Imagine if Apple's handset prices in the US weren't announced at WWDC, and the subsidy pricing was up to AT&T. Imagine if AT&T told potential iPhone customers that the iPhone 4 would launch on July 30, and pricing info would be released well in advance of that.
Now imagine the weeks leading up to July 30 went by, and AT&T didn't say a word about the iPhone 4's pricing, even though many other countries had already released handset and plan info. It's July 29, and instead of working with its customers, throwing them a bone, giving them some sort of information, AT&T instead remained utterly reticent and deleted any posts on its forums remotely critical of its handling of the situation. Imagine AT&T followed up by deleting all mention of the iPhone 4 from its website: no pricing info, no pre-orders, not even a "coming soon" link.
Imagine that July 30 comes along, with the usual line-ups happening nationwide. You'll also have to imagine there's no Apple Stores, and AT&T is the only place in the country where you can buy a subsidized iPhone. At eight in the morning on the day the iPhone 4 is supposed to launch, there's no trace of it at any AT&T store, or Best Buy, or Wal-Mart, or anywhere else you might reasonably expect to find an iPhone 4 on the day it's launched. And even in the midst of all this, and with media reports flying about that Apple's partnership with AT&T has been cancelled, AT&T still doesn't have a single scrap of information to spare for its loyal customers. Not a word of explanation. Not a single excuse. Nothing. And no iPhone 4 anywhere in the nation.
Now replace "AT&T" with "Vodafone," and you have a picture of the iPhone "launch" in New Zealand. I put "launch" in heavy sarcasm quotes, because the iPhone 4 is not launching in New Zealand today... and thanks to Vodafone, no one has any idea when or even if it will be coming to New Zealand at a subsidised price. Read on for a textbook example of how to generate a PR disaster, and also an example of how not to treat potential customers.
Update: I just got off the phone with my local Vodafone retailer, and they claim they will be selling the iPhone 4 today starting at mid-day, but only to those willing to sign a 2-year plan; they are not selling unsubsidized handsets, and the iPhone 4 will be available for online sale "in the coming weeks." I'll be heading over there momentarily to try my luck, and will update later whether I'm successful in getting one or not.
Update 2: It turns out the store reps were correct, and my local Vodafone retailer did indeed get a supply of iPhone 4s just before noon. An orderly group of about a dozen customers lined up outside the store while Vodafone employees set up iPhone promotional materials and waited for clearance from corporate to sell the units. In a case of "better late than never," Vodafone sent a text to all iPhone owners at exactly 12:00 telling people iPhone 4 was available in limited quantities. By that time, it wasn't clear if there'd be enough stock to go around for people who may have given up hope earlier in the day, although store employees didn't seem to be worried about having enough iPhones for the group which showed up at mid-day. There's no way to know how many potential early adopters might have gone home with an iPhone 4 this morning, but who will now have to wait for more available stock to arrive.
I now have a 32 GB iPhone 4 syncing with my Mac, thanks in large part to the efficiency and friendliness of the retail staff at my local Vodafone store, who handled the launch with brilliant professionalism. If their company's upper management had handled things half as well as the rank and file, I might not have needed to write this article in the first place.