Why this year’s iPhone launch was very un-Apple

40 Comments

I remember standing in line last year for the iPhone. It was a momentous occasion. There was excitement in the air and people just having a great time waiting for 6 PM when the iPhone went on sale. People were camped out in lawn chairs and owners of shops came out to see what the fuss was about. They even brought us chairs from their stores to sit in and let us use their power outlets to recharge our laptops.

Contrast that to this year, when the much anticipated iPhone 3G was launched at 8 AM local time. I was in line (with a few hundred soon-to-be friends) at 8 AM when the “launch” started. After 2 hours we had barely moved 10 feet. Around 11 AM, we finally got reports that there were server issues. At first they said the issues were with iTunes software activating new iPhones, but then they quickly shifted the blame to AT&T’s servers.

The mood quickly went from upbeat and excited to tired and irritated. Standing in line, hour after hour, this year was a stark contrast from last year. At Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta, security guards wouldn’t even let people sit down (on the floor, or in mall-provided seating) even though we were mall customers waiting to spend quite a bit of money in their stores.

The whole atmosphere of this year’s launch was of disappointment, disorganization, inconvenience and irritation. Very un-Apple.

I know of at least 20 people around us in line who gave up and simply went home, disillusioned at the company they admired so much earlier that same day. I personally have mixed feelings about the competencies of both Apple and AT&T after such a botched event.

Last year, Apple was hurrying to get FTC approval and launch a brand new product with new technology to the world. It was much anticipated and they knew they were on a tight time frame. In spite of the very limited time to plan and the long lines (which seemed to be even longer than this year in most places), the event was overwhelmingly successful. Even though I didn’t get my 1st generation iPhone activated until after 10 PM, over 4 hours after I got it, I never even associated that with Apple. It was simply AT&T’s activation, a typically slow telecom company doing what they do best.

But when Apple and AT&T decided to subsidize the phones this year, and force in-store activations they should have known there were likely to be issues. As a developer and manager of enterprise-level applications, I’m shocked that AT&T and Apple did not sufficiently stress-tested their systems to ensure it could handle at least the same volume as last year.

I finally got my iPhone last night at 8:15 PM, over 12 hours after I got in line and 12 hours after they went on sale. Contrast that to last year, when I got to Lenox Square Apple Store at 8 AM and had an iPhone shortly after 6 PM, minutes after they went on sale.

This years iPhone launch was already complicated with in-store activations, which were enough to slow lines, but added to all the iTunes and AT&T server issues yesterday made me seriously question attending another launch event.

Apple is a master of creating emotion and excitement. They do it with their products, keynotes, launch events and even inside their products, which are typically elegant and just easy to use. Apple fanatics… err, I mean, customers… will spend any amount of money and wait in line (in the cold or rain) without complaining, just for the privilege of giving Apple their money or attention.

That changed on July 11, 2008. As I walked down the line as I left, I spoke with several people that had been in line for more than 12 hours for the new iPhone. The only reason most of them were still in line is simply the fact that they couldn’t imagine spending 12 hours in line and not having anything to show for it at the end of the day.

Apple is just a company and is bound to make mistakes, but I wonder if this is to become a recurring theme or if Apple will work harder in the future to ensure that product launches go smoothly. Only time will tell. One thing’s for sure though, if Apple launches iPhone 3.0 in July 2009, I won’t be in line.

40 Comments

Allister

Oh my! It took me about 50 minutes to get to the head of the line once the doors opened and then I was out the door about 20 minutes later. The activation tool mere seconds. But then again, I had gone home, gone to bed, woken up the next day and was playing with my phone before any of the events described in this article happened. :-) Ah, the joys of little old New Zealand. No 1st gen iPhone here, but once we got in on the act, seamless.

Gregory Pierce

I’m starting to feel that the author and I may have been very near each other in the line because we share very similar experiences of that event including the lack of being able to sit down. I couldn’t believe that the mall cops were coming around on Segways telling people they had to stand – I mean did they want a lawsuit if someone fell to the floor after having been standing for hours?

Michael

I think its fair that the blog author writes how he feels about his experience on queuing to get the new iPhone. Afterall, is that what a blog is about? It’s not really meant to be a Pulitzer-winning journalistic article. He’s human like the rest of us. He has expectations which were unfortunately too high for what Apple and AT&T could offer in terms of swift, efficient service. Yes, way way before the event, we all knew that there was going to a long wait due to in-store activations. But the vibe I got from the author was that he wasn’t specifically complaining about that, but the general atmosphere surrounding the wait, the anticipation of the event. He said that last year, “security guards wouldn’t even let people sit down (on the floor, or in mall-provided seating)”, which contributes ALOT to the discomfort level.

