How Tap Inspect & This Home Inspector Survived the AT&T Outage of 2015

On August 4th of 2015 much of Kentucky, Tennessee and also parts of Georgia and Alabama lost AT&T voice and data service. This was not an isolated temporary event. This was widespread outage that lasted for several hours. For all of us that depend on mobile communications to do our jobs we were essentially off the grid and we had no idea how long it would last.

If you have read some of my other posts you know that I use AT&T for my iPhone carrier. The main reason for this is as a home inspector, I need the ability to use both voice and data at the same time to complete my home inspections. Unfortunately on August 4th neither my voice nor my data service was working and I was a little upset.

I had been doing a home inspection and had already collected most of the data, taken my photos, and completed my comments on my iPhone through the Tap Inspect app. Usually all this information ‘magically’ synchronizes with the Tap Inspect servers while I am doing the inspection but not that day.

At that point of my home inspections I typically grab my iPad, polish off the language and go over the report with my client. I love the amazement on their faces when they see the PDF on my iPad, watch as I publish the report, and then get the email notification on their own phones for them to pickup their home inspection report.

On August 4th I was out of luck. Or so I thought…

A little while back we wrote about 5 Reasons not to buy a WiFi only tablet. I follow our own advice and bought an LTE iPad. I bought a Verizon iPad.

There has been more than one time I have been in areas and had poor signal. Call me paranoid but I figured that if AT&T was bad in an area I could always use a Verizon iPad. If Verizon was bad, I still had my AT&T iPhone. I could always use the hotspot feature from the other device to connect to the internet.

On August 4th, AT&T service was very bad. Thankfully I had my Verizon iPad. I connected my iPhone to the iPad’s hotspot, synced with the Tap Inspect application, and finished up with the iPad, and amazed my client as usual.

So, how did I survive the AT&T outage? Simple, I used my Verizon iPad.

How I Unlocked My iPhone and Lived to Tell About It

Now that my 2 year contract is up I am thinking about what to do with my old iPhone once I get my next replacement. One of the biggest issues I need to address is unlocking it. An unlocked iPhone is worth more when selling it on the secondary market and also makes it possible to use it on a discount cellular carrier.

Before the US Congress passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act you typically had to find some way to hack your device to ‘Unlock’ it or to pay someone to do it for you. Not anymore. Every carrier, by law, offers a way to do it for free.

What does it mean when your iPhone is ‘locked’?

When I purchased my iPhone 5 in 2013 I signed a new 2 year contract with AT&T. As a frugal home inspector, that way I would get the new handset for $199 instead of paying full price.

AT&T was happy because I would need to pay a little more in each of the 24 months and there would be a penalty if I broke the contract. That would more than make up for the big discount they gave me when I bought it. I was happy because I was certain I would stay with AT&T and did not have to pay full price.

That was all fine and good but AT&T does not trust me. They ‘lock’ my iPhone to only use AT&T for cellular and LTE service. If I was to quit paying my monthly bill and try to use a discount GSM provider my iPhone would not be able to connect to it. It would be ‘locked’ into only using AT&T or using nothing at all.

How can home inspectors go about unlocking your iPhone?

Just because you have completed a 2 year contract your iPhone does not get automatically unlocked. You have to ask AT&T to unlock it for you. The process was amazingly simple and also FREE.

The first step was to go to this page and fill out the request. You will need a few pieces of information such as the IMEI number of your device and possibly the last four digits of the account holder’s SSN. Since my iPhone was on a business account I needed to use this page. Once I filled out the info I waited.

In less than 48 hours I received an email with the title AT&T Device Unlock Request – Complete. In the body of the email was a link to the step by step instructions how to complete the unlock procedure.

The second step of the process was to plug my iPhone into iTunes on my computer and do a Factory Restore. Just to make sure, I backed up my iPhone with iTunes to my local computer so I could restore all my apps and settings once the Factory Restore was complete. Once that was complete I started the Factory Restore. This downloaded new firmware from Apple and once it was installed iTunes told me my iPhone was now Unlocked. Success !!

Once I restored the backup I just did, my iPhone was exactly like it was before except it was now ‘Unlocked’. My iPhone 5 was now free to change carriers and just increased in value.

So what exactly happens when you unlock an iPhone?

At the simplest level, when you ask AT&T to unlock your iPhone, they tell Apple to ‘whitelist’ your specific device. Once that is done Apple can update the firmware on your iPhone with the ‘Unlocked’ version of the iPhone firmware that you install via iTunes.

You can now buy an ‘Unlocked’ iPhone from Apple and avoid all this but you will need to pay full price. I hope to cover that process in another post.

How Buying my Next iPhone Got Very Complicated

iphone-6It’s that time again for me. Time to get a new phone. Argh.

My iPhone 5 has served this home inspector well for the last two years but is now showing its age. The battery doesn’t seem to last as long and it has its share of dents and scrapes. This is not to say my iPhone is useless. It’s considered in ‘Good’ condition. I can get $80 by selling it to Gazelle but I am much more likely to hand it down to one of my kids.

Gazelle also offered to pay me $100 if my iPhone was unlocked. This got me asking some questions: “What is an unlocked phone and should I just buy one this time around?”, “Should I go with another 2 year contract or just pay full price for the phone?”

This seemed like a simple question but the answer has gotten more involved than I had ever thought. Keep in mind, I only was looking at getting a new iPhone. Over the course of the next few posts I will be sharing my journey and hopefully save you the heartache and headaches I went through.

My first step was to list what I needed from my new iPhone. Not just the hardware but also the services I needed as a home inspector.

