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Apple SIM hell: How Sprint Mobile sent my iPad into a customer service nightmare

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What Apple’s latest acquisitions mean for the company
TechRepublic’s Karen Roby asks ZDNet’s David Gewirtz for his thoughts on the companies Apple has acquired in the past year and the future implications these additions bring to the table. Read more: https://zd.net/2WvDYul

Apple several years back introduced something great for the iPad called the “Apple SIM,” which lets you pick a wireless provider from a menu in the Settings app of the iPad, without ever having to call the phone company or visit a store for activation.

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That means it’s a real breeze to set up a new iPad. But when it goes bad, like when you reformat an iPad, the dream becomes a nightmare.

Last week, I re-formatted a recently purchased Apple iPad Pro, the 11-inch model, to free up space on the device. (Memo to self: I always end up needing more storage than is in the base configuration, no matter how much I store things in the cloud.)

I thought I would be back up and running in no time with my existing cellular plan, a “Sprint Mobile Broadband Pass” that I picked out on the iPad. When you reset the iPad, by choosing, “Erase All Content and Settings,” a little menu pops up asking if you’d like to preserve the cellular plan you’ve bought, which is what I chose.

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Despite having a connection, the iPad told me I had no cellular connection. 

Once the iPad was erased and came to life again, the Sprint connection was, indeed, still there, listed in the Cellular Data portion of Settings. Then I got a queasy feeling in my stomach: There was no service. The data connection wouldn’t connect to anything. A message would pop up in Safari telling me I was not subscribed to any data plans, despite the Sprint plan being listed as “active” in the Cellular Data section. 

Also: WWDC 2019: What I want Apple to add to iOS 13 and the iPad Pro

I tried the usual methods: shutting off the iPad and turning it back on; installing a “carrier firmware update” that suddenly appeared; toggling off and on the airplane mode switch; and also something in Settings that lets you “reprovision account.” None of that did anything.

Having dealt with telephone companies for many years, I chose the coward’s option and went first to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York. The store rep again erased the iPad, while preserving the cellular subscription. No good, no change. My Sprint subscription still stared at me from the Cellular Data section, still doing nothing. The rep informed me this “often happens with Sprint,” meaning that Sprint seems to “lock” the SIM, and it has to be unlocked. At that point, they advised me to call Sprint.

Amidst the pounding beats of an Apple Store packed with people on Memorial Day at 10 pm, I tried to make my case to a rep on the main Sprint customer support line, a number which the Apple Store rep had given me. The Sprint rep finally decided I should call a different number and speak with Virgin Mobile, a Sprint division that tends to sell budget phone plans. But people at Virgin Mobile told me my problem was a Sprint pre-paid problem, and passed me off to Sprint’s pre-paid department. That process repeated itself, as my call was cut off and I had to start again.

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Despite having most of a pricey data plan still remaining, I had no service.

After a twenty-minute conversation with Sprint pre-paid, in which they couldn’t find out anything in their system about my device, they booked an appointment for me the next morning at a Sprint retail store to get technical support. 

At the Sprint store, reps were baffled. They had never heard of anything called “Sprint Mobile Broadband Pass.” They professed to be unaware one could simply order up cellular service from the iPad’s Settings menu. (I felt like the late Steve Jobs, showing them something magical on the device.) 

Also: Last iPad unveiled by Steve Jobs now consigned to Apple’s ‘obsolete’ list

They asked me for a user account number, but there’s no account number with Sprint Mobile Broadband Pass. While chatting with the reps, trying to find a way to help them do their jobs, I looked back at the invoice I had been sent from Sprint in email. It showed there was a specific phone number for support for Sprint Mobile Broadband Pass. At this point, I thought to myself, What a dummy! I should have started here. 

I called the number and proceeded to spend almost an hour on the phone with someone. They seemed to finally know what I was talking about — they at least did not ask me what Sprint Mobile Broadband Pass was. But they were having a hard time figuring out just what the problem was. 

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The choice to keep my cellular plan should have saved me but it didn’t.

At some point, after several periods of being asked to wait on hold, I looked down at the iPad and saw the Sprint plan listed in Settings had changed from “active” to “expired” before my very eyes. Some switch had been thrown, back in the network, and changed things. The rep was prepared to initiate a new Sprint Mobile Broadband Pass on the device, but I instead asked for my money back. The rep informed me that I would be getting a refund of the unused portion of the Broadband Pass in seven to 14 business days. When I asked for a confirmation, the rep, sounding a little shaky, I thought, muttered something about how I would receive an email informing me of my refund. I’ve seen no such email.

