Apple's eagerly anticipated iPhone 3G turned into a PR disaster for the company on Friday, when customers at stores all around the United States complained of problems purchasing, upgrading to, and activating the new smart phone. Additionally, the company's related MobileMe service, which provides "push" email, contacts, and calendar for the device, has been marred by availability issues since its official launch late last week. And for those hoping to upgrade their existing iPhone and iPod touch devices to the new 2.0 software: Sorry, that process was marred by glitches as well.
So much for Apple's vaunted user experience. Almost exactly one year after the company's launch of the initial iPhone, when many users could not activate their newly purchased devices for over 24 hours, it appears that Apple and its wireless partner AT&T have someone managed to create an even more miserable experience for customers this time around.
For a three day period starting before the weekend, Apple's fans suffered through a bewildering series of botched product launches. It all started on late Wednesday, when Apple was scheduled to launch the MobileMe service but had to repeatedly delay the launch because of technical glitches. As Thursday turned into Friday, Apple's customers could only sporadically access anything other than an error message on the Web-based service, and even after the service officially became widely available on late Friday, it was--and continues to be--marred by slow performance and frequent brownouts.
Friday's iPhone 3G launch was, however, even more troubling, when you consider that thousands of people from around the country gathered in line in front of Apple Stores for a chance to be among the first to purchase the new device. Rather than require customers to activate the phones at home via the PC-based iTunes software as it did last year, Apple this year required them to do so in the Apple and AT&T stores selling the iPhone 3G. But the activation servers failed yet again, so instead of allowing customers to at least take their purchases home, Apple instead stranded them in stores, all while keeping others waiting in line, outside of the stores, due to fire regulations. What it all added up to was a human traffic jam of epic proportions, playing out identically at retail stores around the country. Eventually, Apple just gave up and instructed customers to go home and attempt activation there. Naturally, this didn't work for most of Friday either.
Customers who wished to update existing iPhone and iPod touch devices to the new 2.0 software, also released Friday, faced similar challenges. Though the software was ostensibly available, few could actually download or install it until the following day.
According to the reports, the failures were multiple and all-encompassing. Portable credit card Easy Pay devices used in Apple retail stores failed. The AT&T activation servers that failed last year? They failed again. Apple's iPhone App Store was up and down, reporting that it wasn't available when it was. MobileMe is still spotty but generally up after being down for several straight days. And Apple's iTunes backend servers were so swamped with requests that they couldn't handle upgrades or downloads.
On the plus side for Apple, lines at retail stores were longer than expected, suggesting that interest in the iPhone 3G--which is marketed as being less expensive than its predecessor despite in fact being significantly more expensive overall-is quite high. This is particularly impressive when you consider the iPhone 3G's few improvements over its predecessor, support for faster 3G wireless networks and a fairly unimpressive GPS chip being the only notable ones. As of Sunday, most of the initial supply of iPhone 3Gs in the US was sold out, according to Apple and AT&T. Maybe by the time the next batch arrives, the backend glitches will have disappeared.