Don't Buy the Coming Hype – Apple Botched the iPhone Launch, Not the Carriers

Possibly the worst public relations nightmare in internet history occurred yesterday. Hardcore fans wanting to buy the new iPhone 3G camped out over night, and in some cases for days, to be the first to get their hands on the new, sexy, shiny device from their perfect company, Apple.

What they got was unexpected. They got iFail, as it’s been called some places or iPocalypse as it’s been called other places. One person I talked to who worked in an Apple Store in Pennsylvania said that maybe 1 out of every six iPhones successfully were activated yesterday. In some cases, the ability to communicate with AT&T caused an incomplete software load, turning the phone into a cold, dead device.

MG Siegeler at Venture Beat hints at a conspiracy theory, whereby Apple can pin the problem on AT&T and opt-out of a contract.

The conspiracy has merit. Apple has not been happy with AT&T since the June 26 launch of iPhone 1.0 last year. At some point, Apple started realizing that an exclusive contract with AT&T was a failure, especially for those people in Canada who couldn’t get AT&T. Thus the unlocked iPhone trend began under Apple sanctioning. People could buy, for a much higher price, an iPhone that was not locked into the AT&T network and activate it with any compatible carrier. There’s merit to the conspiracy because Apple marketing is a precision machine that knows exactly how to communicate a message without sweating it. They could easily create a conspiracy and wash their hands clean of it at the same time. It doesn’t help that they are tight-lipped about everything. Everything!

You know what they say – if it looks like you’re hiding something, you probably are.

But now, let me throw some cold water on this conspiracy theory. You can’t blame AT&T when every other authorized carrier encountered the same problem. Rogers, in Canada, experienced a botched launch in their debut as an authorized iPhone Carrier. O2, the authorized carrier in the UK, had problems.

Don’t buy into the hype, I’d say. This seems to be Apple’s problem.

And frankly, this is why I will never stand in line to wait for any product from Apple. It’s not that I don’t love Apple. I do. I have an iPod and a Macbook Pro. My router is not a Linksys, it’s an Airport Extreme. My wife owns a Macbook. Trust me, we’re Apple nuts around here. But somedays, I think I’m the only one with any intelligence. Why would you buy a product from this company on the first day? Never do that. Never, ever.

At least now I feel vindicated in saying that. No one needs an iPhone that bad to have to get it on the first day. No one. It will be there next week after the kinks are worked out.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

16 thoughts on “Don't Buy the Coming Hype – Apple Botched the iPhone Launch, Not the Carriers

  1. Your hypothesis (?) is interesting. However, you’re not really offering any convincing evidence.

    1) Your “conspiracy theory” may be true, but neither you nor I nor anyone else has any idea. And no one, even you, is offering anything more than simple assertion to attest to its truth. Apple *might* be trying to wiggle out of its contract with AT&T, but at the expense of so many loyal fans’ time and frustration? Perhaps. But let’s see some actual evidence. You say “they could easily create a conspiracy”, but *have* they?

    2) You go on to state that “every other authorized carrier encountered the same problem” and only go on to list two. Did all the rest have problems? Even if they were, is it reasonable to assume that, at worst, Apple deliberately sabotaged communications with the carriers? If so and if discovered, carriers would have the opportunity to sue the pants off of Apple. Why would Apple risk that? At best, then, if Apple’s at fault, they underestimated demand, and the fault was in Apple’s own systems. Why, then, did Apple’s retail systems not fail last year when they were handling a comparable sales load at a much quicker pace? It seems much more reasonable to conclude that the carriers, either underestimating one or more of many factors (number of sales, load on databases, communications overhead with Apple, etc.) or out of simple inexperience or even incompetence, simply fudged it and had to play catch-up overnight.

    3) “You know what they say – if it looks like you’re hiding something, you probably are.” Really? Who says that? And how is the use of an alleged aphorism evidence of anything? And when did you prove or even assert that Apple is hiding anything? I don’t see it in the preceding paragraphs. A tight-lipped marketing department? How is that different from Apple in the past? And even if Apple is “hiding something”, what makes you think it’s their own malice?

    4) I agree that it’s hardly ever a great idea to be an early adopter–unless you’re an early adopter and understand the risks. Probably no one needs an iPhone on day one. But do you really want to get into a discussion on “need” versus “want” when it comes to high-end, luxury electronics?

  2. Dean I have no interest in proving conspiracy theory. I merely point you to the VentureBeat story where the idea was floated. If you read my post, I come full circle and pretty much debunk the conspiracy theory. Apple was not ready for this launch. They did not manage their carriers. They did not manage their relationships. They did not do QA on the activation process in conjunction with the carriers. This is not a case of fecal gravity where AT&T gets piue in the face and Apple can just up and leave. Unless the plan is to up and leave all existing carrier contracts.

