Chicago, the iPhone 3GS, and iPods: Your Thoughts? | iLounge Backstage


Chicago, the iPhone 3GS, and iPods: Your Thoughts?

Every time we visit a city for fun or business, we take note of the sorts of iPods and iPhones we see—and don’t see—on the streets and subways, as well as the performance of our iPhones as we’re traveling around. We spent this weekend in downtown Chicago for the annual Taste of Chicago, and were frankly very surprised at what we found: a higher density of iPod classics/5Gs than anywhere we’ve seen before, with a considerable number of second-generation iPod shuffles, and relatively few iPhones. New York City, by comparison, seemed like iPhone central even before the launch of the iPhone 3GS, and we saw lots of iPhones in Washington, D.C., as well; we’d imagine that these places must be overflowing with iPhone 3GS units by now.


One thing that doesn’t receive a lot of media attention—for obvious reasons—is the fairly significant variation in iPhone 3G performance from city to city. We were stunned, for instance, to see just how poorly the iPhone 3GS performed in our informal Chicago speed tests relative to the ones we ran in Western New York, which we previously thought was as slow as 3G could get nationally. Our Buffalo-area download speeds were roughly 50% faster than in Chicago, while upload speeds were two or three times faster; speeds and signal strength also dropped considerably indoors. Even more surprising was our iPhone 3GS’s screwy GPS performance in Chicago: the unit is almost exactly on target in Western New York, but our little blue locator dot was literally all over the map in downtown Chicago, frequently off by blocks and exhibiting issues in compass orientation, as well. A first-generation iPhone we brought along seemed to be doing a better job of triangulation without GPS hardware, amazing as that was.



Buggy software? A hardware issue? We’re not sure. And we’re also not sure whether 3G network issues or just storage concerns might have accounted for the huge number of hard drive-based iPods we saw. This may have also been the first city we’ve visited where the number of iPod shuffles we saw in use outnumbered iPod nanos by a wide margin. While our observations are clearly not scientific, we’d like to hear from readers in Chicago: what iPods or iPhones have you seen in heavy use there? Any ideas as to why they’re popular? Are you having 3G network issues? Seeing good 3G speeds? GPS performance? We’re curious.


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I have an iPhone 3G - GPS is indeed inaccurate in downtown Chicago, and I think that’s somehow due to all of the tall buildings in a concentrated area. Away from downtown, all around Chicagoland, the GPS is pretty accurate. Does anyone else experience this problem in the bigger cities - NYC, LA, etc.?

Posted by Jim on June 29, 2009 at 12:39 PM (CDT)


I find that GPS is relatively accurate living downtown. The compass definitely gets wonky though - even when I “recalibrate” it. However, the 3G coverage is atrocious. Download and upload speeds are barely better than edge speeds. My 3G and 3GS frequently bounce back and forth from 3G to Edge. Not sure if it is long latency times or limited backhaul but there are times when my iPhone has a full 3G signal and it takes 15-30 seconds for a page to start loading in safari (or longer). I can have these problems outside with nothing around me (ie lakefront) or inside a building. I will be switching from AT&T as SOON as the iPhone is on another network. Friends and family that visit Chicago can’t believe how bad the AT&T coverage is here.

Posted by Ethan on June 29, 2009 at 1:37 PM (CDT)


The only reason I am on AT&T after swearing if off ages ago is for my iPhone, the amount of flat out dropped calls I get is obscene.  The GPS is, in my experience, all but useless once you are in the city proper, that little blue dot likes to sit in the middle of randome buildings about a block over from where you actually are. Also can anyone explain to me how 3 feet can make the difference between NO signal and full 3G?  Anytime I go somewhere new I have no idea wether I will have reception or not, there isn’t even reception at one of the local Apple Stores.

Posted by Sarah on June 29, 2009 at 10:44 PM (CDT)


What an incredibly unscientific poll.

You went to the Chicago Taste Fest which most people who live in Chicago actually avoid - it’s filled with tourists from neighboring states like Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa - so yeah, not a surprise that the crowds had dated iPods and few iPhones to be seen.

Next time you come to Chicago, try going to a real Chicago neighborhood or into the financial district during lunch or happy hour - I’m sure you’ll see many more updated iPods and iPhones.  I don’t know if we can give NY a run for its money, but again, going to the biggest tourist draw of the year will not give you an indication of what “Chicagoans” use as MP3 players or cell phones….that’s like an outsider going to the Oscars and saying how easy it is to see celebrities in L.A.

Posted by TechnoGeek on July 1, 2009 at 1:23 PM (CDT)


#4: Looks like you might have been confused by the first part of sentence #2, which noted that “we spent this weekend in downtown Chicago,” and probably missed the final paragraph, which said “While our observations are clearly not scientific, we’d like to hear from readers in Chicago: what iPods or iPhones have you seen in heavy use there?” No, we didn’t spend two days sitting in Grant Park looking at what people there were listening to while they were eating. No, this wasn’t a “poll” and we didn’t in any way suggest it was definitive. It was a set of observations posted with a request for useful reader insights, three of which have already come in.

For reference, we were in Chicago from Thursday through Sunday, and spent the better part of four days traveling all around the city. By comparison, we spent only a few hours at Taste of Chicago. And our comments on the devices we saw in the city actually had nothing to do with the Taste of Chicago at all. The classics, shuffles, and other devices we mentioned were on the streets, subways, and elsewhere.  We were way too busy eating to take note of whatever devices people brought with them to the Taste.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 1, 2009 at 1:42 PM (CDT)


I’m a Chicagoan and a satisified user of a 2G iPod Touch.  I would have opted for the iPhone in a minute, except for the absolutely terrible experience with AT&T’s network here.  I was about to buy the first gen iPhone until the announcement came that Apple had - for some inexplicable reason - chosen AT&T as its sole service provider.

I was forced to cancel AT&T a year before the iPhone first appeared.  Numerous dropped calls and voicemail failures from my North Side home became intolerable.

I’m guessing from you observations that I’m not the only one in town waiting for Apple to choose another service provider.

Posted by Chitunes on July 4, 2009 at 10:00 PM (CDT)


Though I live in the western ‘burbs of Chicago, I can say that on my frequent trips downtown, I’m amazed at the number of iPhones I see on the train and on Michigan Avenue.

Tons of iPhone owners. More than I see in my town.

That said, I must not be downtown enough to experience “poor AT&T service.” I won’t deny it’s bad for plenty of people, but when I’ve been downtown or at a sporting event near the lake, no issues.

Sitting in my little house about 30 miles west of the city, I get 5 full bars of AT&T and the 3G connection is VERY strong. I rarely, if ever, drop a call. Guess it just depends. As for seeing mostly iPods at the Taste (which I/we also avoid like the plague it is, overpriced small portion food), that is odd. I hardly ever see 5G/Classic iPods anywhere any more.

Posted by MfS on July 5, 2009 at 12:06 AM (CDT)


After moving to downtown Chicago, I’m also amazed at the number of iPhones I see.  Many people in my building have them, and I see a lot of them on the street.  More per capita (by estimate) than I saw when I lived in the suburbs.

The GPS has been fairly accurate for me on my 3GS when I drive.  I use the map quite often to get around in the car while running errands.  Before my 3GS, I had a 2G, and while I used the map the GPS is far superior to the Edge-based triangulation.

Posted by Tim Courtney on July 7, 2009 at 10:01 AM (CDT)

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