IPhone activation headaches still trouble users

AT&T, Apple won't say how many users have had problems, but some have been waiting nearly 60 hours

It took Iain Gillott 47 hours to activate his iPhone after waiting in the Texas heat Friday afternoon to buy one.

He has been an AT&T Inc./Cingular Wireless customer for 12 years, so he never dreamed there would be any trouble setting up service. But after a day of trying, he learned that his family rate plan wouldn't accommodate an additional line, and once that problem was solved, he learned AT&T sent Apple Inc. a message to activate, but the Apple servers had timed out.

So, basically, both the maker and the carrier for the iPhone screwed up, from Gillott's point of view. "When the next big device comes out, I'm not rushing out to buy one," Gillott said in an interview. Both AT&T and Apple "had the opportunity to set a benchmark for customer service but haven't solved any problems at all. They've done nothing apart from pissing off a lot of people."

Gillott, a market analyst for wireless products and services at IGR Inc. in Austin, waited 47 hours for service, but that might not be the longest to wait, according to Apple's support blog, where one person known as "SVDaily" waited more than 59 hours and still did not have service today.

Apple and AT&T officials have not responded to requests asking how many iPhone customers faced long waits for activation or what has caused the problems. One Apple official yesterday told the Associated Press that a small percentage of iPhone customers had an activation problem, while AT&T said overloaded servers were to blame and that adjustments were in the works.

An online poll at Engadget.com started on Sunday morning recorded by midday today more than 5,300 users who said they were "still dead in the water" and upset about activation delays, while another 1,600 said they were indeed activated after facing problems. Another 6,800 reported that their activations went smoothly, nearly half the survey group.

One market research report showed that more than 500,000 iPhones had been sold over the weekend. Based on that total, the online poll would indicate slightly more than 1% had activation problems, but Gillott said the number of failed activations was probably much higher, perhaps as many as 100,000 people.

"It was insulting to hear the AT&T customer service reps tell me they had been overwhelmed by the iPhone response, since they had so long to prepare," Gillott said. "They obviously didn't test problems like mine where my family plan would only allow three phone lines and not a fourth."

Gillott said AT&T should have insisted that it activate phones in its stores, which it does successfully with other phones at the rate of 3 million a quarter. Apple, meanwhile, has been good at activating iTunes and iPods online, so it apparently won out in the decision to require iPhone activation online through iTunes.

"AT&T should have said absolutely, no way, this is a phone and not an iPod, but Apple clearly won the argument," he said. "There was too much back and forth between the two of them."

Several industry analysts were sympathetic to AT&T and Apple and said start-up snafus are to be expected with any new technology.

"I have talked with countless customers, all of whom have had no problems getting set up," said Jeffrey Kagan, an independent market analyst in Atlanta. "I have heard that some customers have had some problems in the first few hours during the first few days, but that was expected.

"Actually, I think we all expected the mad crush of new customers to have many more problems than have occurred," Kagan said. "This first weekend was an obvious success for both Apple and AT&T."

Apple's own view of its performance might best be shown in the discussion thread on the topic, "Post HERE if you've had a GREAT experience" with iPhone. Of the 60 postings (and more than 1,200 views) at 3 p.m. Eastern time, one from "D.C.Douglas1" included a bright yellow smiley face and this comment: "Great experience! Bought two and had no issues! Now I dream of touching that GUI!"

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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