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The iPhone launch is going to be a disaster of epic proportions

Yeah, yeah. You’re tired of hearing about why I’m not going to buy an iPhone. Then why won’t I stop talking about it? Because I can’t stop thinking about it (good and bad). Blame the RDF.

I had lunch with my friend Matt yesterday, and he mentioned that he read somewhere that the AT&T and Apple stores weren’t going to start selling iPhones until 6PM on launch day (June 29). Why on earth would they wait until 6PM on a Friday? To make the people who are camping out wait even longer? I don’t know if that’s true, or what the reasoning behind it is, but it got me thinking.

Recall, now, in your mind, the last time you bought a cell phone, and signed up for a new contract. In person, because doing the the cheap smart easy way on Amazon.com doesn’t count. Think about how much paperwork you had to fill out. How much personal information you had to give (social security number, credit references, etc.). And think about how long it took – probably anywhere from a half an hour to an hour, if my experiences are any indication.

Now think about the fact that every single iPhone sold is going to require a two year contract with AT&T. Think of how long it’s going to take to sign up and process a new account activation for every single iPhone unit. Think about the people that don’t pass the credit check, and find out after camping out overnight that they need to give AT&T a deposit to secure their account. Think about all of the people that are existing AT&T/Cingular customers, and the chaos that will ensue as the sales staff tries to figure out what to do with them (are they even allowed to buy an iPhone? do they have to extend the term of their contract?). Think of how many sales staff people it’s going to take to make this run anywhere near smoothly.

It’s said that there will be 3 million iPhones available at launch. Multiply that by the average amount of time it’s going to take to process and activate each one of them, and you’ll see that every Apple Store and AT&T Store employee is going to be doing nothing but iPhone activations for the next month.

If Apple does, in fact, decide to sell the iPhone starting at 6PM on the 29th, my best guess is because they’re going to need a little time to convert every Apple Store in North America into a giant AT&T Account Activation center. Line up, shuffle in, and you’ll be assimilated in the order in which you arrived.

If I were the criminal type, I’d circulate up and down the iPhone lines at the stores with official looking fake paperwork, asking people to fill out their name, address, SSN, and a credit card number to “speed up the process when you get to the front of the line”. Forget about mugging the line-waiters for the $500-$600 dollars that they’re dying to hand over – few will likely have cash, anyway. Just steal their personal information and go buy a bunch of stuff online, or sell their identity to a meth dealer…

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24 thoughts on “The iPhone launch is going to be a disaster of epic proportions

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  4. This was my thought exactly.

    If my work pays for one, then I’ll get one. Otherwise you can count me out of the craziness.

    I’m sure just like what happened with PS3s there will be violence.

    Bad news for Apple.

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  6. I don’t remember where I heard this, so I can’t cite a source, but I heard that most of the “paperwork” would be filled out by the individual on one of the many computers they have in the store. This is much like getting into the queue for the Genius Bar: going to one of their demo computers, clicking something, then entering your contact information and a description of the problem. When complete, you are added to a list, your name appears on “the big board” (that giant plasma monitor on the wall behind the bar), and you’re called when they are ready. Every time I have had to sign up for a cellphone contract in the past, it has been filling out paperwork followed by some monkey behind the counter trying to read my chickenscratch writing, and typing it into a computer. Having the user enter the information directly saves a (potentially error-prone) step.

    Will I be getting in line for an iPhone? A few months ago, I would have enthusiastically said YES! But the keynote, a few days ago, where Steve announced “the SDK is the web broswer” kind of soured me to the whole thing. Without native apps, you need an internet connection to run an “app.” I’d like my apps without connectivity, bandwidth, and latency concerns, thankyouverymuch. If I want to play a quick game of Sudoku, why should I need to log in to the internet?

  7. C’mon Josh, did you really think about this or are you just running on emotion? A 6pm launch means the lemmings won’t have to line up in front of a closed store in the middle of the night and be set upon by criminal types. No doubt some of them will still start a line in the middle of the night, even though the iPhone not expected to sell out (at least I’m assuming the 3 million count is to prevent shortages and not expected to sell out in one day), but some people are extra stupid and nothing can be done about that.

    Anyway, let’s say the store opens at 10. That gives people eight hours to roll into the store, sign up for service, and get a ticket to pick up their iPhone at 6pm, similar to the way Harry Potter books launch at midnight (but without signing a contract). That model has worked just fine and I don’t see why it can’t work here.

