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iPhone 3G S buying at the Walt Whitman Mall, Huntington, NY

David Winograd

I just got back from the Apple Store and am now the proud owner of an iPhone 3G S 32 GB in basic black. I can't wait to get at it, but before dive in, I want to write a bit about the experience.

Driving to the Apple store at the Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington, NY, I drove past an AT&T store which had no line and very few cars in the parking lot. When I got to the Apple store, it was a different story. There was a bit of a line or actually two lines, but nothing big. When I got to one of the Apple reps at the start of the line, I was asked if I pre-ordered. I had, and my name was on the list. I was told to stand on a line of only five people, the other line of people who had no pre-ordered numbered fourteen.

It was about 1:50 pm when I got there and I was curious to see how the Apple experience would differ from what I was accustomed to. The last few times I bought a cellphone, it was a slow, laborious process where the store rep had to take a ton of information from me, get a credit check, wait, find a phone, wait, get more information from me, wait, take the phone to the back to infuse it with life by chanting arcane spells and pushing arcane buttons, wait, hear a canned sales pitch on how the phone would be absolutely no good without a dozen or so accessories that they would be very happy to sell me, refuse, wait, sign a sheave of documents, wait, get the okay, a shopping bag and a receipt and finally leave the story after well over an hour. Let's see how Apple does it.

While waiting in the line with a bottle of Poland Spring Water given to me by an orange-shirted rep, I struck up a conversation with Angelo Vergara who was trading in his three month-old 16 GB model for the same capacity in a 3G S. He told me a story that made me do a double-take. Angelo could have upgraded a year ago according to his contract, but didn't. Instead, he bought his iPhone 3G a few months ago. To upgrade it would cost him $399. That sounded a bit steep. I asked him why he couldn't just cancel his contract, sell the 3G iPhone and pay the early termination fee, and then start a new contract along with paying only $199 for his new phone. He told me that doing so would lose his phone number which he was not wont to do. The net dollars spent would be close, but it seems like he was caught in an odd concatenated AT&T policy. When I got to the front of the line, I asked Jane, my sales rep if this was, in fact, policy and she told me it was. Seems somewhat fishy though.

Jane, a very friendly sales rep, asked me some basic questions and I signed her mobile point of sale machine. We then waited for AT&T activation. After five minutes or so, it didn't come, Jane asked another rep about this and was told to wait ten minutes and try again. She did and the system didn't let her proceed. Jane told me that the store was having trouble with self-activation (meaning pre-signing up on the Apple web site) and she would have to do it manually which would be the same procedure as if I walked into the store cold. Hmm, I thought, remembering the fun times I always had at Verizon.

Jane started over and input my drivers license number, my social security number and my MobileMe account information into her pad. Although I previously did this online, we had to go through which plan I wanted and such. I signed the pad another couple of times and this time it worked. My new phone number showed up. She asked me if I wanted AppleCare or a case, but no hard sell. Then she gave my phone to the activation guy who plugged it into a MacBook Pro and ten seconds later, the phone was activated and I was on my way out of the store.

After reading Victor's account, I was surprised that they didn't offer to set up email or offer me any other assistance. Since this is my first iPhone I didn't know if that part mattered or not. I turned out it didn't since I had basic email setup in about ten seconds.

From the time I entered the line to the time I left the store, forty minutes had passed. This was a lot less than what I had previously experienced, but not by that much. If the system had deigned to work, it would have taken about fifteen minutes.

Since I've never even played with an iPhone outside of the store until today due to a seemingly endless Verizon contract and my decision not to buy one until a 32 gb version was released, I'm an iPod virgin and I'm sure that many thousands are in the same boat.

I plan on writing about my experiences right from "jump street." If you are also new to the party, we can both celebrate and commiserate.

Let's hear your experiences, and please drop me a comment with questions and advice. It's not often I can play at being a Tabula Rasa, and I'm excited!

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