AT&T's online ordering system for Apple's iPhone 4 was unavailable for several hours Tuesday, but now appears to be back in operation.
Frustrated customers were stymied by AT&T's online and over-the-phone ordering systems for much of the morning, according to potential buyers reporting woes on the mobile carrier's support site. Others had trouble accessing Apple's online store, or were prevented from placing an order.
"The [AT&T] site is unusable, the phone number tells you to visit a store, and the Apple site fails when checking eligibility," said a user identified only as "MikePA" on an AT&T support forum message thread. "What a fiasco."
"Apple's problems seem to be directly related to AT&T's," added "RBfKC10" on the same thread. "They can't sell you an iPhone if they can't connect to AT&T's servers and check your eligibility."
Blame was laid at the foot of AT&T's upgrade feature, which checks to see whether a current subscriber is eligible for the subsidized prices of $199 for the 16GB model or $299 for the 32GB iPhone.
Computerworld's editor-in-chief, Scot Finnie, spent more than five hours trying to order an iPhone 4, and was repeatedly blocked by the upgrade eligibility check. When others at Computerworld tried to place an order, AT&T's site returned the message, "Due to a system upgrade the site is temporarily unavailable, please try again later." At least one Computerworld editor managed to successfully place an order around 8:15 a.m. ET.
"I have tried to order about 50 times since 8 a.m.," said Finnie in an instant message exchange around 1 p.m. ET.
As of 3 p.m. ET, the upgrade check feature was working.
Consumers who went to a local AT&T store also said they'd encountered problems trying to pre-order an Apple iPhone 4. "I just got back from the store and their computers are down," reported "frazzledrazz" on the AT&T support site. "They are using the old credit card imprinters. It has me really worried about when my phone will come in."
Customers ranted on Apple's support form as well, with some saying there that they were unable to place an order using the released-today Apple Store App designed for ordering products directly from an iPhone or iPod Touch.
"I couldn't get through [to] the Apple website, nor the AT&T [site], I tried several times with the iPhone Apple Store app which kept on crashing," said "GLM_BUF" on the Apple iPhone support forum at 2:41 p.m. ET.
This is not the first time that Apple, AT&T or other carrier partners have been unable to handle the crush of iPhone orders. Just last week, AT&T's account management site went dark for several hours after Apple announced that the service provider would waive contract requirements to allow more customers to upgrade to the new iPhone 4.
In 2008, U.K. carrier O2's site crashed under the load of pre-orders for the then-impending iPhone 3G. Several weeks later, lines stalled outside Apple retail stores as AT&T's activation software collapsed under the load when customers picked up their pre-ordered iPhone 3G smartphones.
AT&T did not respond to a request for comment on the bungled pre-order process.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.