378 days ago, I spent a chunk of a day waiting in line for the privilege of being one of the first people to carry a brand-new iPhone. Three days later, I actually got to use it, as I was one of the unlucky few (thousands?) to become ensnared in Apple and AT&T activation hell.
With 378 days gone by, millions of iPhones sold, untold profits reaped, and with the next generation hardware and software coming online on the same day, you would think Apple and AT&T would have gotten their act together a little better. Because this year the launch is global, activations were supposed to be done as part of the sales (instead of staggered until the buyer got home), and new device sales and old device upgrades or reactivations will be taking place simultaneously — the companies had to get it right this time to handle the increased volume of activations. Right?
Proving that AT&T and Apple learned nothing from last year — or simply didn’t care about short-term aggravations for their users — the activation system and most of Apple’s software delivery system has again crapped out. This year, the lucky ones are the ones who haven’t gotten anywhere at all in the upgrade process (or those who wisely waited a few days before buying a new iPhone).
Choosing to avoid standing in line this year, I stuck with my first-generation iPhone hardware. That way I could reap the benefits of the new integrated software features and fruitful bounty of the App Store without needing to dish out for new hardware and a more expensive data plan.
I actually started my odyssey with Version 2.0 software July 10, as I jumped at the chance to try out the seemingly gold version (1,2_2.0_5A347) that Apple Watch’s Joe Wilcox mentioned was available yesterday. The upgrade to iTunes 7.7 and Version 2.0 went fine, and I was really starting to enjoy some of the new features — particularly the Exchange ActiveSync and the App Store (Pandora, Yelp and iTunes Remote applications in particular). But when a slightly different version was officially released today (1,1_2.0_5A347), I needed to make sure I was on the public release in order to conduct my review.
When I got into the office, I discovered Cameron Sturdevant had been unsuccessfully attempting to upgrade for over an hour. Downloading iTunes 7.7 was a trial for him, and once he finally was able to install it, iTunes would either error out or tell him he already had the latest firmware.
I tried a different tactic, choosing the Restore option from iTunes. iTunes immediately downloaded the 2.0 gold code and installed it on my iPhone, and I was feeling pretty smart. But after the 10 minute wait for the installation to complete, the iPhone got to the reactivation stage — where it has remained ever since. Cameron is also hung in the same state, since I had given him the 1,1_2.0_5A347 code via sneakernet.
In a disturbing throwback to last year, all we can do with our iPhones is place a 911 call (although this year, the iPhone proudly proclaims this news in seven languages).
In hindsight, it seems like sheer hubris that Apple thought the activation would go smoothly given the problems AT&T had last year, and the large number of things Apple was trying to have happen in a 24-hour period. Apple could have avoided much of the crush by releasing the 2.0 software to existing iPhone users next week. Instead, it almost seems like Apple’s execs forgot to account for the fact that they designed the iPhone to reactivate whenever a new software version is installed (or an existing one is restored, for that matter.)
Or as eWEEK Labs Executive Editor Jason Brooks put it so succinctly, “They could have built a network that scales.”
In the meantime, eWEEK Labs and our bricks continue to wait.
* Update(1:01pm): Three is the magic number for activation. Last year, three days. This year, only 3 hours. My anger is somewhat mollified, but the scars from last year still burn, apparently.