iRate Over iPhones

I admit it. I am totally enamored with the new iPhone, even though I have yet to purchase one. After hearing about the activation snags within the first 48 hours, however, I am content with waiting to make the investment.

Even before the television commercials saturated the airwaves, my iBook advertised the cool new gadget every time I logged onto Safari—and I was instantly hooked. iPhone, which hit the marketplace on June 29, combines all the goodies a gizmo-lover wants: It’s a mobile phone with wireless Internet access, and it also features Apple’s iPod music and video player. I mean, this is too good to be true! Of course, after some research, I realized I was right.

While it is a great personal device, it may take some time for iPhone to become a tried-and-true tool for reliable business communications. According to Ken Dulaney, VP of mobile computing at Gartner, this first generation has its share of hurdles, including a lack of support from major mobile-device management and security suites, and its construction leaves much to be desired. For example, some critics are complaining that the unit does not have a removable battery, making it a breeding ground for support issues.

I am more concerned by the fact that only one mobile-solution provider— AT&T—supports the gadget so far. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not turned off by the company per se. But I am turned off by how it handled the activation process.

Those lucky to get an iPhone were instructed to activate the gadget directly through the AT&T Web site. Doing as they were told, thousands of users flooded the Web to get their iPhone online. However, heavy traffic overwhelmed the telecommunications carrier and left approximately 2% of buyers out of touch for about 48 hours.

Asking buyers to activate iPhones from their own computers “is a brand new process in the industry,” according to Mark Siegel, AT&T spokesman. “No other carrier has had people activate their phones or accounts this way.”

Some analysts described the activation woes merely as a short-term “public-relations issue” for AT&T and Apple. Maybe those lucky souls got their phones to work.

In reality, I see a bigger problem: Apple and AT&T dropped the ball when integrating their activation services. The iPhone launch is described as an event that drove more traffic during its first weekend on the market than any other device’s first month in the marketplace. Related media blasts and promotions ensured this. That said, both companies should have taken a very serious look at whether they were prepared to handle the potential consumer volume and taken stronger steps to back up the operation.

Let’s face it. These days, if anyone is knocked off of a Web site or if screens freeze as a user tries to place an order online, that shopper will take her business elsewhere. While the iPhone is only available through one carrier today, the situation might make me rethink the experience if I were Apple.

The good news is that many of these activation troubles were fixed by Monday, July 3. But to me, that was two days too late. Will the glitch kill the hype of iPhone mania? Probably not. However, I patiently await the next generation of iPhone when the price comes down and third-party support goes up.

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