  8. @Brian – so just gin up some fake official looking web pages on a MBP, and go around stealing people’s information that way. 😉

    @Sumocat – I’m purely running on emotion – it’s how I roll. 😉 Seriously, though, I’m kind of glad that I decided not to get one, because I can’t see how the purchase experience is going to be anything but painful. On top of everything else, there’s now the requirement that you have a valid iTunes account (which means Apple has to have your credit card).

    And if you think the 6PM sale start is going to mean that people don’t camp out, because “there will be plenty”, I guess we’ll just see which one of us is right in a week or so… :-)

  9. Here’s my predictions:

    1) Yes, you can expect the phones to sell out.

    2) You can probably even expect them to come pre-activated, with a starter phone number pre-programmed. This way you could just pop in with your credit card and personal info, pay and go (assuming you make the lottery). Activation can be done online or by phone, over the air, any time the week after.

    3) No, I won’t be buying them – because it will be a disaster. I’ve worked with many a cell phone company dealer, and I don’t care how many geniuses they have at their “bar” this will be chaos on epic proportions. Think – WTO Riots, Seattle 1999.

    FWIW – Lots of phones today have flashy animations between app transitions, and lots play music. It will be their execution on the details that will make or break their success: How easy is it for their target customers to configure email? How slow will the data connection* feel? Does the orientation sensor perform well? How is the audio quality, the battery life? Can they make synchronization headaches go away?

    * We all know EDGE is slow, and I’m pretty sure their “whole internet” prescription for Safari isn’t gonna make it appear any faster. But will this matter to their audience: non smart-phone people….?

  10. I was at the Apple store in Portland last weekend and talked to one of the staff about the store layout and point of sales. They took out all the POS stations from the store. There is one one point that you check out. So the sales staff and check out points are mobile and scalable. They stopped printing receipts. They put up a plasm based queuing system for Genius Bar. They also increased the number of Macs in the store. I see the whole experience being similar to how you register once you get to a conference. 90% self service. Once your name shows up on the board to go and pick it up. I think that you were thinking that the Apple store iPhones sales process was going to be traditional. But this is Apple. I have a high level of trust that it is just going to work. (That said I am writing this from WWDS so I might just be drunk on Cool Aid.)

  11. @Aaron – yeah, but what about the people that are going to an AT&T store to buy their iPhone, like Steve Jobs told them to? I trust Apple Stores to have a pretty decent retail experience – they always do. But imagine what it’s going to be like in AT&T stores/kiosks all over the country…

  12. “And if you think the 6PM sale start is going to mean that people don’t camp out, because “there will be plenty”, I guess we’ll just see which one of us is right in a week or so… :-)”

    Whoa, I believe I stated quite plainly that the extra stupid will line up in the middle of the night, so we’re on the same side on that. And as you can guess, since I’m calling those guys *extra* stupid, I’m on your side when it comes to lining up for it at all, although I am looking forward to its release.

    BTW, iTunes does accept PayPal, so Apple doesn’t need your credit card (although someone does). Reports have been a little hazy on what that iTunes account requirement means. Obviously you need it to download media from the iTunes Store, but I wonder if it will be needed for anything else. Or maybe it’s just that iTunes is required to make it work, same as the iPod. I don’t know. Be interesting to find out.

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  17. Sam says:

    I read in the USA Today that the stores are closing at 4:30pm and then re-open at 6pm and start to sell the phone I don’t think you will be able to get a contract before that time.

  18. Dennis says:

    Why on God’s earth do they need a SSN? What the F**K?!? It’s a damned phone, I didn’t need to give that information when I set up my original account with PacBell Wireless (before it was Cingular – not AT&T).

    I was going to get one – but they can kiss my boo-tay if they think I am gonna shell out all that money to get really pissed off about all the freggin’ hoopla they are gonna make me go through to ACTIVATE IT??! GTFOH!!

    If I am doing ALL the work, what makes them think they get an activation fee? Arseholes!! It’s like when I call food in for take out – they think they get a tip!!

    I love the concept of the iPhone, want one – but am gonna hang back out here with my Nokia E62 until the initial imperialist tones disappear from buying a PHONE.

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  20. apple always does 6PM friday product launches for big products. no one really cared before, but now that apple is gaining respect with the masses people notice.

  21. Albert says:

    Your prediction came true. Activation was disastrous, but it didn’t happen in the store.

    I tried to activate my phone 16 hours ago, and it’s still NOT activated. This has something to do with the rate plan that I had.

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