I reached out to Sprint, explaining the situation, and aside from an initial, customary reply, I’ve heard nothing back. I also reached out to Apple’s media relations, and aside from an initial, customary reply, I’ve heard nothing back. 

So what are the lessons here? One lesson is that Sprint, like many telecom operators, is selling too many products and no one at the company really knows what’s going on. It shouldn’t be the case that store reps have never, ever heard of Sprint Mobile Broadband Pass, or that I should have to explain that one can activate cellular plans straight from an iPad. The same goes for people on the telephone support lines at Sprint. I won’t be using Sprint anymore on the iPad.

But it was never going to be appealing for any carrier to put a lot of effort into supporting Apple SIM. The Apple SIM removes some of the control carriers can have over the customer, and so carriers are naturally dis-incentivized to support it. It’s really up to Apple to corral all these carriers and make sure they support the product. It makes one wonder if Apple spends any time at all talking to the phone companies to coordinate any of this, aside from the basic technical work of making sure the programming interfaces connect.

The lesson for the rest of us is that some degree of frustration is highly likely over the course of using cellular on the iPad. I’ve seen similar problems with used iPads that once had cellular plan, where the plan has lapsed. Trying to resuscitate a lapsed plan on an iPad can be impossible, and trying to add a new plan with a different carrier may lead to having to go to the carrier store, thus defeating the whole point of Apple SIM.

So, plan on having to deal with headaches if you hold onto an iPad for some amount of time and if you try erasing it or eventually switching carriers. As far as carriers, I’ve found the plans are all fairly expensive — $80 for twelve gigabytes is a good example — and each of the carriers here in the states, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile US, and two smaller resellers, AlwaysOnline and Gigsky, can all be good or bad, it just seems to depend on the luck of the draw in any given month, or week. 

Most of all, take a deep breath, walk around the block, and try not to let your blood pressure get too high when you’re dumped into a telecom nightmare. 

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Facebook’s Oversight Board will review the decision to suspend Trump – TechCrunch

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Facebook announced Thursday that its newly established external policy review group will take on one of the company’s most consequential acts: The decision to suspend former President Trump.

On January 7, Facebook suspended Trump’s account indefinitely. That decision followed the president’s actions the day prior, when he incited a violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol, leaving American democracy on a razor’s edge and a nation already deep in crisis even more shaken.

Facebook VP of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg called the circumstances around Trump’s suspension an “unprecedented set of events which called for unprecedented action” and explained why the Oversight Board would review the case.

“Our decision to suspend then-President Trump’s access was taken in extraordinary circumstances: A U.S. president actively fomenting a violent insurrection designed to thwart the peaceful transition of power; five people killed; legislators fleeing the seat of democracy,” Clegg said in a blog post.

“This has never happened before — and we hope it will never happen again.”

In its own statement on taking the case, the Oversight Board explained that a five-member panel will evaluate the case soon with a decision planned within 90 days. Once that smaller group reaches its conclusions on how to handle Trump’s Facebook status — and, potentially, future cases involving world leaders — the decision will require approval from the majority of the board’s members. After that, the pace picks up a bit and Facebook will have one week to implement the board’s final decision.

Facebook likes to say that the board is independent, but in spite of having the autonomy to make “binding” case-by-case decisions, the board grew out of Facebook itself. The company appointed the board’s four original co-chairs and those members went on to expand the group into a 20-member body.

As we’ve previously reported, the mechanics of the board bias its activity toward Facebook content taken down — not the stuff that stays up, which generally creates larger headaches for the company and society at large. Facebook has responded to this critique, noting that while the board may initially focus on reviewing takedowns, content still up on the platforms will be part of the project’s scope “as quickly as possible.”

Given some of the criticism around the group, the Trump case is a big moment for how impactful the board’s decisions will really wind up being. If it were to overturn Facebook’s decision, that decision would likely kick up a new firestorm of interest around Trump’s Facebook account, even as the former president recedes from the public eye.

The most interesting bit about the process is that it will allow the former president’s account admins to appeal his own case. If they do so, the board will review a “user statement” arguing why Trump’s account should be reinstated.

Facebook’s external decision-making body is meant as a kind of “supreme court” for the company’s own policy making. It doesn’t really move quickly or respond in the moment, but instead seeks to establish precedents that can lend insight to future policy cases. While the per-case decisions are binding, whether the broader precedents it creates will impact Facebook’s future policy decisions remains to be seen.

