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ATPM 14.08
August 2008




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Mac About Town

by Mike Chamberlain,

A Midsummer Night’s Mare (a comedy in multiple acts)

I think I remember writing (not all that long ago) that I was committed to my Treo 755p as the phone that would satisfy my need for an all-in-one communicator/PDA. The iPhone just didn’t have what I needed, mostly basic enterprise applications. And then…

iPhone 3G was announced and the App Store became a vision on the horizon and I was sold! The fact that it was arriving within a week of my birthday and that I could mask the overall cost with the reduced sale price was a convincing argument before the finance committee (made up of the person with whom I live—she chairs, records, and is the final authority on all things expensive). So what if I had to sell out my loyalty to Sprint? So what if I would have a phone with a reduced battery life? So what if I would lose all my Palm applications? So what if I would have to stand in line to get in a store where I would also be required to activate my phone on-site?

I live in Kansas City. 3G goodness abounds. I move in a wired world.

I am ready. I am willing. I am able!

And thus begins our tale…

At my age (older than I care to think about at this point), I worried about showing up too early to stand in line at the AT&T store that I had scoped out. I was pre-approved and had everything in hand. When I woke up at 5 AM on Friday, I dawdled a bit so as not to be up front with the rain-soaked geeks who had weathered the night’s storm to be first in line. It seemed to me that it would be uncool to be seen to be too eager, so a bit after 6 AM I headed out. I was surprised by the length of the line at our little shop but counted myself around 25th or 30th, not a bad number. Sadly, four hours later, it turned out to be a number too far. The third person in front of me snapped up the last 16 GB model and left the store. “We have an 8-gig model, sir.” “No thanks, I’ll wait for the 16.” After giving the clerk my credit card and my first son’s birth certificate, I left the store with a guaranteed delivery promise of some indeterminate nature. “When they come in, we will reserve the phone you ordered and contact you immediately. Have a nice day!”

I am generally not a patient person, so I was proud that I had resisted the temptation to settle for a model other than the one I wanted. I went home and consoled myself by downloading 40 applications from the iTunes store. Hey! Some of them were free! Who elected you to the finance committee?

Friday night I checked the store availability for the Plaza in Kansas City and found that it had all the models available. Saturday morning it was the same, so I headed downtown to see if I could snag one. Why wait for AT&T? The line was reasonable and I jumped in. Have I mentioned it was raining in KC this weekend? Not long after, an Apple elf came out to let everyone know that there were a couple of 16s and some 8s in the store but clearly not enough for all. Exercising patience again (where am I finding all this?), I headed home to search for more applications.

Monday morning and the Plaza store is showing availability again, but is it real? A call to the store elicited a kind and thoughtful response: “We have no phones in the store at the moment, but there is a shipment on the way that we expect in a couple of hours.” An early lunch from the office and I am on my way to iPhone nirvana! Can’t wait. I’ll take the other one from AT&T and give it to my son for his birthday. Excellent. Life is good. The sky is a cloudless blue, and the sun is shining.

There is no line at the Apple store at 10:30 AM. People are milling around inside, and when I ask an elf if they are going to form a line he says, “Oh well, we’ll do that when the phones get here.” “Really?” I ask. “You mean you will start a stampede right here in the store?” Ten minutes later, the elf comes to tell me that there is a line forming outside. I am number 15. All right! How many phones in a box? Surely, more than enough.

The Mac-people-waiting-in-line community forms and we drift in and out of conversation for the next hour. The conversations get more spirited in the hour that follows. A FedEx truck pulls up in the middle of the street, and the driver jumps out to deliver…dresses for the shop across the street. Another FedEx truck delivers leather goods to the shop next door. UPS comes around. Who knows what it had? Who cares? At 1:30, Plaza security shows up to move the line away from the dress-shop windows (where the shade was…did I mention that it was a cloudless sky?).

Elves turn up with water bottles a couple of times. A word leaks from the store that the phones are in and being entered into inventory. A manager elf comes out to say that that is not true, but there is a truck en route with a shipment for the store, and it is expected any minute. I am wishing I had worn a hat—especially since my follicular covering is…well, actually, there is no covering.

Strangely, at 2:30, security shows up again. Sidewalk encroachment? No, a team of older elves (Who knew that there were adults in the back of the Apple store?) comes out of the front door to inform the line that there are no iPhones on the truck nor will there be any that day. All of a sudden I notice the mace in the right hand of one of the Plaza security guards, or is it a taser? Hard to say for sure. Elves hand out more water. Not many takers. A list is offered to record our position with the promise of a call when new phones arrive. Grumble, grumble, sign, sign. My secretary and I have a good laugh on me when I come back empty-handed. That evening, my wife, the finance chair, wonders why I am sunburned on only one side of my face and neck and on one arm. (Note to self: If I ever set up a line in the sun, it would be good to turn it every half-hour or so.) Sleeping is a bit uncomfortable.

Tuesday dawns, and it’s another gorgeous Kansas summer day! I turn the shower as cold as I can and stand sideways in the shower to keep the heat off of my sunburn. I head for work. At 12:30 the call comes. “Mike? Were you in line yesterday? You were? Great! Come to the store and identify yourself. There is a phone with your name on the box.”

