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.