• Getting an iPhone Isn’t Always So Easy, Folks!

    August 6th, 2007

    All right, you are probably wondering if The Night Owl hasn’t gone off his rocker again. After all, if you want to buy an iPhone, all you have to do is visit your nearest Apple or AT&T store, or place an order online. Even if the model you want isn’t in stock, you’ll have it in a few days.

    So what could be simpler?

    Well, there is one other factor that folks who are living in iPhone heaven may conveniently forget, but it is quite likely to come home when they get their next wireless bill; that is, if it’s not from AT&T. Yes, that’s the one factor that you may not think about when you succumb to those offers of free phones and big buckets of minutes. It’s the one-year or two-year contract you signed, which ties you to your existing cell phone provider unless you want to pay a fairly hefty early termination fee, which may be multiplied by the number of handsets you have.

    If you are truly desperate for an iPhone, perhaps you’ll be willing to endure the final bill from your previous service, but I would hope you’d show a little patience. Whether its six months or two years from now, you are likely going to find a much better iPhone to purchase if you’re prepared to wait till your contract has expired.

    Or maybe not.

    You see, according to AT&T, some 40% of the initial iPhone activations were to new customers. Now perhaps they were in the clear, and had no obligation to their previous carrier. Or perhaps it just didn’t make any difference.

    This isn’t to say that you are necessarily stuck in your present contract. There may be ways to get out of it without having to pay financial tribute to the cell phone company. For example, if you are having critical service problems in the areas you use for personal or business calls, such as poor quality audio and dropped calls, you may have a good excuse to break your contact without any cost or other obligations.

    Of course, there’s no guarantee they’ll listen to you, but since Sprint is busy dumping customers for calling them too much — even if it’s really their fault — that might be a solution, at least for that carrier. I suppose if you earn a reputation as a constant pest, any wireless provider will only be too happy to allow you to depart without having to write a check.

    If that strategy doesn’t bear fruit, what do you do to ditch your wireless carrier? Well, this is a technique I’ve considered, should I buy an iPhone of course. You see, I have about 18 months left on my present Verizon Wireless contract. Understand that, as mediocrity goes, Verizon is probably the best of the bunch, which isn’t saying a whole lot, but that’s how this business is, unfortunately.

    Now I happen to have four phones on my Verizon family plan and if I decided to take the chance on an iPhone, despite my qualms about AT&T, I would simply revert to three phones and transfer one of my phone numbers over partly as an experiment.

    In other words, this would be a gradual phase-out on my part, rather than an abrupt departure. But it’s also fair to say that AT&T is between a rock and a hard place here. It can’t be lost on them that they’ve had network and customer service problems, particularly in integrating their newly merged networks. When Consumer Reports runs surveys on the quality of wireless phone service, AT&T is traditionally at the bottom or near the bottom of the list. This despite claims of having fewer dropped calls.

    So it’s clear to me that they have their work cut out for them, particularly with a demanding partner such as Apple. I would hope they are working hard to overcome their problems to keep the customers they’ve attracted happy.

    As I said, I remain skeptical.

    Of course there is one other way to get out of your wireless phone contract in case the gradual migration or obnoxious customer schemes don’t succeed, and that’s to hand off your wireless contract to a relative or a third party. There are sites that promise to offer this service, but I won’t link to any because I honestly can’t recommend a specific company. If you’ve succeeded in pawning off your wireless deal in this fashion, please leave a comment and let us all know.

    Indeed, putting down your money on a new iPhone may not seem such a hard task, and the activation process ought to be fairly straightforward. But for many of you, your work has just begun, and it may not be a terribly pleasant process. But the ends, in this case, may indeed justify the means.

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    2 Responses to “Getting an iPhone Isn’t Always So Easy, Folks!”

    1. William Timberman says:

      Gene, I can’t really disagree with anything you’ve said in this piece, but for what it’s worth, AT&T customer service here where I live has been excellent. (I’m in Clarkdale, AZ, about 100 miles north of you, I think.) I had difficulty activating the phone because my street address, as with several small towns in AZ, is not my mailing address. I called AT&T and they walked me through using an alternate address, then changing it on their Web site. I also had some questions on my first bill, which were answered both politely and clearly. (Of course the customer service from Verizon — my previous provider — was also first-rate. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.)

      Coverage in my area is also very good, with quite reasonable EDGE speeds. My old Verizon phone wouldn’t even ring in the house; the iPhone never drops a call. Admittedly my old phone was a six-year old StarTac, but even friends with newer phones had trouble connecting to Verizon here. My house is at the bottom of a hill, but in line-of-sight from Mingus mountain, where most of the cell phone towers in the area seem to be located.

      The upshot? Well, even though my Verizon contract had long since run its course, and I hadn’t renewed it, I had my doubts about being locked in to AT&T, given their reputation. I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far; maybe others will be as well, if they can take the sting from contract cancellation costs.

      The iPhone itself, as others have reported, is astonishing. Even though I’ve only had it two weeks, I can’t imagine being without it now. The human engineering is sheer genius, even more of a breakthrough, in my opinion, than the original Mac, and I’ve been a Mac user since mid-1984.

    2. My feeling is that AT&T is probably a lot better than they used to be, as a result of all the money they’ve spent enhancing the network.

      But I await other conclusions about this, when the reviewers have their say.


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