Even by the low expectations set for Apple and AT&T after past iPhone launches, yesterday’s iPhone 4 pre-order event was a debacle, the sort of frustrating and miserable affair that last year’s comparatively orderly iPhone 3GS launch seemed to have extinguished. The cause of this year’s problems? Apple isn’t really pinpointing it, beyond to note that there was heavy demand, but many of the errors on Apple’s site appeared to start after pressing the required “Check Eligibility” button—causing what appeared to be failed attempts to query AT&T’s new and existing account servers—while additional reports indicate that AT&T’s own web site incorrectly billed and/or displayed personally identifiable account information for people who weren’t actually ordering iPhones.
Even though Apple offered a brief apology today for yesterday’s problems, veterans of past iPhone launch events know that there is still another gauntlet yet to be faced: next week’s actual launch of the iPhone 4. Many customers who hoped to have iPhone 4 hardware delivered to their homes were instead forced by Apple’s broken web site to choose less convenient in-store pickups, sometimes complete with prices that did not match their actual “upgrade eligibility.” Likewise, some people who succeeded in requesting at-home delivery received order status indications that suggest their phones might be going to incorrect addresses or different people. There are also questions as to whether users will be able to easily prove their iPhone upgrade price eligibility after using AT&T’s site, as the eligibility dates have changed. Between the screwed-up iPhone and iPhone 3G launches and these computer glitches, there’s a very real chance that customers may show up at Apple or AT&T stores next Thursday and have to argue over their iPhone 4 prices or accounts. In other words, the iPhone 4 pre-order fiasco may only just have begun, and it could definitely get even worse.
Apple and AT&T have one chance to make this bad situation right, and there’s a straightforward solution: as a token of good will, all iPhone 4 customers should be offered flat rate $199/$299 pricing with new two-year contracts, putting everyone into the same quick, out-the-door price category when they walk through Apple’s or AT&T’s doors. Customers who waited long enough to be eligible for the $199/$299 pricing and had to experience yesterday’s pre-order problems should get a free month of AT&T data service and a free iPhone 4 case of their choice. Those who had orders cancelled or stopped mid-process by the companies’ broken web sites should be eligible for the freebies, as well. And obviously, both companies should be checking their orders right now to be sure that customers who scheduled in-store or at-home deliveries of iPhone 4 hardware will actually receive the devices they ordered on the promised June 24 date, no questions asked.
This solution would be a net positive for all affected U.S. customers: no lingering questions over pricing or eligibility, no fights at the Apple and AT&T stores next week, and quantifiable benefits that help everyone walk away with a little less mental and financial stress. That’s except for AT&T, of course, and possibly Apple. AT&T’s screwed up billing computers and network have been treating customers like cash machines for years, and Apple has been AT&T’s chief enabler, repeatedly giving it “revolutionary” product exclusives while allowing it to botch both product launches and service offerings, all to the detriment of consumers. A financial penalty for the hours of wasted AT&T customer time is richly deserved at this point, and this comparatively modest token of good will would go a long way towards fixing the most recent problems so many people have dealt with. It also greatly lessens the chance that next week’s highly public iPhone 4 launch events will be filled with customers who arrive or leave angry—the wrong sort of way for any new product to hit the streets.
Editor’s Note: Further comments have been closed on this article due to suspected viral marketing efforts.