Buying An iPhone 3G Was Surprisingly Easy. Activating It Was Not.

As Consumerist’s resident Apple fanboy, I spent the last few hours standing outside an AT&T store waiting to buy the iPhone 3G, then waiting for it to activate in iTunes. Here’s what went down.

Unfortunately, there was nothing as exciting as what happened during my last iPhone purchase. I’m in New Orleans, and I figured people here wouldn’t care as much as residents of other cities did. I was wrong. I showed up around 7:20, forty minutes before the store was supposed to open, and about forty people were already in line.The mood was a lot calmer than I remember it being in DC. This may have been because there were no sketchy dealings with elected officials’ goons skipping the line and exiting with several iPhones. The AT&T store staff was friendly and helpful; they came around several times with bottled water (it’s pretty hot in New Orleans in July, even early in the morning). They were also very good about warning people far back in the line that they were probably out of luck. Early on, they went down the line asking each customer what he or she intended to buy and counted them up. They came out a little later and stopped by me and said we might get phones, but everyone beyond us probably would have to order them. As it turned out, they were right: I got the last iPhone they had.
I can’t say anything bad about the AT&T store. I can say plenty about AT&T corporate and Apple. Just like last year, they were totally unprepared for the launch. Gizmodo had spoken to a few sources about how many iPhones the AT&T stores would be getting:

AT&T wouldn’t comment on how many per store, but Gary thinks north of 50-75, even in the boondocks, and another source tells us 100-250. Though AT&T wouldn’t comment on the spread, logically, stores in more populated areas are going to get more.

The AT&T store I went to, in a commercial area of New Orleans, got 40. When I spoke to one of the store’s reps, she said she was surprised they got so few this year because the line had been at least twice as long last year, and only about half of this year’s line got phones. Whether this was poor planning or Apple trying to claim that it sold out across stores nationwide to further the buzz, I don’t know. This store is getting more stock to sell sometime tomorrow, but per corporate rules, they can’t create a waiting list from the people in line today who didn’t get phones. Those people have to “direct order” them (pay for them now and have them arrive in 7-10 days) or go get in line again tomorrow.
Like many others, I also had problems activating my phone. I keep getting the same “An unknown error occurred” in iTunes each time I plug the iPhone in. I swapped the provided sim card out for the one I was using with my old iPhone, but still nothing. Then, as I was writing this, I received a text message and suddenly was able to make calls. I still get error messages when I sync with iTunes, but at least I’ll be able to make calls while Apple and AT&T figure out who’s to blame.
Overall, the line wasn’t too bad, the AT&T staff was helpful, and most of the customers—save one who apparently didn’t realize that the discounted prices were for new contracts or iPhone customers, not existing customers—were normal. It’s a little ironic that New Orleans, the most bizarre place I’ve ever lived, was lacking any iPhone high jinks, drama, or scandal.

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  1. Uptowngirl says:

    Tchopitulas shopping center, next to Walgreens and Stein Mart?

    I can’t believe there was that much of a line either, but EDGE iPhones are being sold on neworleans.craigslist.org big time.

    Perhaps I’ll pick one up to unlock so i can use it with Tmobile.

  2. blong81 says:

    I just got my first iPod for my birthday on monday (20 yay!). I’ll buy one of these in a few years when they’re $89 with no contract.

  3. post_break says:

    We only got 40 iphones, 20 8GB, 10 of each color 16GB. The transaction went smoothly except the ATT employee had to enter my SOC in 4 times… All in all it wasn’t that bad.

  4. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    Cool beans, me and the lady are going to roll the dice tonight at our local apple store.

    I cant wait to be disapointed!

  5. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    store…because I have a source telling me that they should be getting more this afternoon.

  6. Indecent says:

    I love you, Consumerist. But do we honestly have to have this many stories about the iphone up today? I came here hoping to get away from all the iphone mania.

  7. Illegal Immigrant says:

    It’s really not that surprising at all really. I’ve lived in New Orleans long enough to know that they only thing that really gets people really riled up is Mardis Gras or a sports team making the playoffs/winning a championship

  8. tricky69 says:

    @Indecent: The gawker network is big apple fan boys. The whole iPhone purchase system I feel is basically having to kiss Jobs’ ass before you can get it; This is one area where Consumerist is disappointing. The whole iPhone and AT&T system is a huge scam that they should be telling people to stay away from.

