Setup and Signup: Appendix A - iPhone: The Missing Manual

by David Pogue

In the first year of its existence, the iPhone was remarkable (among other ways) in that you didn't activate it (sign up for service) in the cellphone store, with a salesperson breathing down your neck. You did it at home, on your computer, in iTunes, where you could take all the time you needed to read about the plans and choose the one you want.

That all changed with the iPhone 3G. Now, you sign up in the cellphone store, with a salesperson breathing down your neck.

This Appendix covers the AT&T plans you might sign up for, plus how to upgrade an original iPhone's software to the 2.0 version.

iPhone: The Missing Manual, Second Edition book cover

This excerpt is from iPhone: The Missing Manual, Second Edition. With its faster downloads, touch-screen iPod, and best-ever mobile Web browser, the new affordable iPhone is packed with possibilities. But without an objective guide like this one, you'll never unlock all it can do for you. Each custom designed page helps you accomplish specific tasks for everything from web browsing, to new apps, to watching videos.

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Activation means signing up for a plan, turning on the service, and either finding out your new phone number or transferring your old number to the iPhone.

A non-activated iPhone isn't altogether useless. It's still a very nice iPod—in fact, it's pretty much an iPod Touch. But without a two-year AT&T contract, the iPhone costs $600 or $700 (for the 8- and 16-gig models)—so if an iPod Touch is what you want, then you should just buy an iPod Touch and save a lot of money.


Some wily fans have realized that they can buy the iPhone for $200, sign up for service, then cancel and pay the $175 early-termination fee. The result: a no-service, liberated phone for $375 total. (That's still more expensive than an iPod Touch, though. And you never know when that loophole might get closed.)

Incidentally, the iPhone is a locked GSM phone, meaning that it works only with an AT&T account. It won't work with Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, or any other carrier, and you can't insert the SIM card (the section called “SIM Card Slot”) from a non-AT&T phone and expect it to work.

Yes, hackers have succeeded in unlocking the iPhone, so that it can be used on other cell companies' networks; their primary motivation for doing so is to be able to use it in other countries, where the iPhone hasn't been available. But now that the iPhone is sold legitimately in 70 countries (and counting), there may be less reason to go that questionable route.

All right then: Here you are in the AT&T store, or about to head to one. Here are some of the issues you'll face and decisions you'll have to make:

  • Transferring your old number. You can bring your old cellphone or home phone number to your new iPhone. Your friends and coworkers can keep dialing your old number—but your iPhone will now ring instead of the old phone.

    It usually takes under an hour for a cellphone-number transfer to take place, but it may take several hours. During that time, you can make calls on the iPhone, but can't receive them.


    Transferring a landline number can take several days.

  • Select your monthly AT&T plan. All iPhone service plans include unlimited Internet use and unlimited calling to and from other AT&T phones. All of them also offer Rollover Minutes, a feature no other carrier offers. That is, if you don't use up all of your monthly minutes this month, the unused ones are automatically added to your allotment for next month, and so on.

    All but the cheapest plan also offer unlimited calls on nights and weekends. (On that plan, you get 5,000 night/weekend minutes, which is actually pretty close to "unlimited.") The primary difference between the plans, therefore, is the number of weekday calling minutes you get.

    Most people sign up for the $70 monthly plan, which offers 450 weekday calling minutes. But there's a 900-minute plan for $90, a 1,350-minute plan for $110, and, believe it or not, an unlimited calling plan for $130.

    None of these includes any text messages. For those, you'll have to pay $5 more for 200 messages, $15 for 1,500, or $20 for unlimited messages. Of course, you can always pay la carte, too: 20 cents for each message sent or received.

    (The original iPhone, you may remember, offered 450 minutes a month, unlimited Internet, and 200 text messages for $60 a month—much less. No wonder so many people were cranky when the iPhone 3G was announced. AT&T and Apple, however, point out that you're now getting 3G service, which you weren't before—and that the new plan is identical to what you'd pay for a 3G Treo or BlackBerry.)


    The choice you make here isn't etched in stone. You can change your plan at any time. At, you can log in with your iPhone number and make up a password. Click My Account, and then click Change Rate Plan to view your options.

    All iPhone plans require a 2-year commitment and a $36 "activation fee" (ha!).

    As you budget for your plan, keep in mind that, as with any cellphone, you'll also be paying taxes as high as 22 percent, depending on your state. Ouch.

Once you get the phone home, hook it up to iTunes. (You'll be told, as though you didn't know by now, that you need iTunes 7.7 or later.) Now you can specify what you want copied onto the phone. Turn to Chapter 13, Syncing the iPhone for details.

AT&T Fringe Cases

For most people, the plans described above are all they'll ever need. There are, however, plenty of oddball cases—business plans, family plans, pay-as-you-go plans—that might be worth considering. For example:

  • Prepaid plans. AT&T's GoPhone plans are intended for people with poor credit (or a fear of commitment). You pay for each month's service in advance, and it's very expensive: $60 a month buys you only 300 minutes, for example.

    But here's the thing: There's no two-year commitment, no deposit, no contract. You can stop paying at any time without having to pay the usual $175 early-termination fee. Unfortunately, the GoPhone plans aren't available for the iPhone 3G.

  • Business plans. If you're using a corporate iPhone, you pay $45 a month for unlimited Internet use (on top of a voice plan). That's 50 percent more than the regular iPhone plan—because, as AT&T sees it, "Business customers tend to be heavier users of data than consumers." (Plausible? You decide.)

  • Upgrading from an original iPhone. If you have an original iPhone, you can get the iPhone 3G for the new-customer price ($200 or $300)—and you don't even have to pay the $175 early-termination fee. Just bring your old iPhone to the store and get the new one activated.

    You can give the old phone to another family member, sell it, put it up on eBay, whatever you like.

  • Family plans. The iPhone can be part of an AT&T family plan. It works just like any other phone: For $10 more per month, it shares a pool of minutes with other phones belonging to the same family. (It still has to have its own $30-a-month Internet service, though.)

Upgrading an Original iPhone

There's not much involved in bringing the iPhone 2.0 software to your original iPhone. One day—probably a long time ago, at this point—iTunes alerts you that a free upgrade is available. You click Download and Install. When it's all over, your new iPhone has access to the App Store, MobileMe, Exchange, and over 100 new features, and all your old data is put back onto it.

Here's the whole experience—told in pictures. First, the announcement:

Don't worry about that erasing business. iTunes will restore everything to your iPhone after the installation. Going on:

Next, iTunes offers to put all your music, videos, and other stuff back onto your phone (from the backup it made a moment ago). Click Continue.

And then, suddenly, it's all over. The iPhone is reborn.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, buy a copy of iPhone: The Missing Manual, Second Edition.