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TikTok’s new Q&A feature lets creators respond to fan questions using text or video – TechCrunch

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TikTok is testing a new video Q&A feature that allows creators to more directly respond to their audience’s questions with either text or video answers, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. The feature works across both video and livestreams (TikTok LIVE), but is currently only available to select creators who have opted into the test, we understand.

Q&A’s have become a top way creators engage fans on social media, and have proven to be particularly popular in places like Instagram Stories and in other social apps like Snapchat-integrated YOLO, or even in smaller startups.

On TikTok, however, Q&A’s are now a big part of the commenting experience, as many creators respond to individual comments by publishing a new video that explains their answer in more detail than a short, text comment could. Sometimes these answers are meant to clarify or add context, while other times creators will take on their bullies and trolls with their video responses. As a result, the TikTok comment section has grown to play a larger role in shaping TikTok trends and culture.

Q&A’s are also a key means for creators to engage with fans when live streaming. But it can be difficult for creators to keep up with a flood of questions and comments through the current live chat interface.

Seeing how creators were already using Q&A’s with their fans is how the idea for the new feature came about. Much like the existing “reply to comments with video” feature, the Q&A option lets creators directly respond to their audience questions. Where available, users will be able to designate their comments as questions by tapping the Q&A button in a video’s comment field, or they can submit questions directly through the Q&A link on the creator’s profile page.

For creators, the feature simplifies the process of responding to questions, as it lets them view all their fans’ questions in one place.

There’s no limit to the number of questions that a creator can receive, though they don’t have to reply to each one.

The feature was first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, who posted screenshots of what the feature looks like in action, including how it appears on users’ profiles.

During the test, the new Q&A feature is only being made available to creators with public Creator Accounts that have over 10,000 followers and who have opted into the feature within their Settings, TikTok confirmed to TechCrunch. Participants in the test today include some safelisted creators from TikTok’s Creative Learning Fund program, announced last year, among others.

TikTok says the Q&A feature is currently in testing globally, and it aims to roll out it to more users with Creator Accounts in the weeks ahead.

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Facebook and Instagram’s AI-generated image captions now offer far more details – TechCrunch

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Every picture posted to Facebook and Instagram gets a caption generated by an image analysis AI, and that AI just got a lot smarter. The improved system should be a treat for visually impaired users, and may help you find your photos faster in the future.

Alt text is a field in an image’s metadata that describes its contents: “A person standing in a field with a horse,” or “a dog on a boat.” This lets the image be understood by people who can’t see it.

These descriptions are often added manually by a photographer or publication, but people uploading photos to social media generally don’t bother, if they even have the option. So the relatively recent ability to automatically generate one — the technology has only just gotten good enough in the last couple years — has been extremely helpful in making social media more accessible in general.

Facebook created its Automatic Alt Text system in 2016, which is eons ago in the field of machine learning. The team has since cooked up many improvements to it, making it faster and more detailed, and the latest update adds an option to generate a more detailed description on demand.

The improved system recognizes 10 times more items and concepts than it did at the start, now around 1,200. And the descriptions include more detail. What was once “Two people by a building” may now be “A selfie of two people by the Eiffel Tower.” (The actual descriptions hedge with “may be…” and will avoid including wild guesses.)

But there’s more detail than that, even if it’s not always relevant. For instance, in this image the AI notes the relative positions of the people and objects:

Image Credits: Facebook

Obviously the people are above the drums, and the hats are above the people, none of which really needs to be said for someone to get the gist. But consider an image described as “A house and some trees and a mountain.” Is the house on the mountain or in front of it? Are the trees in front of or behind the house, or maybe on the mountain in the distance?

In order to adequately describe the image, these details should be filled in, even if the general idea can be gotten across with fewer words. If a sighted person wants more detail they can look closer or click the image for a bigger version — someone who can’t do that now has a similar option with this “generate detailed image description” command. (Activate it with a long press in the Android app or a custom action in iOS.)

Perhaps the new description would be something like “A house and some trees in front of a mountain with snow on it.” That paints a better picture, right? (To be clear, these examples are made up, but it’s the sort of improvement that’s expected.)

The new detailed description feature will come to Facebook first for testing, though the improved vocabulary will appear on Instagram soon. The descriptions are also kept simple so they can be easily translated to other languages already supported by the apps, though the feature may not roll out in other countries simultaneously.

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