It was possible to buy either iPhone model last night in Central New Jersey.
I bought mine at the Apple Store at the Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold, NJ about 7:45pm. The Apple Store appeared to have plenty of stock at that time. That didn't surprise me because I had read that the 140+ Apple Stores around the country would be staying open until midnight. Why would Apple bother doing that if they thought that they would sell out at most of their locations?
First Stop: A Sold Out AT&T Store
Before I went to the Apple in Freehold, I drove to the AT&T Store in West Windsor, NJ. This is a small store that I thought might not attract a huge line. I have no idea how many people were in line before 6:00pm, but when I arrived there at approximately 6:25, the store was already sold out.
What blew my mind was the number of people who stayed in line after the store manager announced that they were sold out. (I had just arrived when he made this announcement.) He told the people in line that they were welcome to stay and his staff would take orders from them. Many of the people were staying in their place in the line when I hit the road for Freehold.
I Thought Freehold Was Sold Out Too
When I got to the Freehold Apple Store (about 30 minutes east of the AT&T Store I had stopped at), I thought they were sold out. There was no line, the customers inside the store were playing with the various Apple products arrayed on the display tables. I picked up an iPhone and played with it for five or more minutes. Only after I did that and was looking around the store at other products did an Apple salesperson speak to me. I asked, "When did you guys sell out of iPhones?"
The salesperson said, "We sold out? I don't think so."
"So you have 8G iPhones left?" I said. If they hadn't completely sold out, maybe the 4G models were the only ones left and people didn't want them as much. I was playing with a 4G model moments before that.
"I'm pretty sure we have both models available, sir. Try heading back to the counter and asking for one."
From the time I walked up to the checkout counter until the time I left the store with my iPhone, about three minutes elapsed.
Next Stop: Best Buy for a Windows XP Upgrade
I'm probably the last person on Earth to upgrade from Windows 2000 Professional to Windows XP Professional, but I had to do it in order to have a computer that will sync with the iPhone. That was a couple of hundred bucks I'd like to have back. Half an hour later, I'm back in the car for the 40 mile drive home.
Back Home to Install Microsoft Outlook and Windows XP
Why would any self respecting Firefox and Thunderbird user install Outlook 2000 on any computer? Because I own a paid-for copy of Office 2000 and because iTunes knows how to sync with it for contacts and take mail account settings from it.
I have always avoided Outlook and I was right to do so. I even hated the Palm Desktop that I used as a syncing partner for my trusty old Treo 650. Getting those two programs to communicate with each other was a joy that I will spare you. Email me if you need the details.
A Frightening XP Upgrade Experience
The Windows XP Upgrade took about five hours and made me wonder whether I had lost the entire contents of my Windows 2000 desktop PCs hard disk. My desktop is a PC I built from parts bought at ZipZoomFly. The motherboard is an ASUS A7N8X-E which has a Silicon Image SATA disk controller that Windows XP doesn't support out of the box. The Upgrade Advisor said that there were no issues with running the XP upgrade, so I launched into it.
About half way through the process, the installer complained about the Bluetooth Audio driver and the SATA RAID hard disk driver. I should have stopped there, gone to a machine with a floppy disk or a CD burner, and created a driver disk from the drivers on ASUS's website. I didn't do this because it was 1:00am and I think I was half asleep. My logic was that the installer is writing to the disk now, so the warning must be about the RAID aspects of the driver only, the basic SATA aspect will surely work. Of course it didn't.
By that point, I had to go to a machine with a floppy disk, create a driver disk, and then go back to the PC and redo a significant part of the XP update process. This took me until between 3:00 and 3:30am.
The iTunes update was a pain free experience that took about 10 minutes from start to finish. All I needed to do now was connect the new iPhone dock to USB on my new (old) Windows XP desktop, activate the iPhone, and go to bed.
iPhone Activation Quagmire
I should have guessed that the activation process that looked so simple on Apple.com had some points of potential failure and delay. I thought I would miss most of them because I am a long time AT&T Wireless / Cingular / AT&T customer. I thought wrong.
The activation process timed out two or three times while iTunes waited for AT&T to respond. This was at 4:00am Eastern Time, so the only people still selling iPhones were in Alaska and Hawaii at this point. A lot of happy iPhone purchasers in the other U.S. timezones must have been doing the same thing I was doing, and becoming less happy all the time.
I finally got through the AT&T authorization step, or so I thought. Instead I got the following message:
Your Activation Requires Additional Time to Complete
An email came through to my OperationGadget.com account at 4:30am:
AT&T is now processing your activation.
