FAQ: How to get an iPhone 3G S on Friday

If it's summer, it must be time for a new iPhone.

That's what Apple wants you to think, of course, which is why last week it pulled out the stops -- those it could with master marketeer CEO Steve Jobs still on medical leave -- when it introduced the newest iPhone, dubbed the "3G S."

The "S," said Apple, stands for "speed," although current iPhone owners who can't buy one at the subsidized price might instead say the "S" stands for "spendy" or "stiffed," or even worse.

Still, the now-annual event will probably draw lines at Apple's retail stores later this week, and unless Apple has filled the pipeline with more inventory than it did last year, shortages of the iPhone 3G S are likely. So how do you get your hands on one? Good opening question. We have more than just that one, though, along with answers, naturally.

Happy hunting.

When does the iPhone 3G S go on sale? In the U.S., Apple's retail stores open their doors on Friday, June 19, at 8 a.m. local time. AT&T's retail stores will open an hour earlier, at 7 a.m. local time, but only for people who pre-ordered via the Web or at a store. (According to The Boy Genius Report, AT&T had sold out its pre-order allotment by Saturday, June 13, and any subsequent pre-orders won't be shipped to a local store for pick-up until seven to 14 days after the order date.)

AT&T will let customers who didn't pre-order into its stores starting at 8 a.m. local time.

Best Buy and Wal-Mart, the other two outlets selling iPhones, will open at their usual business hours on Friday.

What countries get the iPhone 3G S on Friday? Apple said that customers in the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K. get first crack at the new iPhone. Other countries will begin to sell their shipments of the upgrade starting July 9.

What's the easiest way to get an iPhone 3G S? Apple is taking pre-orders for both models of the iPhone 3G S on its Web site, and claims that it will deliver the phone to customers by June 19 (that's what it said as of Saturday, June 13, anyway). It's taking only single-line pre-orders, however, so people who want two or more iPhones, or want to add a line to an existing account, are somewhat out of luck: Apple will reserve ordered iPhones, but you'll have to retrieve it by going to a retail store.

During the week of the iPhone 3G S' unveiling, AT&T also took pre-orders on its Web site as well as from walk-ins, telling the former that their iPhones would be shipped via two-day priority, and the latter that they would have to come to a nearby store. By Saturday, June 13, however, a message on AT&T's site read: "Pre-orders for iPhone 3G S will ship 7 to 14 days after your order is placed. Orders will be shipped on a first-come, first-served basis."

Best Buy, which was also taking pre-orders from walk-in customers, said on Saturday that they too had sold out their pre-order inventories. Wal-Mart is not taking pre-orders, according to conversations with salespeople at several of its stores.

Okay, looks like I'm standing in line. Will there be one Friday? Does Steve Jobs wear black? Does Steve Wozniak dance like a "Teletubby going mad?"

People who pre-ordered through AT&T, however, will get preferential treatment. The carrier has said it will start serving them an hour before than other customers. The only concession Apple's making is to open its retail stores an hour earlier than usual.

What about Best Buy and Wal-Mart? "We haven't been told anything about a camp-out or an early opening," said a Best Buy sales representative Saturday. The word from Wal-Mart was essentially the same.

What will I pay for the iPhone 3G S? Good question. Frankly, that depends on your relationship with AT&T, and if you own an older iPhone. If you're currently not an AT&T customer, you're green: You qualify for the subsidized prices of $199 for the 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB version.

If you are a current iPhone owner, or an AT&T customer who uses another type of phone, you may be eligible for the $199/$299 prices, but there's a good chance you're not. Depending on your situation, you may have to pony up an additional $200, putting the prices at $399 and $499.

And that's made a lot of people hot under the collar.

Depending on your situation? What does that mean? On which way the wind's blowing or whether your name starts with "Q."

Okay, both of those are a stretch, but eligibility for the subsidized prices seems to be a state secret at AT&T. Generally speaking, you're more likely to qualify for the $199/$299 prices the closer you are to the end of your current service contract, although there seems to be other criteria in play.