Gregory Pierce

@Joseph

Blaming the victim seems to be very popular in the world today. Something goes wrong – well you shouldn’t have done that. Car blows up – well you shouldn’t have purchased a hybrid. Were the consumers responsible for being anything other than consumers? When did it become a crime for a person to walk to a store on launch day and get a product? Why are those people somehow stupid?

Guess its just a sign of the times today that instead of blaming the people who are REALLY responsible for the problem and complain to them and demand that THEY do the right thing, we take the easy way out and blame the victims of the process. I guess you blame the people who went to use MobileMe yesterday during the outage, or the people who upgraded their phones when the firmware came out, or people for not being able to afford gas to drive to work.

May you should focus on who is accountable and blame them instead of blaming those that suffered as a consequence of their actions.

Joseph

@Gregory

You make a decent point (re: availability vs. process), but again, you’ve missed the point:

There was no reason to line up for the iPhone in the first place other than to get it on day one. That’s why I have no sympathy.

Apple screwed up, yes, but we knew that before launch day. We expected problems. We expected a wait. Sure, it ended up being much longer, but if you stood in line for twelve hours for an iPhone, you don’t get to complain about it. You’re the fool who chose to do so. Now, had Apple simply let you buy the phone and take it home unactivated and without the contract (like the first iPhone), you wouldn’t have had the wait. iTunes probably still would have had problems activating the phones, but the wait itself could have been mitigated.

The writing was on the wall long before 8am Friday morning.

Gregory Pierce

@KenC

There IS no shortage. It just takes forever to go through the process of getting set up. Even if it only took 10 minutes (which it doesn’t), the average Apple store has 10 people working in parallel to get people done. So if you have only 100 people trying to get the product it still takes almost two hours just to process them all. Unfortunately the process was taking closer to 25-35 minutes per person. Doesn’t take much to do the math on that one and see that in-store activation was a disaster waiting to happen. And what’s worse, they wanted to do EVEN MORE such as setting up your phone and making sure your contacts were transferred and showing you how to use the features (this coming from an Apple rep in the store). With that use case people would have died in line waiting to get into the store.

KenC

Don’t know why people HAVE To have the new iPhone on the first day. I got my EDGE iPhone, the first day, but that’s after I went to see Ratatouille, and there was no line at my AT&T store. I stopped in at the Apple Store in Norfolk, VA on Saturday to see how things were going, and of course, they were all sold out. I have no remorse, as my EDGE iPhone works great with the new version 2 software and MobileMe. I’ll pick up an iPhone 3G as soon as the shortage dissipates.

Robert

This is what happens when Apple has to venture outside they’re own product/manufacturing ecosystem to bring a product to market. I agree that it would appear that little to no stress-testing was done by Apple and AT&T. I hope that Apple isn’t imitating Microsoft’s habit of getting ahead of itself by developing more and more new applications before they has “solidified” the quality of those that they’ve already released. I would strongly urge Mr. Jobs to take the next year to consolidate his gains and address many of the deficiencies of this second version of the iPhone. While I’m a big Mac proponent, I’ve wanted to wait until version 2 before buying an iPhone but now I’m having some doubts and am wondering if I should wait another year.

Jeff

Rutger – why are you posting on a blog when you could be using that time/energy to help the homeless?

Bob

In the article, you wrote: “I’m shocked that AT&T and Apple did not sufficiently stress-tested their systems to ensure it could handle at least the same volume as last year.”

This was the largest CE release in history (based on $$ value, adjusted for inflation), nearly tripling the previous largest release (the original iPhone). How, exactly, do you predict, let alone stress test for that? And, for the record, how do you know it couldn’t handle the same volume as last year?

Just wondering.

Gregory Pierce

@Joseph

How could one possibly know that they would be waiting 12 hours – 12 HOURS from the beginning of the wait till the end. Has there ever in the history of a product launch been a wait in line (not including waiting before the store opened) until you had a chance to sit down and actually do the order? Most people I was in line with expected a 3-4 hour wait and were prepared for that, but as the day drew on, it was clear that an unknown number of additional hours would be required.

NOBODY expected to wait for 12 hours. Clearly AT&T didn’t expect people to wait that long because all they did was start signing people up for direct fulfillment – the equivalent to ordering the damn thing online, which you couldn’t even do on Apple’s Store! Hell if the people in line were given the option to do that, there would have been no 12 hour wait. People would have simply signed the forms and went home.

