If you read tech press, and goodness knows I do, you would think that the cell phone was being invented for the first time. I’m finding myself entertained by the iPhone coverage the past few weeks, and this week it will likely hit mania levels.
Honestly, I want the iPhone to be as good and as revolutionary as some folks are making it out to be. The realist in me can’t help but think that expectations are set so high, not even Apple can reach them. Why? They’re not in this game alone. What will pull the iPhone down won’t be what’s in Apple’s control…it will be
Cingular, er the New AT&T, AT&T. The success of the iPhone will depend on AT&T pulling its s**t together 5 minutes after a massive, rushed changeover of branding from Cingular. Can they pull it off? What experience does AT&T have in putting so much attention and support into a single product? The weak link will be in customer support. The experience of calling Apple Support is very different than calling AT&T. The experience of walking into an AT&T Store and asking for help on an issue is very different than walking into an Apple Store. Apple Stores are consistent, even if the size of the locations vary slightly. The quality of AT&T locations vary widely. From clueless mall kiosks (yes, company-owned ones…I’m not even talking about the resellers) to the stores with friendly, knowledgeable employees and stocked shelves. iPhone owners will have to deal with both Apple and AT&T, and when they have a bad experience with AT&T it will reflect negatively on the iPhone no matter how much the Mac press will try and spin it otherwise.
I’m also thinking of the process of activating a new phone with AT&T. I switched from the Cingular 8525 to Blackberry 8800 in March and started a new contract. I figure that in 2 years, Apple will be on revision 3 or so of the iPhone and I’ll be ready to jump in. I’m not a new customer, and I must have been standing at that counter for 20 minutes while the employee did what he had to do to set up my next contract. Happens that way every time. When the line of folks waiting to buy and set up their new iPhones is literally around the block, how will they manage that? That leads me to suspect that when one walks into an Apple or AT&T store, you’ll buy the iPhone with a blank SIM card inside and go home to set it up through iTunes. If that’s the case, how will you port your existing phone number to the new phone? I’m sure Apple/AT&T have thought of this already and have an easy mechanism.
I’m also hoping that there’s a dedicated phone line for iPhone-related issues at AT&T, with separate staff. I know I read that AT&T hired thousands of new employees for this launch. I hope they’re going to have an iPhone store-within-a-store at their locations. I won’t own an iPhone for a couple of years, but when I call AT&T with an issue now I don’t want my experience to suffer because the staff’s attention is entirely focused on the iPhone.