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Not everyone can get an iPhone

My nephew Dan—a Computer Science major at the University of Washington—is interning with me this summer. He gets an education in what it's like to create a start-up from scratch and I get a really bright young resource for a low weekly rate. I've known Dan his entire life and he's an exceptional young man. He and I get along extremely well and I've been looking forward to helping him learn the ins and outs of starting up a software business.

There's just one catch; Dan is a hardcore Windows guy.

We're building our product in Ruby on Rails so this isn't really a big issue. He's using an HP laptop running Vista and I'm using my Mac Pro and MacBook Pro. Needless to say a lot of good natured ribbing goes on between the two of us as I continually tell him how easy things are on my Macs.

A New Hope
It was then that I found out that Dan really wanted to get an iPhone. Many of his friends at school have them and he was thoroughly impressed with them. Though I don't have an iPhone because I'm locked into a Sprint contract several of the people that encouraged me to consider Macs got into them because of the halo effect of having an iPhone. Maybe there is hope for Dan after all!

We drove over to the Tyson's Corner Apple Store today so that Dan could pick up the new 3G iPhone. After stalking people in the parking lot for about 25 minutes we finally managed to get a parking place. Recession? Apparently not in Northern Virginia.

Once we got inside the mall I directed Dan towards the Apple Store and an odd site met our eyes: the front door of the store was guarded by an Apple employee and a security guard. There was a crowd of people milling around the railing in front of the store and it took us a couple of moments to realize that this was actually a line to get into the store. A line with about 150 people in it by my estimate.

We asked the Apple employee if they had enough iPhones left to get through the entire line and he said they had plenty of iPhones in stock, though they were running low on the black 16GB version.

Dan decided to gut it out and wait. The line moved very slowly and in the end it took Dan about 3 hours of waiting before it was his turn. The Apple employees were, as usual, incredibly nice. One wheeled out a cart with bottled water and some food for the people standing in line and the atmosphere was nice and calm. The lady in front of Dan told him that yesterday the line at the Fair Oaks Apple Store was over 700 people long so she decided to try for today instead. She seemed relieved to only have to wait for 3 hours.

The Empire Strikes Back
When Dan's turn finally came up he quickly picked out a black 8GB iPhone and a small case for it. Everything was going great until they tried to add the iPhone to Dan's AT&T family plan. His parents had 4 phones on the account and apparently had some kind of discounted rate that prohibited Dan from being able to add the iPhone.

Since it was now late afternoon on a Saturday the Apple staffer was furiously trying to reach AT&T to get the issue resolved but was not having much luck. Though the Apple folks do have the ability to do quite a bit on the AT&T accounts if you have a discounted rate on it then they are unable to do anything. For that you have to work through AT&T.

Since there was an AT&T store right around the corner we walked over and asked if they could get it resolved so that we could go back to the Apple store and purchase the phone. The AT&T store employee couldn't do anything because apparently Dan's mother was the primary on the account and needed to authorize the remove of this discount code. While we were in the AT&T store another person with a similar problem came in.

After 3 hours of waiting and getting so close that the boxed iPhone was resting in his hand for a few moments, Dan had to give up and wait for the account issue to be resolved before he could actually buy the phone. Ironically Dan's family had purchased this account less than a month ago. Dan was told by the AT&T rep that as soon as the iPhone was released he would be able to add it to his account without any problems.

Want an iPhone?
If you are considering getting an iPhone in the next week you will likely encounter some challenges. Though the Apple stores seem to be well stocked, the AT&T stores we visited (3) were all out of stock and had no idea when they would get any more in. If you are already an AT&T customer you may want to call AT&T and verify that you will not have any problems adding an iPhone to the account. The Apple store staffer said this was a recurring problem for a number of people trying to buy the iPhone today.

Another thing you will want to make sure of is that if you are on a Family Plan already with AT&T you need to be authorized to make changes to your account. If not, make sure the person that is comes with you to buy that phone, otherwise you may be in for a wasted trip.

Fortunately Dan was not too discouraged. He should have the account problems cleared up by Monday and we'll head back to the Apple Store so that he can actually get that iPhone. They gave him a little tag that will allow him to bypass the line since he already waited in it.

17 comments:

Dean said...

>> Dan was told by the AT&T rep that as soon
>> as the iPhone was released he would be able
>> to add it to his account without any problems

Never, ever, ever believe anything an AT&T sales rep tells you, or you will be sorely disappointed if you can't see it in writing for yourself, it's wrong. At worst, it's an unscrupulous ploy to sell you services. At best it's poor training. And they won't care about it after the fact.

Did I mention you should never believe anything anyone at AT&T tells you?

eric said...

Can't wait to hear about The Return of the Jedi on Monday!

Mad Russian the Natural Philosopher said...

Some of us who would really like to get an iPhone will have to wait even longer until Apple opens their phone up to other carriers, because some of us don't have much use for AT&T.

The phone looks like a great product and if Apple wanted to make even more money they should open their phone up to other carriers.

I hope Dean's prediction isn't true for Dan, but we'll see what you report on your blog.

dhowse said...

I have to second dean's comment. I, hours ahead of time, had the discount removed from my account. I'd read of the problems people were having. While standing in line outside the Apple store in Orlando I called AT&T and confirmed that my account had the dreaded FAN# removed. Turns out that the AT&T system has to pass that to the Apple system otherwise you cannot checkout. Numerous calls and 6 hours of waiting and I walked out of the store with no iPhone. Everytime I called AT&T I got a different story. Even their supervisors were surly. The last guy I talked to said it would take anywhere from 10 minutes to 7 days to get the FAN# off my account on the Apple system. Pathetic.