Joseph

@Gregory

Everybody knew it was going to be a PITA dealing with Apple or AT&T on Friday. Everybody. We knew it the second it was confirmed that activation would have to occur in store. If you chose to go you made the choice to deal with it.

I personally didn’t go precisely because Apple has its head so far up its ass with iPhone 3G. Apple caved on some of the most important aspects of what made buying the original iPhone such a pleasant departure from the typical BS associated with buying a new mobile phone.

Gregory Pierce

@Joseph

If the availability was guaranteed, 100% of people would have sold through at the mall. Since Apple and AT&T couldn’t get their crap together a far less than 100% of people were able to complete their transactions in the store, not counting the large number who simply gave up frustrated and went away.

Joseph

You stood in line for a product whose availability was all but guaranteed. Zero sympathy here.

Gregory Pierce

I will echo Brandon’s sentiment. I too waited 12 hours in the lines at Lenox Mall in Alanta Georgia and my only sentiment about Apple right now based on their weekend of failures from MobileMe’s botched launch, to WWDC’s having to have thousands of people try to download 2GBs of SDK, to busted betas of the SDK which left developer phones broken and unsable, to bricking 1G iPhone users phones with firmware that was apparent at that point could not be activated, etc. is that Apple know next to nothing about enterprise IT so much so that they didn’t have enough sense to work with their supposed partner and determine their own level of incompetence which was illustrated at 2AM when the AT&T authentication system and the Apple systems BOTH went down for the evening, leaving at least – AT LEAST 50 people having to go home after having waiting for 12 hours. I, sadly, was amongst them.

There were SO MANY simple things that Apple could have done to solve the problem. If you’re having an IRU issue – start putting together different lines so that quick number port users can move quickly and the people who have to all call AT&T can do that. Check eligibility EARLY in the line. Don’t wait until people have been in the lines for HOURS before you come out and check. There was one gentleman who had been there for over 10 hours before they came out and started doing that – the guy had AT&T saying that he was eligible, but because the Apple system had different requirements from AT&T APPLE COULDN’T SELL HIM A PHONE! Wait, wasn’t this a partnership – weren’t you both launching the product in your respective stores? Ah I see, it never occurred to either party to actually do a test to see if the process would work. Normally you find these issues in PRE-SALES! AT&T considers any user that receives a discount from work to be a business user and their accounts got flagged in Apple stores is being ineligible to upgrade. Apple just wanted to deal with individuals so it never occurred to them that a large number of the users that would be in line would be people who work for companies where they get discounts on their service. Amazing clusterfuck of incompetence on both side.

Lots of Apple apologists will write all of this off to launch issues, but there is a systematic issue with Apple at this point – hell there are significant performance issues with even the 2.0 firmware. Apple is bursting at the seams. They are rushing products to market at this point and it shows. It also shows that they are either willfully clueless that this is happening (how could people in the store even think this made sense, how could they NOT know that mobileme was down) or their entire communications process is horribly flawed.

SOMETHING is wrong in Cupertino at this point and consequently I’m glad, very glad that they are taking a step back with 10.6 an just trying to get things to work right for a change. Hopefully the iPhone team will be given the opportunity to do the same because its all starting to head towards crap at this point.

Never before have so many owed so much pain and suffering to so few.

Cameron

I went to check out the lines here in Montreal (Canada) on launch day–INSANITY. I decided to forgo that shitty experience and just order my iPhone by… well… phone. It will probably be a week or two before I have it in hand, but like DJFelix said above: “I don’t *have* to have it today”.

Angel Dominguez

Phew, if you feel you had a hard time, here in Spain the launch was an utter screwup by Telefonica. They only supplied their new flagship store with enough iPhones, leaving the rest of the country with about 10 to 20 units per store, and that if you could find one that had even received them.
I’ve read horror stories from people that stood in line for 10 hours to get one, on ly to be told they were not elligible for an iPhone because they already had a contract with Telefonica and that customers switching from Vodafone or Orange had priority.
Of course, then there’s the usual stories about relatives, friends and big shots getting their iPhones while most buyers searched their whole towns without an iPhone to be seen. That’s the spanish way… *sigh* Damn Telefonica, unlocked iPhones now!

George

Wow, Rutger, I really liked that. I never did understand why people risk life and limb to continue to come to this country, but no one ever said they were very smart. Then there’s war, that terrible act where the United States, not content with just it’s people free to buy iPhones, leave the comfort of our country to help other people,, even when we don’t have to. Worse yet, is that starvation thing, like countries in Africa that sit on all kinds of wealth and treasures but are starved by their own leaders for generations. But, there’s the hitch, you can’t dislike starvation AND war. Sometimes we go to war to try and protect people from being persecuted and starved only for people named after universities to complain about the fact that we went to war to do it. Go figure.