  9. B says:

    @tricky69: They have been. Besides the story today regarding AT&T’s spotty 3g coverage, we’ve had a number of stories highlighting how the new iPhone is a bad deal.

  10. Alex Chasick says:

    For those curious, please also note the super-fancy “Sim Card Ejector Tool” on top of the box. It may look like a paper clip, but it’s far superior.

  11. sir_eccles says:

    @Alex Chasick: Do not mock the “Sim Card Ejector Tool”. Have you seen how much it costs for Steve Jobs to personally deliver a replacement Apple Branded “Sim Card Ejector Tool” should you lose it?????

  12. Televiper says:

    @B: Yah, but the generally negative iPhone stories have been more “here’s what you’re going to have to swallow” instead of “here’s why you shouldn’t do this.” There have been several stories giving tips on how to acquire the iPhone 3G including how to sell your old one, how to get out your current contract, and quite a few that are just generally positive about the iPhone. That being said, the problems with iPhone today are a mere hick-up, and it won’t affect anyone in the long term. I’d be the first to say waiting a week is a more rational, consumer minded move on a 2 year commitment. But, I digress.

  13. bohemian says:

    I just don’t get it. CNN had some guy dancing in a stormtrooper suit while waiting in line overnight to buy a phone. It might have some cool features but it is still just a phone and just like the previous iPhone, in a few weeks you can just walk in and buy one.

    I can not fathom any sort of compulsion, attraction or benefit that would get me to stand in line to buy a consumer product.

  14. shocker says:

    What better to spend your money on than something that makes you happy?

  15. bohemian says:

    @shocker: It is the camping overnight and standing in line thing that I just can’t understand. Why not wait a few days and just buy one then?

  16. TWSS says:

    Probably the same reason why people pull that “FIRST!” bullshit in comments.

  17. rellog says:

    @bohemian: I agree. And seeing post after post on the consumerist about iphones is leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Let’s stop give Apple and ATT so much free publicity and ignore them for the rest of the day.

  18. VikingP77 says:

    @rellog: I agree as well…..iPhone=YAWN

  19. Alex Chasick says:

    Please review the new comments code before commenting on this story, specifically:

    No junk comments
    Your comment should be a meaningful response to the issue raised in the post. Take some time when writing a comment, it’s not a race and you don’t have an edit button. Objections to an editor’s headlines or writing style should be emailed directly to the post’s author. Verboten: “Why is this on Consumerist?”, “tldr”, “Why did they even shop there in the first place?”, “This is a non-issue”, “Slow news day?” “Pwnd” “Yawn”, “First”, “People still ______” (use dialup, eat fast food, breathe air, and so forth), “Old news”, “lol”, “This is why I don’t shop there,” etc.

  20. Trai_Dep says:

    I cannot express the deep level of disappointment I have for the Louisiana AT&T store not offering beads and jumbalaya to those waiting in line. Or showing their (ahem) tits. Are there store managers from NYC?!
    Although, bonus credits for having that Ol’ Bayou Voodoo raise its ghoulish head and make itself known during the authorization process. I’ll give them two stars.
    Perhaps too much credit, as it has affected the entire country. Okay, two and a half stars.

  21. Trai_Dep says:

    Uh oh. Voodoo zombies infected my fingertips and transposed “their” for “there”.
    Out, cursed zombies, out!

  22. stupidjerk says:

    apple and at&t say: “Taking your money? Yeah, we were ready for that. Giving you a product you can use? You mean you aren’t putting it on ebay?”

  23. @Alex Chasick: I’m actually kind of surprised the AT&T store on Tchop had 40 – I figured all of the action would be at one of the locations on St. Charles, or that people would’ve just driven to the Apple Store in Baton Rouge (because this city rides a streetcar named “irrationality”).

  24. @stupidjerk: Ugh, who the hell eats jambalaya at 8:00AM in July in New Orleans? I’ll let you in on a little secret: ice cold daiquiris with an extra shot of vodka.

