Another iPhone feature -- it crashes!

In a weekend, my iPhone goes down twice. Is that just another cost of a super-phone?

Published July 2, 2007 3:14PM (EDT)

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in January, I wrote,

The other problem is that computers are inherently buggy. Macs crash, and it's frustrating when they do. It's even more frustrating, however, when your music player crashes, and if your phone or your TV crashes, you'll probably want to tear your hair out. The iPhone is so complex -- it's got an accelerometer in it to detect when you flip it sideways, it's got a proximity sensor to tell when it's near your face, it's got to understand myriad finger gestures -- that crashing, or at least slowing down, the way an overworked computer sometimes does, might be a real possibility.

A bunch of MacHeads jumped on me for that, claiming that Macs never crash and that Apple's phone would be similarly solid. This was absurd; the Mac OS is very forgiving, and you've got to do a lot of crazy things to it to bring it down, but it certainly can crash. (For examples, see here and here.) And iPods -- if you've never crashed your iPod, you've never used your iPod; who of us isn't familiar with the Menu + Select button method of reseting an unresponsive Pod?

Well, the iPhone crashes too. My first brush with iPhone death occurred Friday night, shortly after activation. I called the phone from another number to see if its activation had taken -- and when the iPhone began to ring, I hung up on the calling phone. But the iPhone didn't stop ringing. For 10, 15, 20 seconds it continued, ignoring my tapping on the on-screen and physical buttons. Remembering the way to force a PC to turn off, I held down the iPhone's Sleep button -- and after about about 10 seconds, it gave me the shut-down screen.

On Saturday afternoon, I managed an even wilder crash while I was trying to get the phone to connect with a Wi-Fi router that has always been a bit picky. After connecting and disconnecting from the network a few times, I loaded up a Wikipedia page. Halfway through the loading, the phone froze. And now even holding down the Sleep button did nothing.

The third screen of Apple's iPhone Troubleshooting Assistant came to my rescue. It turns out that you restart a frozen iPhone in much the same way you revive a chilled iPod -- "press and hold the Sleep/Wake button and the Home button at the same time until you see the Apple logo."

The MacHeads are going to tell me that all smart phones crash. Well, sure they do. My Windows phone goes down about once a month, and sometimes the only way to get it back up is to pop out the battery for a bit. Not a pretty thing. And Apple, of course, has never promised a crash-free phone -- that it set up a page to help people combat "frozen iPhone and common issues" suggests as much. Indeed, the iPhone even reports its crashes to Apple -- when you sync back up after a crash (even if just a single app, and not the whole phone, has gone down), iTunes asks if you're OK with sending a log to Apple. (Daring Fireball has posted a crash log; scroll to the bottom here.)

Are two crashes in a weekend a bad sign? I should say that neither freeze bothered me too much; each occurred during non-critical tasks -- I wasn't talking on the phone or listening to music -- so I found them more curious than frustrating. Plus the iPhone starts up again in about 20 seconds, much quicker than a Mac or PC. Still, I can't fathom why a missed call caused my phone to fall apart. Is occasional crashing just the cost of being amazing? I hope not. But in case, just remember: Sleep + Home.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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