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Saturday
Feb022013

When carriers help too much

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A couple of instances of this particularly difficult issue have come up in the past week, prompting me to set down here a few words that I tell clients when they are considering a new smartphone. This happens across all device types and all carriers, and it’s a throwback to the days when people kept their phone numbers in a cell phone, and cellular carriers needed to copy them to the new device to preserve them.

Here’s what happens:

  1. You have a smartphone. This smartphone is syncing email, contacts and/or calendar with one of the email services recommended by Interconnected Technologies for our clients.
  2. You want or need to get a new one, so you go to the carrier to get it.
  3. During the course of working with the carrier, the helpful sales person offers to transfer your “stuff” to the new phone.
  4. If you have talked to us before doing this (or now if you’ve read this article), you have been told “under no circumstances allow the carrier’s helpful sales person to copy stuff from your old phone to the new one”
  5. You let the helpful sales person do that.

imageAnd that’s where the problem starts. The problem is the way the carrier does this. But it requires a little background explanation: Smartphones have multiple address books. This isn’t apparent to the user since the phone just shows you your contacts in one place. But they do have more than one. One of those address books is the one that is built in to the phone. It’s only on the phone and it doesn’t synchronize with anything, ever. When you add “accounts” to the phone, such as Facebook, or one of the email services recommended by Interconnected Technologies for our clients, you then have additional address books on your phone; one per account.

Remember that the phone usually shows you all of them all squished together; but they’re different. It can and does happen that users of these devices add address book entries to the “wrong one”. “Wrong” here being defined as “any address book other than the one that syncs with one of the email services recommended by Interconnected Technologies for our clients. This can happen (has happened to me!) over time. The solution to this is to either a) disable the display and ability to add to the “wrong” address book (this is possible on some phones, but not all) or b) just make sure to add new entries to the “right” address book.

So here you are, with your old phone with stuff in two address books – the wrong one and the right one, and the carrier offers and you do step 5, above.

What happens is this: To your new phone the carrier copies all of the entries from the wrong address book and all of the entries from the right address book . . . into the WRONG address book on the new phone. So all your addresses appear to be there, and you are happy, until the effects of this become apparent.  Because the very next step is that we (or you, if you know how) will add to the new phone the account that causes the address book (along with email and calendar, usually) to sync to the email service we’ve mentioned above. But now, if you remember how address books work, you’ll see the problem. When you add the new account to the new phone, it will sync the address book down to the phone: to the right address book. But remember, the carrier already copied a copy of all that into the wrong address book.

And so the problem: duplication. Not normal duplication, but a really nasty, hard to untangle kind. With symptoms like this:

  1. You see the duplicates.
  2. You can edit one address book entry on the phone and it doesn’t sync to the email service and yet edits to another entry do sync.
  3. You see entries with duplicates that are different, since if you’ve been following along, you have entries from the wrong address book on the old phone, the right address book on the old phone (now in the wrong address book on the new phone) AND entries in the right address book on the new phone. Some of these will be exact duplicates, some will be partial duplicates.

It gets worse when you don’t notice this at first, and edit several phone entries without knowing which one you’re editing, until you notice that the changes aren’t showing up in the email service (either in Outlook or Outlook Web Access, or other web interface for the email service). Now you have a mess that is very difficult to untangle.

The best solution is to have asked us before getting the new smartphone - or now to have read this article before getting the new smartphone - and so to have been armed with the answer: “NO” to the inevitable question from the helpful salesperson. If this not the case, and you are noticing things such as those described above, the nature and scope of the work needed to untangle things varies widely depending on circumstances. In the simplest case, which we’ve encountered often, just resetting the new phone to factory settings and starting over correctly is a quick and easy solution. If, however, some time has passed and some of the complexities mentioned above have happened, this won’t work, and more complex and delicate methods – too complicated to describe here – are needed to put things right.

While we prefer to avoid this type of thing altogether (hence our typical advice and this article) we have some considerable experience and success in untangling the more complicated variants of this situation, and stand by to help, as always!

References (6)

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