Patience and good humor is rewarded! “They have a phone with my name on it,” I tell my secretary, “and no line!” Sure enough, when I arrive at the store and show the elf my sunburn and my ID, thereby confirming my line cred, he goes to the back and returns with a 16-giger with my name and phone number stuck on it. We start the process, which, conducted in somewhat hushed tones, has the aura of a religious experience.

Open the account, check.

Credit check, check.

Porting the number, check.

Waiting, waiting, waiting… “Takes some time,” the elf says encouragingly.

What? Error # *$#R&#*#0!!!

“No sweat,” the elf says confidently, “this happened to some people on Friday, and I had an AT&T number to call to get it fixed.”

But, sadly, even Apple elves have bad days. While talking to the somewhat non-co-operative AT&T rep, the elf’s hand-held checker-outer-thingy times out and shuts down. I am puzzled by the look on the elf’s face—a mix of surprise, query, and horror.

Now, here’s the funny thing with this whole “You have to do it in the store” activation comedy. Turns out that once an iPhone is scanned and the purchase process begins, there is no turning back. The only thing the store can do in the event of an interrupted transaction is to send the phone back to the shipment center to be re-entered into inventory. “Maybe we can fix it,” the elf says, with what I note is less than certainty. Soon I am standing with the elf and the elf manager, both on the phone with different AT&T agents trying, on the one hand, to get my activation reversed. “But, Ma’am, you have activated the account and I haven’t sold the phone yet, so I can’t reverse anything!” And, on the other hand, trying to recapture my now-ported Sprint number. “But there is no SIM card in the 755p! (who knew?). Isn’t there any way you can undo the port?”

When I return to the office, empty-handed again, my secretary is amused. Call me crazy, but I guess I have gotten to the age where I can be amused as well, because the whole adventure has become hilariously absurd.

The good news is that I am at the top of a very special list to get a phone call from the manager of the Apple store when the next new 16-gig arrives. (All the others in stock already had names on them.) When I go back in, we will do the drill more carefully and, in all likelihood, I am told, AT&T will charge me full, second-phone price because, as far as it is concerned, I already have an iPhone! See? I even have a number! But don’t bother calling at the moment, because the ringing in your ear will be as imaginary as my midsummer night’s iPhone. For now, all I own is a no-number Palm Treo PDA—and it isn’t ringing anymore.

Oh, yeah. My application count is up to 51.

Here’s hoping your iPhone experience was a real hoot!

—Mike Chamberlain

(N.B. Apple has assured me that it will pay the extra cost—if any—for the second phone.)


Someone reading this piece asked about advice for a better experience next time. Here are my lessons learned:

  1. Go ahead and get up early. The only people who’ll know will be the geeks, and they don’t care.
  2. Always take a hat and an umbrella to the Apple store when there is a line.
  3. Take the water when the elves offer it.
  4. Keep your cool and your sense of humor. It’s not the elves’ fault. It’s the system.
  5. Rotate when in the sun for long periods of time. It’s a well-tested grilling technique.
  6. And one for Apple and AT&T: if you want to be certain of activation or receipt of the full cost for the next phone, why not charge the base price in the store and hold a pending charge for the remainder of the full cost to be applied if the phone is not activated in 14 days? That way, it’s in and out and thank you, Ma’am. Sounds simple to me.

I’ve learned some things in the past few days. Here’s hoping the Apple and AT&T have, too.

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Reader Comments (3)

mike · August 2, 2008 - 10:53 EST #1
"I’ve learned some things in the past few days. Here’s hoping the Apple and AT&T have, too."

They haven't. Apple again did not make enough iPhones for anticipated demand, and AT&T's service actually worsened since the first iPhone release! I had an almost identical experience trying to get an iPhone 3G, but I think my story was a little more painful.
Angus Wong · August 3, 2008 - 22:24 EST #2
Hi Mike,

Thanks for sharing your telephonic tale. I laughed out loud (as opposed to just reflexively typing "LOL") a couple of times.

You know, I am still on my Treo 650. Most people expect me to have ditched it Day 1 of iPhone but nope, still got a ton of "mission critical" apps I need (fr'instance, I don't suppose there's anything like CallFilter for the iPhone yet? Do tell if otherwise!).

Anyway I am quite amazed at myself for holding out for this long. I'd bought a MacBook Air almost the day of the keynote but am still waiting for an officially unlocked iPhone 3G to show up AND for PalmOS developers to port their wares en mass to the new promised land.

Oh, I've fooled around with many iPhones (ironically, many, many of my friends and family have iPhones) but instead finally springing for one I almost bought a 32 Gig iPod touch last week.

(Instead, the luddite in me went and procured a new fountain pen and a fresh pad of Rhodia! Ha! How's that for blasphemy!)
anonymous · August 6, 2008 - 15:10 EST #3
Since iPod touch got squeezed into the discussion - When the iPhone came out, and I learned of the complexity and expense of the contractual agreements, I knew I wanted to have nothing to with the iPhone. But I had to admit that the computer part of it was very compelling, along with the promise of lots of apps that would trancsend traditional PDA-type utilities. And so I longed and waited for the iTouch, and it was well worth the wait. On the whole, all I see is the iPhone taking all of the fun out of using the iPod Touch.

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