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Summary:

I bought my iPhone 3GS from the Apple Store in London’s Regent Street. It’s one of Apple’s flagship stores, so on any given day of the week it’s usually busy. And when I use the word “busy,” what I really mean is “insanely, painfully, dizzyingly frantic.” […]

I bought my iPhone 3GS from the Apple Store in London’s Regent Street. It’s one of Apple’s flagship stores, so on any given day of the week it’s usually busy. And when I use the word “busy,” what I really mean is “insanely, painfully, dizzyingly frantic.” Imagine, then, how the just-launched iPhone 3GS added to the Busy. The word “pandemonium” springs cheekily to mind.

Well, now it seems Apple might be taking steps toward improving the in-store iPhone purchasing and activation experience. According to MacRumors, Apple is planning to introduce new, specially-trained dedicated staff and permanent in-store areas where customers can pick up their shiny new phones and have them activated.

The plans require changes to the store layout to make space for a dedicated space, a la Genius Bar, but titled “iPhone Activation Zone.” This new zone will be manned by a new category of Apple Store staff, named “iPhone Experts,” sporting unique name badges and t-shirts.

MacRumours says that the service requires customers to have already completed the pre-authorization process online, presumably before coming to the store. Mind you, I suppose customers who haven’t done this already might use one of the ubiquitous display-model Macs they can find elsewhere in-store to do it. (That’s assuming they can fight their way through the throngs of students and curious shoppers who stopped-by to check their email.)

A Wise Move

Increasing the end-to-end speed of the purchase-to-authorization process is crucial to improving the overall experience of acquiring a new iPhone. For many people, the iPhone is the most sophisticated piece of Apple hardware they own. I suspect in a great many cases the iPhone is something of a “gateway drug” to the Macintosh. It certainly was for me. For other potential switchers (even those who don’t yet know they’re going to become switchers!) enhancing and smoothing-over the iPhone purchase process is a wise move.

The iPhone 3GS is my third iPhone but it’s the first I bought in an Apple store. I was so excited — not only was I getting the latest, greatest iPhone, I was getting it from one of Apple’s most impressive and famous stores. I expected a typically Apple-tastic experience, but instead, had a pretty lousy one. I stood in a queue with other bored, angry customers who had been waiting a long, long time for the pleasure of parting with a significant amount of their money. (Call me old fashioned, but I believe that a flagship store should provide a flagship experience, particularly to customers who are there specifically to empty their wallets of a lot of green.)

Once I (finally) got to see a member of staff (who shepherded me to an area in the corner where a few old tables had been jumbled together surrounded by rope) I still had to wait and wait and wait. Apparently, there were only two portable credit card machines amongst a dozen staff. Bafflingly, there was only one SIM card removal tool (aka, straightened paperclip) between them, too. After the pain of waiting, waiting and waiting some more, I felt much less giddy about parting with many hundreds of hard-earned pounds sterling.

But I’m already a Mac fanatic. There’s just enough fan-boy-ism in my blood to forgive Apple’s Regent Street store for its obvious difficulty managing the extraordinary demand the 3GS generated. But in the time I had to sit and stare vacantly into space, I couldn’t help but notice the Genius Bar dedicated to Macs and the iPod Bar on the opposite side providing for users of Apple’s music players. Clearly Apple catered to its other big sellers, why not the iPhone? Why did we poor saps have to be crammed into a poorly lit, grubby and crowded corner of the store where the experience was…well…lacking.

I’m delighted with the prospect of Apple fixing this and showing its iPhone customers a little more love (at least in-store, where we happily part with our money, if not online, where we grumble and complain and ask for it back.) The name “iPhone Activation Zone” suggests this is only for the purchase and activation of iPhones, not trouble-shooting faulty units. Presumably the Genius Bar will continue to provide that service for iPhones, but I can already picture the many puzzled customers, battered iPhones in-hand, wandering up to the Activation Zone staff and asking,

“Can you fix my iPhone?”
“No, this is just for activating, you need to go to the Genius bar”.
“Oh,” the customer blinks, double checking the sign on the wall, “I just thought, since the sign says iPhone…”

After my poor experience at the Apple Store earlier this year, I was planning to get next year’s (inevitable) new iPhone via one of O2’s brick and mortar stores. But now I look forward to what might just be a far better experience. At the very least, I’ll give it a try.

MacRumors reports Apple’s iPhone Activation Zones and iPhone Experts may appear as soon as… right now. So there’s a chance your local Apple Store staff might already be moving the furniture about. Have you spotted an iPhone Expert? Have you spoken with one? Most importantly — and this is the question we all want to see answered — what color t-shirts do they wear?

  1. I picked up my iphone in a mac store in CT and they did everything right there. There were three specially trained people only for phones in specific color clothing (i think red or orange). It was really quick and easy. I thought this was common.

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  2. Excellent Service on in Peabody MA!

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  3. Our store here in Honolulu had an iPhone Activation Zone as of Saturday morning. It’s a dedicated area with seats for people to shop and activate their phones.

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  4. [...] TheAppleBlog reports the following: . . . The plans require changes to the store layout to make space for a dedicated space, a la Genius Bar, but titled “iPhone Activation Zone.” This new zone will be manned by a new category of Apple Store staff, named “iPhone Experts,” sporting unique name badges and t-shirts. MacRumours says that the service requires customers to have already completed the pre-authorization process online, presumably before coming to the store. . . . [...]

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