Not everyone can get an iPhone

My nephew Dan—a Computer Science major at the University of Washington—is interning with me this summer. He gets an education in what it’s like to create a start-up from scratch and I get a really bright young resource for a low weekly rate. I’ve known Dan his entire life and he’s an exceptional young man. He and I get along extremely well and I’ve been looking forward to helping him learn the ins and outs of starting up a software business.

There’s just one catch; Dan is a hardcore Windows guy.

We’re building our product in Ruby on Rails so this isn’t really a big issue. He’s using an HP laptop running Vista and I’m using my Mac Pro and MacBook Pro. Needless to say a lot of good natured ribbing goes on between the two of us as I continually tell him how easy things are on my Macs.

A New Hope
It was then that I found out that Dan really wanted to get an iPhone. Many of his friends at school have them and he was thoroughly impressed with them. Though I don’t have an iPhone because I’m locked into a Sprint contract several of the people that encouraged me to consider Macs got into them because of the halo effect of having an iPhone. Maybe there is hope for Dan after all!

We drove over to the Tyson’s Corner Apple Store today so that Dan could pick up the new 3G iPhone. After stalking people in the parking lot for about 25 minutes we finally managed to get a parking place. Recession? Apparently not in Northern Virginia.

Once we got inside the mall I directed Dan towards the Apple Store and an odd site met our eyes: the front door of the store was guarded by an Apple employee and a security guard. There was a crowd of people milling around the railing in front of the store and it took us a couple of moments to realize that this was actually a line to get into the store. A line with about 150 people in it by my estimate.

We asked the Apple employee if they had enough iPhones left to get through the entire line and he said they had plenty of iPhones in stock, though they were running low on the black 16GB version.

Dan decided to gut it out and wait. The line moved very slowly and in the end it took Dan about 3 hours of waiting before it was his turn. The Apple employees were, as usual, incredibly nice. One wheeled out a cart with bottled water and some food for the people standing in line and the atmosphere was nice and calm. The lady in front of Dan told him that yesterday the line at the Fair Oaks Apple Store was over 700 people long so she decided to try for today instead. She seemed relieved to only have to wait for 3 hours.

The Empire Strikes Back
When Dan’s turn finally came up he quickly picked out a black 8GB iPhone and a small case for it. Everything was going great until they tried to add the iPhone to Dan’s AT&T family plan. His parents had 4 phones on the account and apparently had some kind of discounted rate that prohibited Dan from being able to add the iPhone.

Since it was now late afternoon on a Saturday the Apple staffer was furiously trying to reach AT&T to get the issue resolved but was not having much luck. Though the Apple folks do have the ability to do quite a bit on the AT&T accounts if you have a discounted rate on it then they are unable to do anything. For that you have to work through AT&T.

Since there was an AT&T store right around the corner we walked over and asked if they could get it resolved so that we could go back to the Apple store and purchase the phone. The AT&T store employee couldn’t do anything because apparently Dan’s mother was the primary on the account and needed to authorize the remove of this discount code. While we were in the AT&T store another person with a similar problem came in.

After 3 hours of waiting and getting so close that the boxed iPhone was resting in his hand for a few moments, Dan had to give up and wait for the account issue to be resolved before he could actually buy the phone. Ironically Dan’s family had purchased this account less than a month ago. Dan was told by the AT&T rep that as soon as the iPhone was released he would be able to add it to his account without any problems.

Want an iPhone?
If you are considering getting an iPhone in the next week you will likely encounter some challenges. Though the Apple stores seem to be well stocked, the AT&T stores we visited (3) were all out of stock and had no idea when they would get any more in. If you are already an AT&T customer you may want to call AT&T and verify that you will not have any problems adding an iPhone to the account. The Apple store staffer said this was a recurring problem for a number of people trying to buy the iPhone today.

Another thing you will want to make sure of is that if you are on a Family Plan already with AT&T you need to be authorized to make changes to your account. If not, make sure the person that is comes with you to buy that phone, otherwise you may be in for a wasted trip.

Fortunately Dan was not too discouraged. He should have the account problems cleared up by Monday and we’ll head back to the Apple Store so that he can actually get that iPhone. They gave him a little tag that will allow him to bypass the line since he already waited in it.