The iPhone and Starbucks’ AT&T Hotspots

If you live in New York City, you know there’s a Starbucks on every corner, and sometimes on the blocks in between as well. They’re as ubiquitous as street vendors, and with AT&T’s new smartphone data plans, you have free and automatic access to the “ATTWifi” networks at each of them.

Which should be a boon for iPhone users stuck on AT&T’s overloaded 3G network. But instead, the auto-connected wifi hangs on for just long enough to be annoying. The signal is too weak to do anything with, and yet you’ve got to go through a few screens on the iPhone to switch off the wireless so you can get 3G service.

It may seem trivial, but it’s one of my biggest user experience complaints about my phone. And I don’t think there’s necessarily an easy solution from AT&T and Apple’s perspective. AT&T wants to offer good service, which means keeping people off of 3G when there’s a faster (and free) option in-range. Apple wants a strong wireless antenna that does a good job holding on to a hotspot connection.

From my perspective, I set the phone not to auto-join ATTWifi networks… but I see that as a band-aid.

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