  25. Alex Chasick says:

    @defeatism: Yeah I thought people in the CBD would swing by the St. Charles stores before work, plus the one on Tchoup is right down the street from me. I was planning on driving by all of them and taking pictures of the four or five people at each one, but the iPheauxne is apparently a big draw here. One of the store reps said people camped out for two nights for last year’s.

    And yeah, daiquiris would have been a huge help. People were talking about going to Winn Dixie and grabbing some booze, but I don’t think anyone wanted to give up his spot.

  26. @sir_eccles: I have an older model of the official sim ejector tool.

    Nice to see that they upgraded.

  27. @defeatism: I don’t know how many my local AT&T store in College Station, Texas had, but my former office mate was devasted when they ran out. It reminds me that we’re nothing but a second tier town out here in Aggieland.

  28. vatica40 says:

    So has anybody heard anything about the new Iphone?

  29. shorty63136 says:

    It took me about an hour and a half to download the 2.0 software, install it, re-activate, and re-sync. There are a couple tricks to it and there are A LOT of people who think it’s taking too long and then UNPLUG the damn thing.

    DO. NOT. UNPLUG.

    I have a 1st gen 8Gig running 2.0 w/ lovely apps now.

  30. madog says:

    Apple pretty much screwed the pooch on this one. They’ve got some real smart people working down there.

    Just think about it, the first iPhone release had similar issues activating because of the sheer volume of phones being sold. There was a good amount of people bitching about expensive bricks and blah blah blah until they finally activated their precious phones – later that day. Whoa is me! I have to live without a phone for 5 hours! This is the absolute worst thing to happen to anyone, EVER!

    Now, the second iPhone….
    “Mr. Jobs, we had a problem with last years release of the iPhone. What do you propose we do to ensure that it does not happen again?”

    “Well, we’ll release the 2.0 software to the millions of people who purchased the original just in time to bog down our entire system for when we release the new phone the very next day! This plan is so perfect, it’s retarded.”

    However, unlike any real problem I’ve ever had this one will sort itself out in a day or two. A busy system will go away, but that pregnant girlfriend won’t.

    Finally, you know what is surprisingly easy? Buying the iPhone a week later with absolutely no problems whatsoever. I have no qualms with being an early adopter. I just don’t think people who waited in line for days deserve any right to complain about anything. You knew what you were getting yourself into.

    Just playing the devil’s advocate.

  31. danseuse322 says:

    When people stand in line for eons all across the nation to buy a CELL PHONE, I am definitely not believing recession woes.

  32. @danseuse322: Not everyone bought into a sub-prime mortgage. Not everyone scales their monthly earnings to match their income!

  33. meehawl says:

    Still no cut and paste in 2.0? Amazing.

  34. Trai_Dep says:

    @defeatism: Daiquiris with an extra shot – of I’m assuming you mean rum, right – at 8:00am. Wow.
    Gods. I love New Orleans.

  35. Tell me Alex, did the rep give you a chance to enjoy feel of the iPhone 3G in your hand?

  36. I’m just going to toss this one out here, but I think it would be interesting for consumerist to do a feature about how you get ripped off when you buy an iPhone.

    Take att’s current $50 smartphone, the Tilt, and match it up against the iPhone, feature for feature. Watch the iPhone get wrecked. People buy the iPhone beacause they don’t know any better. People also buy it because it’s a toy. Anyone who really needs power and versatility goes elsewhere (supposing they know that there are other options).

    If you’re going to shill for ATT, you might as well pitch a product that someone other than metros, fanboys, and college kids with daddy’s cc are going to buy.

  37. Alex Chasick says:

    @Trai_Dep: No, he means vodka. New Orleans daiquiris are special. (For reference, that’s what I’m holding in my pic.)

  38. Alex Chasick says:

    @Michael Belisle: Unfortunately the bonding had to wait a few hours while it worked its special time-delayed magic activation. I remember there being some hullabaloo last year when people were scared that if AT&T had to activate the phones, that would mean they wouldn’t be the first ones to actually hold their new iPhones. I’m not that bad.

  39. Alex Chasick says:

    @RamV10:

    I’m just going to toss this one out here, but I think it would be interesting for consumerist to do a feature about how you get ripped off when you buy an iPhone.

    We’ve actually run several posts like that.