Mario

Brandon, perhaps you should have titled your post with a title more reflective of the fact that the iPhone launch YOU experienced was very un-Apple. You didn’t even leave an ending line asking TAB readers how their experience was!

Here in Australia it went amazingly smoothly for myself, I spent a total of zero minutes waiting in line as an existing Optus customer and iPhone pre-deposit holder, and the actual activation of the iPhone involved popping in my existing sim card from my previous mobile and plugging it into a set up laptop for about 20 seconds before handing it back to me and sending me on my way.

Hopeful non-deposit holding customers who had arrived during the deposit-holder-only 2 hour early opening period began to be served as I was leaving the store – an hour early for them – because there were no deposit holders left.

Admittedly, customers who had not bothered to look into and pre-choose the available post/pre-paid plans and associated conditions seemed to be having a tough time getting through the activation process – but really, who’s to blame for that other than themselves.

So perhaps it’s only iPhone customers in America with AT&T that are having a sucky experience? Why not ask your readers for their experiences?

DJFelix

I had a great experience. I went to AT&T yesterday, waited 5 minutes, ordered an iPhone for myself and my wife, and left. I spent about 15 minutes in the store. I have to wait for my iPhones to arrive in the mail, but I didn’t have to wait in line.

My wife was amazed at how easy the whole process was. The trade-off is that I have to wait a few days for my phone to come in, but I’m OK with that. I don’t -*have*- to have it today. I can wait a few more days, and not having to camp out and/or wait in line all day is worth the wait.

Dan Ridley

I’m not going to throw the ‘starvation and war’ line at you, but… I don’t see why you would expect hours of waiting in line on launch day to be fun. Launch days are always hectic at best.

I guess I just don’t get why someone who has an iPhone would be eager to get in the line this year. Last year, you walked away with a revolutionary phone. This year, we all know going into the launch that it’s a mild improvement on the hardware side, and the old phones get the really good stuff, which is new software. I suspect part of your disappointment might be that at the end of it all, you’re not walking away with so much revolution in your pocket.

But you knew that already. So why’d you get in line?

innhitman

ok, let’s get back to the fact that this article is just plain dumb to begin with!!!

Josh Pigford

@Rutger: Based on your logic…why are you wasting your time reading a blog about Apple when you could be out helping homeless people or saving the world? If anything, your statement just makes you one massive hypocrite.

Reasonable

Wow Rutger . . . that’s one way to sound like a jerk. This entire website is about Apple, its products and its people. No one will argue that we live fortunate lives but this is still not the forum for such an argumentative and insulting comment.

You are clearly angry at the world for its injustices and I don’t blame you, however your comment does not help the lives of those less fortunate. Had this article been posting on a website discussing world hunger or war, I would gladly applaud you for your comment. That is not the case.

At the same time, you are commenting on an article that has been up for less than a day on a very specific topic. This leads me to believe that you also live a reasonably comfortable life. You have ready access to a computer and seem to be reasonably educated given your grammar and spelling.

So let’s all get along and stay on topic. I too despise war and starvation, but my new iPhone can’t fix those problem.

Rutger

Yeah you had it really tough didn’t you? I feel very sorry for you and your Apple buddies standing there in the long line not getting your toy in time. At the same time you were standing there other people elsewhere in the world were dying because of starvation and war.

Brandon Eley

mike_drechsel By my own numbers, I had an iPhone 2 hours EARLIER last year when they went on sale at 6 PM, versus this year when they were on sale for a full 12 hours before I got mine.

I was merely trying to show how the atmosphere and emotions at this year’s launch were different compared to last year. So far I love the new features of the iPhone 3G, but I certainly did not enjoy the experience.

mike_drechsel

by your own numbers,you ended up with an activated phone four hours sooner this year than last. further, apple did not promise you a hood time waiting in line. It only promised a great phone. complain if you don’t like the phone. But leave the line and waiting out of it. You chose to be there, and didn’t you leave the store with several hundred dollars more than you did last year? why are you whining about anything at all?

Jon Henshaw

My favorite part was watching the Apple employee punching in my info at 1AM (CST) and then watching his PDA get server errors. Then I was told that the Apple and AT&T servers would be down for the rest of the night. Now that is hilarious fun.

Comments are closed.