Apple's iPad ordering nightmare

Over the years I've bought a lot of Apple products as soon as they launch: Powerbooks, MacBooks, MacBook Pros, iMacs, iPhones and iPads. They usually entail hitting the browser refresh button while I'm waiting for the Apple Store to come back online after that day's big announcement is over.

Today's exercise in buying was different, though. Sure, I figured the new iPad  -- really, Apple, the new iPad? -- would be a hit. I can't be the only one who's been salivating over the prospect of a super hi-resolution model with a retina display, right? But I've never had as much trouble getting an order through as I did today.

A couple of hours after Apple CEO Tim Cook finished the iPad unveiling, the Apple Store still had the "We'll be back" sticker on it. I kept hitting refresh, but the store was still down. So I opened a second browser and tried. Then a third. No dice.

But wait! I'm in! I see iPads. I can choose colors and configurations and can opt out of the engraving. I even see a check-out button. I click the button. Nothing happens. I click it again. The browser windows seems to be trying to reach the Apple site, but it's not getting through. I get an "Oops" error message. I try again.

"We'll be right back..." the still-down store page says.

I take a look at some of the Mac sites I frequent. I am not alone. Apparently no one can access the Apple store.   

About 10 minutes later, I get in again, get to the check-out page and then nothing happens. While I'm waiting, an idea occurs to me: Call  the Apple Store and put in my order over the phone. The phone rings, I respond to a couple of prompts and then I wait. After about 20 minutes a perky woman comes on the line, tells me the store is actually still down and asks me to try again later.

More waiting. A half hour goes by. I call again. This time I get a message right away -- something about a heavy volume of calls and no one being able to answer the phone right now. Really? A heavy volume of calls? Ya think? This could not come as a surprise at Apple, right? 

I go back online. By now, I have three browser windows hung up at various points of the ordering process. I finally manage to get to the checkout window and... I get a "service unavailable" page.

I hit the back button. The Checkout window again! All I need is my Apple ID and password. I type it in. And... "service unavailable."

A-ha! Back button again,. This time I try to check out as a guest. I click and wait. And wait. Aaaaaand, "service unavailable."

My fellow techie, Michael deAgonia, tells me he was able to order his iPad using the mobile app on his iPhone 4S. I open the app. I configure my order, I pick my color, skip the engraving and the cover and get to the checkout screen. I press continue. Aaaaand, the app says it can't connect to the store. 

Not so silently, I curse. The credit card in my hand is of no use. I switch browsers online and try again. I get past the Apple ID page, sign in, and Voila! my account info is already there. I fill in a couple of missing bits of credit card data and I get a new page: "Processing." 

This looks promising. I say prayers. I cross fingers. 

The icon spins. It still says processing. And then, at last, Valhalla, the Promised Land, a page with an order number, and shipping info. Minutes later, I get a confirmation e-mail. It's real.

I begin wondering whether Apple really was unprepared for an onslaught of orders or whether -- where's my tinfoil hat? -- it's part of the plan to gin up interest in a product that's already sky high? For the moment, I'm opting for the former -- a wave of eager buyers did what I did at about the same time, and crashed Apple's ordering system. 

At the very least, it explains why Apple is now sitting on a huge pile of cash. How many other companies could generate such enthusiasm, such vehement determination by buyers to spend their hard-earned money?

I can't think of any.

Of course, the hard part isn't over. It's just begun. Now comes the anxious refreshing of the tracking page, wondering exactly where my iPad is, wondering whether it cleared customs or is it already in the U.S. Which delivery truck is it on? Do I have to sit at home all day on the 16th waiting for the doorbell to ring, or will I get the iPad first thing in the morning?

As Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part. 

As for what I think of the new iPad itself, check out the video below.

Computerworld News Editor Ken Mingis (right) speaks with IDG Enterprise's Keith Shaw about the "New iPad" and its retina display, 4G LTE support and new camera.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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