About iPhked

My name is Dan. I’m a 22-year old Software Engineer living in Boston, Massachusetts. The iPhone is the pinacle of technology and deserves to be commemorated forever, but after four hours spent trying to purchase one, talking to multiple people at an Apple store, an AT&T store, and AT&T customer care, I still have nothing to show for it.

Through poor training, no backup plan, and corporate bureaucracy and deal bickering, Apple and AT&T have failed in delivering what could have been the most anticipated and exciting product launch ever. I got iPhkd, and here is my analysis of what failed, the system screw ups behind it, and the dedicated Apple store employees who tried their best despite everything piling up against them.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

My Experience

Chapter 1: The Tease

July 12th: 8:30am

Get over to my local AT&T store before work. Line is 50-some strong. AT&T rep walks out, says the store got only 10 (yes, ten) iPhones today, but we could “pay for it now and get it in only seven days!” Wow, only seven days?! I have a day’s worth of Java to code, so I leave.


I go for a coffee break and call all AT&T stores in the Cambridge/Boston area to see if anyone still has them. All were sold out. Asked if anyone knew if they would get more, they all said they didn’t know. Confusion and uselessness from the AT&T people.

I bite the bullet and call the local Apple Store. They have plenty in stock and “don’t plan to run out.” Sounds like Apple gave AT&T the shaft and hoarded all the phones for themselves.

Chapter 2: The Wait


Get to the Apple store and wait in line.


Apple employee walks down the line handing out free waters and coffee. : )


Finally get to the front of the line. Greeter is handing out display iPhones to let us play with them. I use it to call a 1-900 dating line. Chat to “Amber” for a minute before I’m helped.

Chapter 3: Surprise! It Doesn’t ‘Just Work’


Computer doesn’t let Apple employee sell me an iPhone. I tell Apple employee I’m on a family plan. One would think that with Boston having the highest college-student-per-capita population, they would be trained for such a common (right?) situation. One would think their computer system would let them put in family plan members. “Ummm, let me talk to my manager. I’ll be right back.”


Manager told employee I need to be the primary account holder for a family plan.

“But I have all of the identifying information you could possibly need – account password, last four digits of SSN, everything that you need to authorize anything.”

Apparently, the Apple system isn’t designed communicate that information to AT&T. It just won’t let them, regardless of how much account verification you have.


Apple employee suggests I take another route: I create a new account, buy the phone, and within 30 days tell AT&T to cancel it and move the phone to my existing account. He doesn’t sound confident about this idea, so I ask to speak with an AT&T representative to make sure this is possible. There are none at hand, but luckily there’s an AT&T store right three stores down. I go there (note that this store also sold out of iPhones long ago and had none in stock).

Chapter 4: Lets Try Talking to AT&T


I wait a bit and finally see an AT&T representative. Sure enough, he tells me that Apple’s idea of creating a new account, cancelling it in 30 days, and transferring the iPhone is against their terms of service and wouldn’t work. He says several people have come in wanting to do that, but all that they end up with is additional fees and their iPhones taken away, as per contract. He says it is good I didn’t do it and doesn’t know why Apple employees keep telling people to do that.

He looks at my account. Apparently “it was set up wrong”. He fixes something and tells me it should work. I go back to Apple store (the employees are friendly, understand what’s going on, and find a salesperson for me right away).


One more round of trying the Apple system, going back to the AT&T store, and repeat. No one knows why Apple can’t sell me the phone.

Chapter 5: Elevator Music


Call AT&T customer “service”. Elevator music.


AT&T representative looks into my account. More elevator music.


Apparently the reason Apple can’t sell me a phone is because my account has some kind of “flag” on it.

“Can you remove it?”


“Can you override it?”


“Can you please transfer me to your supervisor?”


More elevator music. Now I’m really starting to get pissed.


I talk to manager. Manager explains there’s a bug in their system involving this “flag” and that’s not letting Apple sell me an iPhone. No one but the AT&T system designers can remove it, and they’re working on it, but it won’t be done for a few days. My conversation went like this:

AT&T: “I admit that on my end, everything looks completely fine and you should be able to purchase it. You just can’t right now.”

Me: “So basically I waited in line for two hours, spent another hour trying to figure this out, and because there’s a bug in your system that no one can override –“

AT&T: “We’re working on it”

Me: “ – that no one can override, that no one can talk to anyone about, I that is preventing me from buying an iPhone.”

AT&T: “You should be able to buy one at an AT&T store.”

(recall my earlier discussion on how Apple gave each AT&T store in the greater Boston area a total of 10 phones)

Me: “So I’ve basically wasted three hours right now because of a single flag in your system?”

AT&T: “We’re working on it.”

Me: “But correct me if I’m wrong: there’s nothing wrong with my account, I should be able to purchase one right now, but there’s a bug in your system that’s blocking me and wasting three hours of my time?”
AT&T: “You can go to an AT&T store…”

Me: “that we’ve just established doesn’t have any phones. Lets explore this: Can you reserve a phone for me at my AT&T store?”

AT&T: “No….”

Me: “Can you transfer an Apple store phone to an AT&T store?”

AT&T: “No…”

Me: “Can you contact me once you have this issue resolved?”

AT&T: “No… our system doesn’t let us do that.”

Me: “Do you guys have ANY backup plan for situations like this? Anything at all to make me not have just wasted three and a half hours? Any sort of manual fix? Anything at all? Anything that you could do to tell Apple, ‘hey, this guy is actually cool. Let him buy the iPhone!’”

AT&T: “…I can give you a $25 courtesy credit?”

I laugh and hang up in exasperation.

Chapter 6: Defeat.


Apple store employee lets me know once AT&T and Apple fixes their system I can come back any time and be served right away. I thank him and leave, defeated, and with my Friday afternoon wasted.

Coming soon: The analysis of what went wrong and how they could have prevented it.

Promises vs. Reality

Apple’s Promised Experience

Everyone knows Apple's pitch: Things just work as they’re supposed to. It’s supposed to be like walking into an ice cream parlour and ordering a big fat sandae-malt.

This time around, Apple decided to go for in store activation. You just walk in, a friendly Mac Genius takes care of you, and 10 minutes later, you’re online. Here’s what Engadget quoted AT&T as the reason for this choice:

"There is no question that many enjoyed the convenience of at-home activation, but we also found that many others wanted to complete purchase and activation in one step so they could walk out of the AT&T store with their iPhone up and running. We have decided to take the latter approach and we think customers will like it. It will be especially helpful if any questions or issues arise during activation. They can be resolved on the spot and in-person.”

Sounds fantastic. Everything works, and if it doesn’t, you get personal care.

The Reality

The reality is that Apple’s activation system interacts with AT&T’s records at the most rudimentary level. If you are the sole person on the account, things work. As soon as you have a non-standard account, Apple’s system won’t let them sell you anything.

Corporate account? Can’t help you. Family plan? Not unless you’re the primary account holder.

My nightmare began because I’m a recent college grad living in Boston. Throughout school, I’ve been on AT&T’s family plan because it made more financial sense than having my own account. Apple, however, apparently can’t cater to people in my situation due to the complexities of a family-style plan – their iPhone sales system just won’t let them sell it to non-primary account holders on a family plan.

[image credits: Universal Pictures]

Coming soon...