The other thing that is interesting about this whole thing is the distribution of iPhone stock. My local AT&T stores had maybe 2-3 dozen phones on Friday. By 10:00 the entire county was sold out. The two Apple stores in Orlando had THOUSANDS! Since AT&T is paying Apple $100 for each activation it's obvious that Apple is trying to "optimize" it's revenue. Looks like all AT&T can do to limit that is to screw it's current customers that are trying to upgrade.

Tell Dan not to get his hopes up on getting that iPhone anytime soon.

dhowse said...

David,

Sorry to be so negative on my first post. AT&T seems to bring out the worst in me. Wireless companies seem to be the robberbarons of this century. Without real market competition you end up with the mess we have today.

Thank you very much for your very entertaining and instructive blog. As a recent switcher (3 weeks) with PC experience going back to DOS 2.0 your adventures have been very useful.

One of the main things that bothered me about OS X was the way Finder displayed files. As a PC guy I expect to see the folders displayed first followed by the individual files. Due to it's Unix heritage, Finder can't do that. After looking around I found an application called Path Finder. It's a more complete alternative to Finder and it will let you organize your folders into the "windows" configuration automatically.
Highly recommended.

David Alison said...

@Dean: I dropped AT&T and switched to Sprint 4 years ago. At that time I had been with them for over 6 years and they royally screwed over my account. The only reason I am considering going back to them is Apple, otherwise I'd just stick with Sprint or maybe give Verizon a try.

@Mad Russian: I'm making do with my iPod Touch and it's working out great so far. I do agree though, it would have been a lot better for this to be non-exclusive to AT&T.

@DHouse: I'm not too optimistic for Dan. He has a lot more patience than I do so hopefully he'll get it resolved soon.

David Alison said...

I'm doing a little more research on this and have now heard it referred to as a PLU#, a FAN# and an IRB#. If your account has one of these little gems on it an iPhone is not in your future.

dhowse said...

The frustrating part is even if you remove the offending FAN# it doesn't get sent to Apple's system anytime soon. Your account looks good if you bring it up online but AT$T hasn't sent the information to Apple. You have to get them to open a "ticket" on it. And then it will get done when it gets done. Zero guarantees.

Azhar said...

I want an iPhone - but I'm going to run into bigger problems than Dan.

For one I live in India but study in NYC. AT&T isn't in India. Vodafone is, but they don't like foreign iPhones.

So if I want an iPhone have to pay 600 bucks for it AND get a plan on AT&T with no credit history (i.e. huge deposit).

So I don't think the iPhone lies in my future.

Eytan said...

@David,
I too had an annoying experience Friday. Stood in line 7 hours to get my iPhone, get in, do everything, and am told I have a business account and have to go to an AT&T store. Back when I 1st joined my company (and before iPhones were a reality), I could get a discount on my AT&T phone bill of 15% a month just by virtue of working for a company - note this was not a corporate phone or a work phone - this was a DISCOUNT for being a large corporation. When the iPhone came out, and no discounts were offered, I asked them to remove me from the "Business Plan". They (AT&T) told me they would like to keep me on for book-keeping purposes, but it would be no problem, and all was well, or so I thought.....
Well, Obviously I never signed up for a business plan when the original AT&T iPhone business plan was offered (why would I want to pay MORE for my personal iPhone then LESS?) - so why did they now think that I want to be on the business plan at 45 vs 30 a month?
Anyway, I was not the only one that day that had to wait in the store and have us call AT&T and get them to fix my account. The woman I worked with said she had at least 5 like that - and I was maybe 170th in line!

Alex Pelzel said...

I am a complete and total technophile and lust after the latest and greatest gadgets all the time.

That said, I have almost zero desire for an iphone. I hate being chained to my email. I hate that my current Treo can't seem to tell me when I have a voicemail. I hate the rotten call quality. I know the iphone is supposed to fix almost all of that, but I've come to the conclusion that I want a cell phone that will do one thing:

Send and receive phone calls.

Oh, and voicemail. Beyond that, I'm not interested. Now, that ipod touch, on the other hand...

Alex Pelzel said...

I forgot to add: cell phone technology peaked with the Nokia 3390. What a great phone. My cell phone experience has been all downhill since then.

Gman said...

I have a 2g iphone on a family plan. The family plan is discounted with a fan#. I was able to do this because it is not the primary line. Also I went to AT&T yesterday and they stated I would be able to keep the discount even if both my wife and I upgraded to the 3g ipone. My discount is 25%. I'd definately like to keep it.

David Alison said...

@Gman: They may let you by with that at an AT&T store, assuming they have the iPhones in stock. I'm pretty sure if you try doing that at an Apple store you will not be able to buy it, unless they have changed the rules because of the negative backlash on it. Good luck!

Bent in Bend said...

Let's not forget all of us who don't even have AT&T service available. Bend, OR isn't that far out there!

Pecos Bill said...

AND??????

I thought I might be able to get one once the frenzy died down. Alas, it is sounding like Apple won't have a new batch from China for 2 to 4 weeks.

@MadRussian: the only way Apple could get the ability to do whatever they wanted was to sign a 5 year exclusive contract. So, maybe in four years OR you can get an unlocked one soon and hope for the best (visual voicemail reportedly only works with ATT).

David Alison said...

@Pecos: No update because my nephew's parents are trying to work out something with his AT&T store in So. Cal. I'll know in a couple of days if they pulled it off for him.

This has been a comedy of errors.