How I Almost Bought an iPhone 4 and Lived to Tell About It

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 7:52 PM

It was a test of will power. When Apple unveiled the impressive iPhone 4 a few weeks ago, I said that I wasn’t going to buy one. I have last year’s model and that is quite good enough. I remained unconvinced.

Here at Open for Business, part of my beat is cellular phones, so I get to see a lot of really interesting ones. The whole Droid family, save for the Droid X which is en route for a review in the coming days, for example. I really like the Droids, especially HTC’s Droid Incredible packed with Sense UI. Nevertheless, I use an iPhone. I bought the first iPhone the day it came out, long before the first Android phone hit the market, and I’ve been sold on the system ever since.

Still, it is hard not to see the green grass on the other side of the fence. The beautiful screens of the recent Android phones give the otherwise spectacular iPhone 3GS screen a run for its money. While the iPhone 3GS performs better than most smart phone cameras in my tests, as the Droids have shown off their flashes, I have been a little envious. My last non-iPhone had a flash, after all. Sure, the 3GS holds its own impressively well against the higher megapixel, flash equipped competition, but the iPhone 4 does so even better.

So, it was only in the line of duty as a writer that I called up the Apple Store the day after launch and inquired if they happened to have any 32GB iPhone 4’s left. They did not, the polite clerk told me, but she offered to put my name down on a no-commitment reservation list. Scientific research demanded I go ahead and put my name down despite my strong will power keeping me bound up safely from the Retina Display sirens.

It was also in the name of good reporting that I showed up at two AT&T stores mid-morning last Tuesday when they opened up the gates for iPhone 4 walk-in purchases. They only had 16GB units left – not that I was actually going to buy a 32GB one, of course.

It was Thursday when I received a message from Apple. “Congratulations, your iPhone 4 is here.” Just for grins, I called AT&T. Yes, I have a 3GS, but in that case, I hadn’t really sought the upgrade. Rather, AT&T had all but insisted on it.

After facing problems with AT&T’s 2G network, an issue I reported about on OFB at the time, AT&T’s technicians had determined that upgrading to 3G was the ticket to getting a signal for me. So, after a little planning and haggling, AT&T became $650 richer as two still relatively new first generation iPhones (originally $599 and $399 less than two years earlier) were consigned to the nightstand drawer, a trusty Nokia candybar phone was given last rites, and the whole family went 3G.

Too bad AT&T was wrong about the diagnosis.

Turns out there was something wrong with the towers in my area and it took another four months for some new towers to come online and fix the problem, finally giving my home a decent signal again nearly a year after I opened a trouble ticket with AT&T. The $650 was needlessly spent. C’est la vie.

All this was in mind when I called AT&T’s customer service. I pointed out that I would be eligible this year if not for the technicians’ misdiagnosis that had cost a hefty chunk of change. My line’s eligibility missed the extended eligibility AT&T bestowed earlier this month – giving everyone eligible for a new iPhone by December 31 early, full eligibility right now – by only 41 days. Given the circumstance of their technicians’ mistake that had me into this predicament to begin with, could I upgrade again?

Sure, the rep told me, just go into the Apple Store, explain the situation and all would be OK, they could overlook the 41 days. After a good deal of discussion with myself over whether I really should replace a perfectly good iPhone 3GS, I made the nearly hour trek to the Apple Store. Will power, shmill power. An excited, helpful employee bounded into the back room and grabbed my iPhone 4 and prepared to ring me up.

I then explained my AT&T situation and how AT&T told me the Apple Store could handle it. Apologetically, he told me that only AT&T could do what I was describing, so I schlepped across the mall to the AT&T store he pointed me to.

The zombie-like clerks who, by and large seemed unaware customers were even walking in and out of their store, listened (sort of) as I explained my story again. Keep in mind, these were not your average, typically helpful AT&T store reps, these were (cue the fateful music) mall store reps. They informed me the notes were not on my account, they had no idea what I was talking about, and by and large there was nothing they could do. They could escalate my case, but it would almost certainly be denied.

At least they did not “eat my brains.”

I went back to the Apple Store, found the helpful chap who had helped me before, and told him my situation. He offered and arranged to hold my phone for as long as possible – two days – while I tried to deal with AT&T. He also reserved another phone for me “just in case” it took longer than that to resolve.

He mentioned in passing customers coming in empowered by misinformation from AT&T reps was relatively common in his experience. Sometimes things got worked out.

Several hours after I had set out to pick up my phone, I arrived home and called AT&T. Like the epic hero who repeats his story for the benefit of everyone he runs into during his journey, I again told my story of the Scylla of bad reception and the Charybdis of the alleged, but now missing early upgrade. The “AT&T associate” helping me did find the notes, but was unwilling to budge.

