No matter how long you’ve had your iPhone or how much you’ve used your iPod touch, you can still run into stumbling blocks and have questions the User Guide can’t answer. And even though the iPhone’s user interface is simple, getting started with the device can be a daunting experience for new users, especially if they are not particularly tech-savvy in the first place.
In this column, I’ll point you to some Web sites and discussions groups where you can get answers to your questions. I’ll begin with my favorite group— where no question is too dumb to ask and where the experts happily answer the same questions day after day.
Yahoo's Apple-iPhone Group
Voted one of the “Best of Yahoo! Groups,” this is the friendliest and most helpful discussion group that I’ve ever encountered. As with all Yahoo Groups, you can interact with it on the Web or via e-mail. I much prefer the latter. If I have a question, I simply fire it off via e-mail and then wait for the responses to roll in.
If you are not already a member, you have to sign up with Yahoo before you can interact with this group either online or via e-mail. However, you can read the archives online without having a Yahoo ID. When you become a member of the group, you have the option of accessing it via the Web and not receiving e-mails or you can choose to receive the group postings via e-mail. You can also set it up so that you receive a daily digest instead of individual e-mails.
The group is quite active, with over 10,000 members and averaging around 40 messages a day. If you decide to receive posts via e-mail, you may want to set up your e-mail software so that the messages are automatically routed to a subfolder. The group is moderated, so you won’t get any spam or junk mail. If you send an e-mail to the group, it gets posted in the Web forum and also gets sent to all those who have configured their account to receive e-mail.
So what goes on in this group? A lot of the posts are questions asked by people with a range of experience—newbies, experts, and even people who haven’t yet purchased an iPhone. In addition, people tend to post iPhone-related news, including hot deal alerts, rumors, newly discovered tips, useful apps, helpful online sources, and more. (Occasionally, you see posts trashing AT&T’s service.)
If you have questions, or would just like to hang out with some iPhone lovers, try this group. Much of the content is also relevant to the iPod touch, and people sometimes post touch-specific questions on this group. In addition, Yahoo has a smaller iPod touch group (tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/ipod_touch) and a general iPod group (tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/the_ipod_group). However, neither of these is as active as the iPhone group.
Apple has active discussion forums for all of its hardware, software, and services. Of particular interest are its forums for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iTunes
Apple Discussions for iPhone
The next place I’d try if I had a question would be Apple Discussions. Instead of a single forum for the iPhone, they’ve divided it up into 16 forum categories. There are separate discussions for each generation of iPhone: Original iPhone, 3G, and 3GS. There are categories for the iPhone’s built-in functions: Basics, Playing Music and Video, Internet and Networking, Bluetooth Headset, etc. The most active category by far is Phone and Messaging. Second place goes to Mail, Contacts, and Calendar. There’s one called Installing and Using iPhone Applications and three forums related to using the iPhone in the enterprise.
If you want to post on these forums you have to sign up for an account, but like the iPhone group on Yahoo, you can read the archives without doing so. However, when you create an account you get additional features. For example, you can click a link to see only the questions you’ve posted rather than your having to go back through the old forum posts to find them. And another link brings up all of your posts, including those posts that may have been in response to the questions of other users.
As with most forums these days, Apple Discussions has a “Subscribe” feature that lets you post a question and then receive an e-mail alert with the text of the reply when someone responds to your question. Tip: An easy way to set this up after you have signed up for an account is to click on the My Subscriptions link in the right hand column and check “Yes” next to the option labeled “Always subscribe to topics that I create.” You can also set up to be alerted when a message is posted in a thread in which you have made a reply.
If a particular post/discussion topic within a category interests you, you can click on the Subscribe link at the top of a post and you’ll receive e-mail alerts about all the responses to that post. You can also subscribe to a whole category by clicking on the link near the top of category page. However, if you do this, you’ll receive an alert every time someone posts to that category. It may not be such a good idea to do this.
Apple employees monitor the forums and respond to posts, but Apple issues a disclaimer that it has no obligation to answer questions. As with other forums, many of the questions are answered by expert enthusiasts who hang out there.
