iPhone 3G Launch: a Tale of Two Cities and Two Vendors

iPHONE 3G LAUNCH: A TALE OF TWO CITIES AND TWO VENDORS

Remember the old Far Side cartoon that shows a couple thinking about each other — with the commentary “Same planet, two different worlds”? That was the sense of the first day the iPhone 3G went on sale in the US.

It seemed that the two partners — AT&T, the exclusive carrier in the US, and Apple, the creator of the new device — had no idea of what the other was doing. AT&T referred customers to Apple, and vice-versa. Most of the AT&T stores sold out of stock early the first day, Apple had stock well into the evening. This is the story of the AT&T Store in Colorado Springs and the Apple Store in Denver, Colorado.

Folks started showing up at the AT&T store in Colorado Springs around noon the day before the new iPhone 3G went on sale. Calls to the store the day ahead said they were prepared, following their experience selling the iPhone 1.0 a year earlier. However, they sold out an hour and a half after opening. Police appeared when the natives became restless after they heard that they couldn’t get a “rain check” for additional phones that would come later, but could happily order and pay for a device they’d get in 7 to 10 days. When asked, the store manager said that the Police were there for her protection. She said this out loud?

The more popular 16GB device sold out early, to a person who had been standing in line since 4:45 am that morning. A number of folks where there to get their 1st generation iPhone “unbricked” as they’d installed the pre-release version of iPhone 2.0 software the day before and their device was now unusable. Alas, no joy for them as the manager didn’t know what a “brick” was.

Some of the iPhone Phans headed north to Denver, to the main Apple store in Colorado. Their experience was very different indeed. While the line was quite long, the Apple employees made the wait fun. Indeed, while waiting and participating in the “gallows humor” associated with such a long line, the following table of comparisons between the two stores was developed:

AT&T, Colorado Springs

Apple Store, Denver

Inventory

Sold out by 9:30 AM

In stock until late at night

1st in line

12:30 PM day before

5:30 AM morning of

Number in line at 8 AM

125

275

Security

At store opening

Through the Mall

“How many in stock?”

“We don’t know”

“We have enough”

Last person to get 16GB

In line at 4:45 AM

All day

Snacks

0

Water, candy, chips, nuts

Answers

None

Lots

Can you fix my “brick“?

“What’s a brick?”

“Sure”

Workers on hand

10

100

Doors between customers

Locked

Cheers

Activations per minute

0.5

1

The Apple employees came by from time to time with a cart filled with soda, water, candy, chips, and nuts. Medical application of chocolate can be a strong palliative and it appeared with abundance. The Apple Store is located in the Cherry Hill Mall in Denver, the most high-end mall in the state and a busy mall on any day. Other provender could be obtained by foraging, including pizza and Mrs. Fields cookies.

The mood in the rather long line was high — this was a media event. Nothing like it has occurrence except a movie debut or a new music album release… or a new video game release could compare. But this was just a phone — or was it? Comments like this got mock stern looks from the Apple employees working the lines an comments like “You, out of line!” Regular nervous requests to these employees of whether they’d have the coveted 16GB model were met with “We have enough.”

As people got to the front of the line, some having waited for 7 hours, they’d be escorted into the Apple Store. These entrances were accompanied by cheers from those in line behind them knowing that their turn was coming up next. Ben was the Apple employee extraordinaire who performed this duty with good humor and grace. Inside the store there were a number of stations where numerous orange t-shirted Apple employees quickly and efficiently processed and fulfilled the order. They would ask a series of questions to understand any special circumstances. If you had a special AT&T contract though, they’d have to forward you over to the “specialists” at the Genius Bar. If, for example, you had a special company discount on your AT&T contract they could not apply the new iPhone 3G to that contract. However, they were MOST careful to make sure people left the store with a new iPhone — much more motivated than an AT&T employee — and made numerous calls to insure that. A suggestion to a customer that they could buy it more efficiently with the discount applied if they went to the AT&T store elicited a “been there, done that, they’re sold out” (see above) did not daunt them, and they found a way to address the special need. This was customer service par excellance.

Is it the iPocalypse?

The first day of the iPhone launch has been called the iPocalypse as device activation often failed, especially earlier in the day. This was caused by a “perfect storm” of several factors, all on the same day.

  • To minimize jailbreaking 3G iPhones — unlocking devices to run on other carriers, a common occurrence on an estimated 20% of the 1st generation iPhones — AT&T and Apple required that all new 3G iPhones be activated in the store before departure. And this practice was to be carried out worldwide, as the new device was being sold in countries other than the US. This put a considerable strain on Apple’s iTunes servers, which did the activation.
  • The new iTunes and iPhone 2.0 software (discussed in my previous article) were released on this day for download from Apple’s servers.
  • The Apple AppStore debuted on the same day, putting an enormous strain on Apple’s servers as people downloaded many new iPhone apps.
  • MobileMe, the new incarnation of the .Mac service, debuted on the same day putting an incredible strain on Apple’s servers.

Are you seeing the trend here?

I’ll discuss this more in my next article: the iPhone 3G experience, post-hype, some 8 weeks later.

Thanks for coming along,

BillPetro.com

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