“We gave you a discount last year,” she pointed out. “Yes, but it was because your engineers misdiagnosed my wireless problems and made me pay to upgrade phones that didn’t need to be upgraded,” I replied.

She was adamant, and so I retreated, confined to wander the ocean – oops, wrong story – confined to an iPhone 3GS for another year despite point-blank promises of AT&T to the contrary. But, she offered, “I show we have U-verse in your area, would you be interested in finding out more about how you can switch to it?”

No, I replied, I wasn't in the mood for more AT&T services at just this moment.

So, my little iPhone 4 sits there on reserve, probably never to be picked up by me. I haven't given up, but am not terribly hopeful, either. Anyone want to buy an iPhone 4 reservation?

Timothy R. Butler is editor-in-chief of Open for Business. Full disclosure: Tim owns a small amount of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) stock.

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10 comments posted so far.

Re: How I Almost Bought an iPhone 4 and Lived to Tell About It

Sorry, but you lost me at paying $650 for an…..IPhone? From there, the story only got more muddled by hearing you calmly tell these idiots, over and over, How they messed up. My phone company is not perfect, but I would have told them to shove it a long time ago. I just don’t see the illogical draw to Apple when there are so many other products that at least as good, and these days, much better than the I Phone.

Posted by Rob - Jul 03, 2010 | 10:11 PM

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    <h2><a href="" class="x-linkinfo-title" rel="nofollow">How I Almost Bought an iPhone 4 and Lived to Tell About It - Open for Busi

GET A LIFE - was looking for iPhone 4 news [stock related] and came accross this article.

Dude, get a life. I stopped reading at the 3rd paragraph to see/take a peek how long this would take and I was like, W…T..F… TOO LONG. [off]

Posted by Concerned.Nerd - Jul 03, 2010 | 11:01 PM

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Re: How I Almost Bought an iPhone 4 and Lived to Tell About It

Rob, I didn’t pay $650 for one iPhone.

Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Jul 04, 2010 | 4:39 AM

Re: How I Almost Bought an iPhone 4 and Lived to Tell About It

Seriously?, Seriously? Dude, Ive been there, done that! Word on the street is, keep calling until you get a rep who is reasonable and willing to help. They can make the exception when and if they want to be polite and the right person equals success almost always. Plus, they miss informed you that it would be cleared up and they have to stick by their word. So focus on that more than the initial purchase.

Your iPhone 4 advisor

Posted by EL - Jul 07, 2010 | 9:07 PM

Re: How I Almost Bought an iPhone 4 and Lived to Tell About It

Great story. I have the 3GS and am eligible to upgrade but am passing for now. The AT&T service in several spots in San Francisco is bad/non-existent and unfortunately, they happen to be the spots in which I find myself. Like, at work in the Financial District. 3G? More like dial-up at best.

It is bittersweet when I leave the city and find out how fast a connection can be. There is one year left on my contract so AT&T has that long to get it together.

Posted by RC - Jul 07, 2010 | 9:35 PM

Re: How I Almost Bought an iPhone 4 and Lived to Tell About It

I feel ya, man. I was close to buying a 5 as well, but then AT&T decided that I should have to pay them a $500 deposit (read: interest-free loan) which I would get back after a year of payments, simply because I haven’t got a credit score. I’m already coughing up $300 for a phone, I really don’t see how it’s valid to give up $800. Verizon never made me do that, & I’ve paid my bill every month for four years. Guess who’s buying a Droid?

Posted by Bef with an F - Jul 09, 2010 | 1:18 PM

Re: How I Almost Bought an iPhone 4 and Lived to Tell About It

Unfortunately AT&T are adept liars. Just two weeks ago my DSL line went down. I called AT&T DSL support and they told me it was my DSL modem and I would have to buy a new one from them for $100.00. On the way to the store that evening I passed an AT&T truck working on the phone line junction center and when I got home, my DSL was working (with the old modem I was told was toast). I called customer service (ha!) and told them the story and I that I did not like being lied to by tech support. They apologized profusely and said they would take back the new modem that was already shipped and give me a $5 credit on my next bill for my trouble. Well, I just got the next bill and guess what? I was charged for the returned modem and not given any credit. It took two more calls just to get the modem overcharge fixed. AT&T sucks!

Posted by Mike G - Jul 11, 2010 | 4:46 PM

Re: How I Almost Bought an iPhone 4 and Lived to Tell About It

i stopped using AT&T (when I have the choice) right after Judge Greene broke them up as a monopoly. When they were the major hardwired service in the country, their “customer service” reps were anything but, seemingly all trained by Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. The secret to AT&T’s employee training boils down to selective recruiting. Sales reps seem to be chosen for traits of low integrity and high manipulation. Customer service reps seem selected for traits of excessive rigidity and loyalty to corporate rules plus inability to think for themselves. Just an opinion born of years of observation.

Posted by Martin Burks - Aug 01, 2010 | 10:30 PM