Talk on the phone and also have Internet at the same time. There have been a number of times that I put someone on speaker and open another app or web browser so I can look something up at the same time. AT&T has this but Verizon does not.

I need a mobile hotspot or data tethering.  There are many times I need to connect my laptop to the internet while out in the field doing home inspections, especially to use the Tap Inspect home inspection app. Many smaller carriers like Cricket prohibit this so I need to stick with major carriers like AT&T or Verizon.

When I upgrade again I will sell or hand my old one down to one of my kids. It would be great if this phone would work on any carrier not just the one I got it from. At my daughter’s home, only Verizon seems to work and AT&T has no signal.

I have decided that I need AT&T service so I can talk and use Internet at the same time, use my mobile hotspot to connect my laptop and be able to switch to Verizon or another carrier when it is time to hand this phone down.

Sounds simple but boy was I wrong.

Next time: Why Won’t Your AT&T Phone Work on Verizon?

Stay tuned.

5 Ways Home Inspectors Can Protect their iPhone

Broken iPhoneThere’s nothing worse than working in the field as a home inspector, and cracking your phone screen or dropping it in water. Manufacturers are busy helping you find ways on how to protect your phone. And Tap Inspect will reveal to you just how far folks are going for their iPhones, iPads and other smart devices. Because hey, damages happen! Here are 5 extreme ways to protect your iPhones and other smart devices:

  1. Waterproof Casing: Believe it or not, there is an actual case for iPhones to protect them from any water damage and people are buying them like crazy. Retailers like LifeProof and OtterBox are offering waterproof iPhone cases for between $60.00 and $70.00. So for life’s fun moments in the pool, or harsh weather conditions in the field, a waterproof iPhone case may be the solution to all your water damage concerns.
  2. Screen Protectors: We here at Tap Inspect understand the demanding field of a home inspector. We understand moments where you may climb a ladder and drop your phone from high off the ground and shatter your screen. We’re also aware that merging your tools with your phone may result in a scratched up phone screen or even a cracked one. To avoid that, there are screen protectors that can be manually placed on your screen and purchased at any phone store, Apple Store or electronic retailer like Best Buy. They range in prices but aren’t too costly when it comes to protecting your iPhone!
  3. Bounce Casing: The ways to protect your iPhone is getting even more extreme with a case that actually bounces once it is dropped to avoid damage. Retailers, like Case-Mate, has wowed iPhone users with the bounce case. Although the idea of a bouncing iPhone seems strange, it is quite cool to know that once you drop your iPhone, it’s safe from harm. The corners of the “bounce cases” are bulkier than usual, which allows for it to bounce once it is dropped.
  4. Shatter-Proof Screen Protectors: You can hit your phone with a hammer after applying this particular screen protector…yes, a hammer! And regardless of the impact made by the hammer, your phone will not even get a scratch. Amzer, the known retailer for their ShatterPoof Screen Protectors, will cost anywhere between $50.00 and $70.00. This is not just a sceen protector to avoid scratches; shatter proof screen protectors will shield your iPhone from all damage made to its screen. The protectors are made from premium silicon adhesives. Now that’s extreme!
  5. Protective Casing: In addition to protecting your iPhone from water, cracks and shattered screens, you can also protect it from dust and particles, too. We do understand that and Inspectors job can get down and dirty! Purchasing a protective case will only cost you between $30.00 and $50.00 and can be bought from main phone store retailers or electronic stores. Brands like OtterBox can be found online or in local stores.

Let’s keep those iPhones safe while working hard! A damaged phone is no good to you in the field. Bite the bullet and pay a one-time price to avoid coming out of your pocket to pay a ton of money to replace your phone. Better safe than sorry!

Battery Saving Tips for Home Inspectors Smart Devices

iphone-battery-low While in the field with your smart device, it is extremely important to watch your battery life so you can get your home inspection jobs done. That can be easier said than done considering the all the emails, text messages and phone calls that we receive. Just this daily activity on your device can drain your battery rapidly not to mention taking photo and publishing reports.

Doing small things like disabling the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and location services can help save your batter life.  You may also want to turn on Auto-Brightness and disable dynamic backgrounds. Try to set your messaging apps to manual as opposed to allowing messages to be automatically retrieved. Also, get rid of all unnecessary home screen widgets on Android devices to preserve battery life. On Android you can figure out what applications are consuming your phone’s battery in your settings tab.

Luckily, for Apple devices and Androids, there are battery saving apps available for download to help save your phone’s life and your life, too! Check out below some very common battery saving apps that can be downloaded to your smart device.

Easy Battery Saver: This is a manager app that is designed to extend battery life and optimize the overall using habit of your smart device. Downloading this app will help prevent a dead phone in while working on an inspection report.

Juice Defender: This free application can be downloaded and helps you manage common connections on your Android smart phones. Connections such as mobile data and Wi-Fi can be managed using Juice Defender with various preset modes that determine background synchronization and choosing the apps that can keep your screen on. Overall, these things help manager battery life.

Battery Doctor: This app is exclusively for iPhones and have been updated for iOS 7. It is easy to manage battery life and provide thorough information and tools for users to keep track of what is pulling their battery life. The app has five different menus providing very detailed information about the iPhone’s battery internal workings. It shows how much of your iPhone’s battery each of the running applications are using and offers instructions on how to suspend of these processes.

Battery Manager: Also for iPhones is this app that allows the users to select a usage time for a running application. Battery Manager will determine the amount of time your Iphone will last on battery for that particular application by allowing you to select any of the phone’s processes listed and use a slider to choose the particular amount of time the user will use that app or process. It is a way to micromanage your battery usage to maximize your battery’s efficiency.