  40. Rusted says:

    @danseuse322: But it’s not just any phone…it is an “i” phone. (sarcasm). Have to agree. Not going to upgrade my el cheapo Samsung just yet.

  41. eismcsquare2 says:

    @Alex Chasick: Dear Consumerist: Yes, we know you have run several posts like that, but there have been more posts hyping up iphone than those. I thought hyping up a product to death is your sister-site Gizmodo’s job, while consumerist can concentrate on what it does the best – saving consumers from rip-offs.

    Looks like we have a conflict, and consumerist is just playing jackal and hyde when it comes to Apple Kook Aid Kit.

  42. @eismcsquare2: You may want to check the history of posts tagged iPhone. The pattern’s mostly Hyde, Hyde, Alex, Hyde, Hyde, Hyde…

  43. temporaryerror says:

    @RamV10: said:”Take att’s current $50 smartphone, the Tilt”
    I don’t know where you are shopping, but a new ATT Tilt (8925) is NOT $50. Based on the online price, the Tilt is, after mail in rebate, 199.99. You still have to pay $300 today and wait, hope, pray, and cross your fingers that you filled out the rebate form correctly and they don’t find a reason to reject your rebate app. That is, of course, the price with a new 2 yr contract.

    Now, don’t get me wrong… I have an 8525 and really like it, but the Tilt is aimed at a different group than the Iphone. (I agree with you on that point. The Tilt is built for people that need a serious business oriented smart phone. The iPhone is more for people that don’t really need a smart phone, but like the media options and ‘net capabilities of the iPhone. Plus, unless you have a secret phone shopping site, you’ll have a hell of a time finding a new, or even refurb Tilt for $50.

  44. @temporaryerror: Amazon is offering it for $50, after MIR, to new AT&T customers:

    List Price: $599.99
    Price: $174.99 (when purchased with new service plan)
    Rebates: $125.00
    Price After Rebates: $49.99
    [www.amazon.com]

    But I agree that the Tilt and iPhone are targeted at different audiences, or more precisely, people with different priorities. At least one person I know bought a Windows Mobile phone because it’s work-orientated (read: has Mobile Office). I’m going to guess that a lot of people Windows Mobile for that reason: it’s Mobile Office first, multimedia device second (third?).

    The iPhone? Multimedia device first. They’re still working on the other part.

  45. LiberalManifesto says:

    I didn’t get an iPhone, but I knew I wasn’t going to, too far back in the line. But the people at my AT&T store outside of Cleveland, Ohio, told me that they only received FOURTY iPhones! Apple thought that was going to be enough??

  46. jvette says:

    I think Apple was the one who screwed this release. They limited the amount of phones AT&T Could sell that day and then all but shut down Itunes. All the while the local Apple store had a huge stock and never ran out but had lines of over 100 people all day long and waits of hours. Then for us who use our phones for business we were shut off from email, text and phone messages for almost 5 hours. Boy what a way to break into the business market. Great job Apple. Do we say another Microsoft

  47. eismcsquare2 says:

    @Michael Belisle: Ha, that’s funny. Oh wait…

  48. @Michael Belisle: Fwiw, the most important feature of any phone, is in fact, the phone part. Past that, I use it for work first. Nothing beats being able to vnc into a dying server while i’m sitting on the train and fixing a problem that would otherwise wait for hours (especially when I don’t have my laptop handy). I then use it for navigation. My company truck doesn’t have nav, so I have it in a cradle on the dash and I run tomtom on it. After that, I use it for organization (outlook syncs are win).

    It does make a handy dandy media player though, it youtubes quite well in a pinch, and since it’s expandable, I can toss a whole library of DVDs on a couple of sd cards, or lots of mp3s and play them. Sure, it could be easier to get through my library, but it’s been the same since windows ppc 2003, and IMO it’s not half bad.

    The final thing you get with the tilt is the enthusiast groups. XDA Devs has so much information on it it’s unbelieveable. One of the big things that the new iphone has going for it is the app store. There are 800 or so apps if I remember what I read correctly. There are literally MILLIONS of apps for WM in all of its forms, there’s not a single thing I can’t find a program for, and that’s the best part.Slap touchflo and a shiny skin on its quite an atractive UI.