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Why Simultaneous Voice And Data On Non-GSM Carriers May Be More Important Than You Think

Why Simultaneous Voice And Data On Non-GSM Carriers May Be More Important Than You Think

September 17, 2012
Last week, it was reported that Verizon’s iPhone 5 was not designed with simultaneous voice and data in mind. Verizon stated that even on their LTE networks, the iPhone 5 would not be able to use this feature because Apple didn’t design it that way. In contrast, every other LTE smartphone on Verizon’s network has this ability, just not the iPhone 5. What I’m about to explain doesn’t have much to do with the iPhone 5, but how the lack of simultaneous voice and data could really have an impact on the future of our communication. Most Verizon customers have come to terms with the fact that they can’t browse the Web for a quick fact or look up movie times while on a call, but the issues due to this missing feature have deeper roots than most people realize. Even informed iOS enthusiasts like myself have failed to see the long term repercussions of this limitation.

The Issue At Hand: iMessage

The iPhone is one of the most popular smartphones in the world. It’s very likely that you know several others with an iPhone or at least another iOS device. When iOS 5 was released, we were given a new way to communicate. Through iMessage, when you send a text message to another iPhone, it’s automatically sent as an iMessage if they have the feature enabled. Using iMessage takes advantage of your data plan, which means it won’t work while you’re on a call unless you’re with a GSM carrier. Who cares, right?

Why Should You Care?

If you’re on a phone call and someone sends you an iMessage, you won’t see it until you’re off the call and data capabilities have been restored. Some people may be quick to point out that if an iMessage cannot be delivered via data, it will automatically convert to an SMS (or MMS depending on if the message contains media). That would certainly be an acceptable solution if the conversion happened in a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, this is not the case. First off, the iMessage to SMS conversion only works if you’re sending the text to a phone number and not an iMessage email address. But even if you discount that and assume the "text" was sent to a phone number, in our testing it took between five and 20 minutes for the iMessage to fail and send as an SMS. The point is, until the iMessage fails, your text won’t be seen. You may be able to deal with this small caveat, but if you’ve integrated yourself into the entire Apple ecosystem, the issue may be magnified creating a huge problem if you own an iPad, iPod touch, or even a Mac. Once iOS 6 and OS X 10.8.2 are released, which is happening very soon, your phone number and Apple ID will be unified. This luxury will allow users to receive iMessages sent to their phone number on a Mac, iPad, or iPod touch. Any device with the same Apple ID as your iPhone will have this capability. That seems pretty awesome, right? It would be great, but as of now the problems associated with this feature outweigh the benefits for users without simultaneous voice and data. After you’ve updated your devices to iOS 6 and OS X 10.8.2, iMessages (including those sent to your phone number) will also be delivered to your iPad, iPod touch, or Mac. Because those devices are usually connected to Wi-Fi (or LTE on the new iPad), the sender of the message will be given a nice “delivered” confirmation that assures them you’ll see the message shortly. When you're on a call and someone sends you an iMessage, it will never fail and convert to an SMS because it was actually delivered to one of your other devices. Your friends and family will be notified that the message has been delivered, when in fact, you may not see it until your off the call.

A Real World Scenario

If you’re talking on the phone with a good friend or family member, sometimes you lose track of time. Early during that conversation, your sibling sends you a text (iMessage) asking you to call back immediately. Regardless of why they requested that you call, they’ll get a “delivered” confirmation expecting you to see the message soon. In reality, the message was actually delivered to one of your other devices because of your unified phone number and Apple ID. Meanwhile, you're happily conversing with someone, and your sibling ends up thinking you’re a jerk for not responding. That iMessage won't be delivered to your iPhone until you're off the call. This is just one of the problems associated with the advancement of technology and the lack of simultaneous voice and data. I was always the first person to dismiss the importance of this feature, but it seems that there are many more issues involved here. Aside from the inability to check emails or look up movie times while on a call, the lack of simultaneous voice and data is actually disrupting our means of communication. This is certainly not acceptable and may actually be the last straw that keeps people saddled with AT&T for another two years. I'm not sure where the solution would come from, Apple adding another antenna for Verizon, or Verizon supporting the feature, but it needs to be addressed. Apple and Verizon, can you hear me now? Good.

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