  3. Aaron,
    Thanks for the link love. You make some good points here, but I’d like to point out a couple things. Even though Apple’s iTunes server issues were bad news across the globe, the reason I’ve roasted Rogers to heavily in my post is that *even* if there hadn’t been any iTunes issues, Rogers customers would have left stores across Canada iPhoneless because of their own internal server meltdown.

    In some ways, Rogers is probably thanking its lucky stars that Apple messed up too – at least they’re not left shouldering all the blame.

    Daniel Smith
    Smithereens Blog

  4. I was going to say some of what Dean said, but then he said it. Hard to know where the source was – I was trying to pin it down yesterday for a client but had little luck.

    Also, I am with Aaron on the line thing. I love Apple and Apple’s products. I am also certainly an early adopter. But you will never catch me standing in a f*cking line for a product. I really don’t get that.

  5. last year was June 29th, not 27th…right?
    I waited in line for day one on both releases. What fun! It’s hard to be exclusive in a gloabal economy, so getting something before anyone else sorta makes up for that.

  6. I never understood the need to be FIRST at anything – especially when it comes to new gadgets. Is it an ego thing? A need to feel and be perceived as speshul??

  7. Aaron, you are one of the rare Apple fan who sees the shortcoming of this company – most fans are simply blind and buy into the hype as if they had no brains. At last someone who thinks…

  8. It’s pretty clear that apple’s server farm was not up to the task of handling the millions of people (myself included) who were upgrading or connecting.

    Particular for the iPhone 2.0 upgrade (I have an iPod Touch) – it was a 220 MB download so I can see how they just borked the job and starting losing connections.

    Having said that, once I was able to download the upgrade I am a very happy camper. This device has turned into far more than an mp3 player. It is a new paradigm in computers. Mouse and keyboard becomes multi-touch screen and accelerometer. With a level of portability that the newton could not even begin to promise – I predict the whole class of ultra-portable laptops will be wiped out by these devices.

  9. btw, using superlatives like “worst” is just a bit over the top. They screwed the pooch but I suspect that folks will be happy enough once they’re able to get the goods.

  10. Kevin, it was either the 26th or 29th. I don’t recall. I just remember laughing at the idiots who waited for a first gen phone from a company who had never made phones with a carrier that sucked. I wasn’t the only one laughing and I’m not the only one laughing now.

  11. Ran into a friend of mine at the local Apple Store where he works. He quietly whispered to me that the fault here in the U.S. was the connection between the iTunes servers and AT&T — actually that the problem was on AT&T’s side.

    Even if that’s not true, sounds like the internal Apple rhetoric among employees will be “It’s AT&T’s fault.”

    Regardless, a massive one-day hiccup won’t hurt Apple. Good news or bad, as long as the press keeps them on the front page…

    I think iPhone buyers will be quick to forgive because the product really is living up to the hype.

  12. worst PR nightmare in internet history? How about the Sony root kit fiasco? The Comcast shenanigans with P2P? The Yahoo saga? iPhonegate was a blip. Ghastly and then over.

    By Monday, everyone will be happy again.

  13. You’re so arrogant, Aaron. “The idiots that waited in line”. Blah blah. Just because you wouldn’t do something, don’t shoot everyone else.

    But then, I suppose that comes from someone who now puts “MD” in their own blog title.

    I write about iPhones for a living, hence I *did* need one on the first day. I didn’t wait in line — I had it delivered — arrived at 9.55am on Friday.

    I blame O2 for screwing up. It never handled the pre-registrations properly. It still hasn’t connected me — that’s a fault with their registration system, not Apple’s (iTunes activation worked flawlessly)

    “It will be there next week after the kinks are worked out.”

    Actually, no. I know the US is the centre of the universe, and for you perhaps there are ample stocks. Not so in most other places. People who want an iPhone in the UK probably won’t get on until the end of summer.

  14. Picture this – A group of explorers arrives a the banks of the Amazon river. They know the river to be full of Piranha the question is “are they here where we ant to cross.” One intrepid explorer whips out his brand new iPhone and says “I’ll call you from the other side”. Chomp – Bye Bye. The first one in is always the first one bit. Do people expect too much from Apple? I think so. The experienced will tell you, high expectations set up failures and resentment.

    Yesterday friends who got a shiny new iPhone were already complaining about features that were not working as described.

    Apple like most other tech companies rush product to market and the more software oriented, the less concern for the consumer. why? Because we have all been taught that iteration is a better approach. Get it out now and we will improve it later. However, Apple has one other huge problem. They have failed to understand that the masses are a#$!@s not the technology savvy customer they are accustomed to serving. The rude awakening is coming and it starts with grandma Clara, her new iPhone and Power Mac. She has just a few questions for the Genius down at the bar.

    Reality people is relative to where you stand. Basing your product on crowd sourced clusters is a really bad idea if you want the mass market.

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