd be walking in to get his next one.