Typically, U.S. consumers must fulfill their contract -- two years is the general rule -- before they're eligible to get a new phone for free or purchase one at a subsidized price. AT&T's not breaking new ground here.

That hasn't stopped more than 12,500 people -- as of Sunday -- from signing a Twitter petition calling on AT&T to let existing customers purchase the iPhone 3G S at the same price as new customers. Nor did it stop a crisis communications expert from saying that the company had to move quickly to quell the revolt or risk alienating thousands of people who will jump ship if Apple ends AT&T's exclusive deal next summer. His 48-hour deadline, however, has come and gone, with not a peep out of A&T.

Current AT&T customers can determine their eligibility for the iPhone 3G S' discounted prices online by logging in to their wireless account.

How long will it take to get an iPhone? Not even Tim Cook, the chief operating officer running the company while Jobs gets well, knows that. But we're betting the inside-the-store time will be shorter than last year, when the activation servers crashed about an hour-and-a-half into sales on launch day, and Apple and AT&T sent users home with an expensive brick.

That's because Apple and AT&T have discarded in-store activation, a requirement last year, and will let buyers walk out with an iPhone 3G S, then activate it later in the comfort of their own home via iTunes.

Apple re-instituted online sales about a month ago, but gave the same caveat then as it is now: Only new, single-line accounts are eligible. AT&T started selling iPhones online and allowing at-home activation using iTunes in December 2008.

If iTunes activation sounds familiar, it should: That's the process Apple used in 2007 when it launched the first-generation iPhone. But iTunes activation wasn't completely painless either. Plenty of buyers who had queued up in long lines found that when they finally got home, iTunes was dead in the water. AT&T, not surprisingly, blamed Apple, saying that its partner's servers had melted under the strain.

Should you expect a repeat of 2007? Impossible to know. Cynics like us expect the worst, so when things do go smoothly -- and sometimes they do, you know -- we get the momentary high of having won a round in the battle against technology.

What do I bring with me to the store? To get out of the store with an iPhone 3G S, you'll need a credit card to pay for the phone. Later, during the iTunes activation process, you'll need your Social Security number for the credit check required by AT&T. If you're ordering online, you need all of that to replace an existing iPhone; to open a new account, you'll also need to enter your billing address and date of birth.

To transfer an existing number to the new iPhone 3G S, you'll also need your current cell number and password or PIN to that account.

Think I'll wait a few days to buy. Is there a way to tell whether the iPhone 3G S is in stock before I drive to the store? (I'm trying to reduce my carbon footprint.) Apple will undoubtedly fire up its inventory tool -- which it's used the last two years to report stores with models in stock -- so you can check online before you leave the house.

The availability tool will be here when the iPhone 3G S launches Friday. It will reflect next-day's status after 9 p.m. local time for the store you're checking. AT&T didn't have anything like that last year, when it told customers to call local stores before driving. Expect the same this time.

How will I transfer settings, e-mail accounts and text messages from an older iPhone to my new iPhone 3G S? Apple's not posted an updated support document to describe the process -- which involves syncing the older iPhone, then restoring the backup to the iPhone 3G S using iTunes -- but it's probably going to be identical or at least similar to the instructions from last year.

That support document is available here.

They have this recession goin' on, in case you haven't heard. Anything for someone like me who has an iPhone but doesn't want to shell out $200 (or more) for a new one? You get iPhone 3.0, the newest upgrade to the iPhone's software, which Apple previewed last March and talked up more last week. iPhone 3.0 launches on Wednesday, June 17. Among the new features: copy-paste, MMS, Spotlight search and landscape-mode keyboard.

iPhone 3.0 is free to iPhone owners, but costs iPod Touch users $9.95.

Apple and AT&T also reduced the price of the existing iPhone 3G 8GB to $99, so if you have $100 and an aging first-generation iPhone, you can go that route. Have a little more cash? For $149, you can pick up the 16GB iPhone 3G from AT&T and Best Buy.

Those reduced-price iPhones are available now.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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