A gorgeous phone…That i can’t use.
I had hope that Apple’s integration of the usually complicated and obtuse world of mobile phone activation into iTunes would actually make things easier for the user. Unfortunately we have been given a nasty glimpse into the even MORE complicated and obtuse world of the mobile phone billing system.
I sat in line this afternoon with anticipation of getting an iPhone to review in our typical fashion for our readers. I happily forked over my $600 to have a chance to play with the latest wonder of the Apple universe. I came home, updated iTunes to version 7.3, removed the device from its lovely package and sat down for what promised to be a great end to a great week. Then I actually tried to activate the thing.
Apple normally puts a lot of thought into the wording of its error messages and exerts an inordinate amount of control over their presentation. In this case, after filling out the Activation Form I was presented with a very atypical error page that read:
We’re sorry, AT&T has determined that your current account cannot be used with the iPhone.
It proceeded to give me a link to a most unusual FAQ Page at AT&T’s site with strange acronyms like CRU, IRU and FAN. I don’t pretend to understand these things. I don’t really care. The question that it purports to answer is “Business customers: Problems activating your iPhone?”.
Well I suppose I have a business account as I currently enjoy the benefits (?) of AT&T’s Developer Program due to an accounting snafu at a former client. [Update: This sentence is irrelevent; I have a business account and that’s all that matters for this issue] However, I am the only user and I have 2 lines. I would hardly call myself a corporation and I am certainly an individual, but I have no idea how I am classified in the arcane world of AT&T billing.
So I proceed to read on and find that there is a document called the Pre-Purchase Understanding that I have never seen or heard of, much less “understood”. There is a sentence down at the bottom of the flyer that says “Available only to consumer accounts. iPhone and associated wireless service are not eligible for corporate discounts.” It would have been a bit better of AT&T to actually mention this more fully in their literature and to better prepare their employees for the inevitable “CRU” or “IRU” to walk in the door requesting kit that they can’t use.
After attempting to understand this crazy FAQ Page and having little patience for it (I was in the “it just works, it’s Apple” state of mind). I decided to call our friends at customer care to see if they could help. Our friends being no doubt inundated with calls from people in similar situations I was happy to oblige the 5 minute hold time. The obviously flustered representative proceeded to inform me that because I had a business account I had to call some other number called “NBO” and have them convert it to an individual account before I could activate it, then convert it back to a corporate account so that my other phone would work properly. She then said that there was a number (buried on the bottom of that FAQ page as well) that was run by Apple, but that it was down right now so I should keep trying. I tried. It was indeed down.
This post might seem uncharacteristically rant-y, but I feel like something should be said in public about this gross oversight. As a user and a customer, I should never be exposed to the intricacies of your internal billing system. Apple should have pushed AT&T more for the availability of this device to corporate accounts, discounts or no, knowing that they would be desired on day one.
This the first of what I’m sure will be many holes poked in the veil that is iPhone. I’m sure it’s a fabulous device, but I didn’t pay $600 to have it sit on my shelf all weekend. At the very least AT&T could have extended the “NBO” line’s hours to accomodate the influx of calls related to iPhone on its inaugural weekend. I will bet that Apple will be quite unhappy with the state of PR affairs if enough people talk about the fact that “Just Works” and AT&T don’t really belong in the same sentence.
[Update]After reading some of the (less) constructive comments here, it would seem that most people see this as a bashing of the device itself. It is by far not a criticism of the iPhone, since I’ve not been able to actually use it. I have absolutely zero impression of the device other than it’s got a pretty screen.
[Update]It seems that AT&T has gotten the better of me. After waiting on hold for almost 2 hours I got to a set of folks at AT&T who were supposedly able to help me. They told me that they had to convert my existing corporate account into an individual account. Ok. I gave them a bunch of personal info and then they said that I’d have to pay a $150 deposit on top of the $250 deposit I gave them 2 months ago to open the account in the first place.
I asked about getting the original deposit back and they told me that since there was another line on the account that I wouldn’t get it back for a year, but I was free to convert the second line at the same time for an additional $150 deposit. Then I could get the whole $500 deposit back as a check within the following 6 weeks after I contacted another department.
The second line would have to have its own separate plan and couldn’t share minutes with the iPhone. This would have changed my monthly bill from $170 for 2100 minutes with unlimited BlackBerry service (and an 80MB plan on my 2nd line) to almost $250 for similar service.
I have no issue with converting my account to an individual status. Once again, I don’t care about AT&T’s billing system. The fact that I pay $600 for a device and then am asked to pay additional deposits and jump through arcane hoops in order to activate it. I opened the original account on my own personal credit and wasn’t informed of its Corporate status until this whole fiasco. They have my money. They don’t need more for me to prove that I am worthy of an account that I already have with them.
This is an unprecedented grab of power by a carrier over its customers. This is the height of mediocrity and poor management. The representatives who I spoke to were not empowered to actually fix things in any way. They were slaves to the system. The people whom I purchased the phone from at the AT&T store were very aware that I had a corporate account, but failed to inform me that I wasn’t going to be able to actually use the phone I was about to purchase.
AT&T is obviously unprepared for such a device launch. They did not train their personnel properly and did not empower them to fix the inevitable problems that would crop up. They also failed to properly staff the call centers to react to high call volume.
Steve Jobs was quoted in the Wall Street Journal talking about how great this will be for corporate users. Steve, you missed the fact that corporate users can’t even use the device. There are far more corporate users in the world of AT&T than there are individual users. You might want to review your numbers.
I have no choice but to return the device and fight for a full refund. Shame on AT&T and Apple for providing me with a poor experience. Shame on AT&T for exerting more control over your customer in an era where being more open will get you a lot farther. Shame on Apple for caving to obviously bizarre requirements imposed by AT&T for your device.