You'll find two familiar themes surrounding yesterday's iPhone preorder snafu. As is always the case, the latest Apple gadget is wildly popular, with excited early adopters clogging the pipes trying to be among the first to own an expensive new bauble. And, equally familiar, AT&T has somehow managed to do it again: The inept company has screwed up the fourth straight iPhone launch, marring the preorder process with technical glitches that had potential customers screaming at their PCs and calling frantically to sort through the mess.

AT&T's website—and Apple's, which needed to access AT&T for this particular event—was unresponsive all day, triggering error messages every time a new or existing customer tried to order the new iPhone. Ironically, the phones lines were even worse. "Due to extremely high call volumes, we are unable to answer your call at this time," a recording noted to helpless customers. "Please call back." By which they meant: Please don't call back.

Apple's continued reliance on AT&T in its biggest market has been a source of frustration for customers since 2007 and the iPhone's one enduring Achilles' Heel. Despite numerous functional upgrades over the years and reportedly steady progress in improving the AT&T network, US-based iPhones still suffer most in the core capabilities of making phone calls and maintaining decent data connections. And it's all because of AT&T.

Fortunately for Apple, AT&T's continued incompetence has done nothing to dim excitement around the iPhone 4, which launches next week. And Apple can, as usual, turn this disaster into a "making lemonade" exercise and accurately brag that demand was so high that it literally brought down the ordering system. Analysts now expect Apple to ship 2 million iPhone 4s the first weekend it's available. (That said, these same analysts were overly optimistic about iPad preorders, so all bets are off.)

The problem for customers, however, is that the first shipment of iPhone 4 smartphones is now sold out. So, if you weren't able to get through to AT&T yesterday and preorder or reserve an iPhone 4 locally, you'll need to wait a bit before you get one, or get up early and stand in line at a local retailer on June 24 and hope you get lucky. And Apple currently says that the second batch of iPhone 4s will arrive on July 2, about a week after the first.