You will receive an email confirmation once your activation is complete.
So I thought to myself, "I've done everything I can do. Now I'll get a little sleep, and when I get up the activation process will be completed.
I got up at about 8:00am. No further email from AT&T or Apple.
It's now 12:30pm Eastern Time. Still no email indicating the activation is complete.
Talking to AT&T on Saturday Morning
At about 11:30, I called AT&T and got a customer support person after about 20 minutes of hold time. I asked, "Are there any issues with my account or previous billing plan that are holding up activation?" After five to 10 minutes of looking at my account, the agent said, no everything looked good.
He offered to transfer me with the special iPhone Activation Department so I could ask whether the activation process would be completed today. He went away and tried for 15 minutes to get an agent from that department. He got one at one point, but was cutoff while trying to introduce me and my situation.
After a total of 45 minutes of my time, he gave me the direct number for that department and told me how to wade through the menus properly.
Summary of My Experience So Far
I think everyone is doing the best they can coping with huge volumes of transactions. AT&T probably didn't have any way of testing the scalability of their entire account processing and support infrastructure, but they seem to be trying to do the right thing.
If I were Apple, I would rethink the activation process and turn on the iPod features of the device if AT&T's part of the activation process is delayed. This is particularly important in the case of existing AT&T customers who already have accounts and phone numbers, and are in a good credit status.
Windows will always suck. I'd dump the platform entirely if I could. I bought a MacBook for my wife Kathleen this week and an iPhone for me, and that's all the family gadget budget can handle for a while. My next computer will run OS X, I promise you.
Update, 3:36pm Saturday
I received the following email: from AT&T:
We are currently processing your order. Your order number is 7xxxxx You will receive an additional e-mail when your order is complete that will provide further instructions to activate your iPhone.
This arrived about 11 hours after the first email indicating that my order had been initiated. Glad that my order appears to be moving through the system. I'm trying to figure out if I can project how long it will be until actual activation. The articles I've found so far have not spoken about issues at this level of detail.
Update, 8:15pm Saturday
I called the AT&T iPhone Activation Support number at 877-800-3701, chose option 3, and entered the order number that was sent to me in the email at 3:36. The voice response system said that my phone had been activated and all features are available to me.
I turned the iPhone on and docked it to my desktop PC. iTunes said that additional time was needed to complete my activation, and that I would receive an email when my activation was complete. I was perplexed.
Update, 9:26pm Saturday
I received the following email from Apple:
Congratulations, AT&T has successfully activated your iPhone service.
If you have not done so already, please connect your iPhone to your computer now to complete this activation (or click here if your iPhone is already connected).
I synced my iPhone to iTunes successfully.
You have to choose the data you want to sync to your iPhone, obviously. My desktop PC has thousands of digital photos on it from the last few years. I chose about 150 from the past few weeks as well as this past Christmas. I was surprised to see iTunes taking considerable time to "optimize" these photos for the iPhone. We'll see what that means later.
I also chose to sync all of my contacts that I had brought over from my Treo 650 into Outlook. I transferred the configuration of several of my email accounts that I configured in Outlook last night, specifically for the purpose of getting that configuration transferred to the iPhone.
Update, 10:15am Monday
Over the past 24 hours, I've really gotten to use the iPhone. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best handheld device I've ever used. The UI is extremely solid and well thought out. I've only really experienced on glitch since I started using it; A video I bought from iTunes froze but the sound kept playing. I have to see if there is some way within the UI to get this going again, although I could always restart the iPhone I guess.
The biggest surprise / lack of performance I've experienced so far was the integration between Outlook and iTunes. I synced my old Treo to Outlook 2000 on my desktop PC, mainly because I have a valid license for Outlook 2000 and Apple implied that it could be used. I expected Outlook 2000 to work as a desktop repository of calendar and contact information because Apple wasn't specific about a minimum version of Outlook that was necessary.
Further research into the situation revealed that the iTunes-Outlook syncronization feature requires Outlook 2003 or later. This is a frustrating situation, because it means I'll have to spend more money on PC software that I wouldn't otherwise use.
My wife and I went to Sesame Place with our son Jimmy last night. This was the first opportunity I've had to use the iPhone camera in any kind of intense way. It performed really well, considering the fact that it doesn't have built-in zoom or flash capabilities, and the Photo Album viewer functionality is outstanding.
I'll try to post an article discussing the iPhone photo experience either today or tomorrow.