Apple Discussions for iPod touch
This is similar in structure and operation as the Apple Discussions for iPhone. However, it has a fraction of the traffic and only five categories: Using iPod touch (the busiest), Connecting iPod touch to a Mac, Connecting iPod touch to Windows, Installing and Using iPod Touch applications, and Nike + iPod Sport Kit and the iPod touch.
Apple Discussions for iTunes
Within this forum are separate sections for Windows and Mac users. Each of these sections has five categories: Using iTunes, Installing & Upgrading iTunes, Importing & Burning (music) in iTunes, Podcasting and Radio in iTunes, and Using iTunes-enabled mobile phone.
Other helpful forums
In addition to Yahoo and Apple, there are some other active forums where you can get help. Most have some sort of Subscribe feature, and they typically require you to register in order to participate.
Everything iCafe’s forums are among the best of the Web-based forums for getting help. Over 100,000 members contribute posts to over 30 iPhone and iPod touch-related discussion categories. You’ll find active discussions for each generation of the iPhone, four forums related to the App Store, three forums related to accessories, three forums dedicated to the iPod touch, forums dedicated to using the Mac or Windows with an iPhone, forums on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and more.
Planet iPhones Forums for the Technically Savvy
Planet iPhones has over 55,000 members and seems to be where the technically savvy users hang out. It has forum categories that include advanced topics like iPhone firmware, Apple iPhone SDK, iPhone modification tutorials, and jailbreaking. However, there are many forums that are suitable for less experienced users, including Getting Started, General iPhone & iPod Touch Chat, App Store Discussion, etc. There are also forums for downloading iPhone themes, wallpapers, and ringtones.
MacRumors has six iPhone-related forums and two for the iPod touch. One of the most active is iPhone Tips, Help, and Troubleshooting. This is a great place to get tips. One post in particular, a Tips and Tricks thread that a forum member started, has over 160 tips contributed by other forum members.
Get in the habit of asking questions
It’s good to get in the habit of asking questions, and it’s better to surround yourself with knowledgeable people who can give you good answers. The forums described in this article let you do both. All of these are active forums with many knowledgeable people visiting them and commenting on posts, so you should be able to get your questions answered in a timely way.
There are many more sites with active iPhone and iPod touch forums, and I list some of them on our Best Sites page (iphonelife.com/bestsites). Many of the news/reviews sites listed their also have forums. If you know of any excellent iPhone or iPod touch-related sites or forums that aren’t listed there, please drop me an e-mail at email@example.com.
Comments about Yahoo's iPhone Group
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, my favorite group for getting help is the Apple iPhone Yahoo Group. I posted a message telling the group that I was writing this article and asking them to tell me what they liked about the group. The responses were amazing; every person who replied said it was one of the friendliest and most helpful groups they’d ever experienced. Here is what some of them had to say:
“Patiently answered all my questions”
“Norma” told a great story. “Coming from a long relationship with various Palm devices, I was surprised to find that, for me, there was quite a learning curve with my new iPhone. The first two weeks were frustrating, and I was certain that I was going to march my sleek, shiny, pretty iPhone back to the Apple store and demanding my money back. I was so frustrated with it that I began calling it ‘Satan.’ This group very patiently answered all my questions and helped me work through my frustration. I can now say that I love, love, love my iPhone and would panic if I were without it.”
“Showed me the light”
“Techlady” wrote: “I was ready to give it back and get a BlackBerry. I was frustrated getting my Palm info sync’d with the iPhone and could see no options. This group showed me the light, explaining how to sync and gave me other tips, resources, and great ideas that really made the iPhone a ‘myPhone.’ Without feedback from this group, I would have downloaded and discarded more apps, trying to find out the ones that would work for me. The folks in the group chimed in about app pros and cons which allowed me to make better choices.”
Great for newbies and techies alike
“Shahara” commented on the polite nature of the group, noting that, “questions are always answered respectfully, even when asked by newbies.”
“Kevin” describes himself as a techie and says that the group is “…one of the few e-mail lists that I stay on because I learn new things frequently and the community is very supportive.”