Anticipation quickly turned to frustration on Friday for the millions of Apple customers trying to upgrade their old iPhones to the new software, or activate their newly purchased iPhone 3G. With Apple's servers overloaded and unable to accommodate customer demand, eager buyers who had camped out all week to acquire the new phone were thwarted. Though the new-generation phones were designed to be activated in-store, salespeople instructed customers Friday to go home, connect the phone to a personal computer and download new software to activate it.
Apple did not return phone calls or emails asking for an explanation of its launch-day problems, but by 10 p.m. EST on Friday, this reporter at long last reached a technical support representative, who identified himself only as George: "It's been crazy the whole day," he said. "Our server has been really busy and has been timing out."
The logjam was a major misstep for a company that markets its products as simpler, more elegant and easier to use than the competition's. "The store is basically broken at this point," said Michael Rose, a blogger for tuaw.com, which reports on Apple. When he tried to upgrade his older iPhone Touch early Friday to take advantage of the new software, he says he received an error message informing him the iTunes store was unavailable (the iPhone must be authenticated through Apple's iTunes program to complete a software upgrade). Adds Rose, "I think the lesson is that nobody executes perfectly, not even Apple."
Cassel Kroll, 37, waited in line for three hours Friday morning at the AT&T store on Manhattan's Upper East Side to purchase his new high-tech toy. It would be another five hours before he could get it fully working. "I haven't figured out how to use this thing properly," Kroll told TIME at the end of the business day on Friday. Although he was able to make phone calls, when he tried to load applications onto the new phone, he received a perplexing error message stating that applications in his iTunes library could not be installed on the new iPhone for lack of authorization. Other customers were derailed when attempting to purchase or download add-on applications at all.
For many users, efforts to reach technical support added yet another layer of frustration. Representatives for AT&T, the sole wireless carrier for the new device, referred most technical questions to Apple. An AT&T technician informed TIME only of the obvious predicament that Apple was "experiencing some challenges due to the launch of the new iPhone" and was unable to resolve problems accessing the Apple App store, downloading applications, or setting up AOL and Yahoo email accounts on the device. Apple's own support lines were so jammed that we were unable to get through until late Friday evening. Meanwhile, instructions on the Apple website for basic functions, such as configuring your email, were confusing and of little help.
Consumers were not the only disappointed constituents on Friday. On a day that should have been a celebration for the company, Apple's stock fell more than 2%. Toward the end of the day, however, many of the early technical problems seemed to have been resolved. By 6 p.m., after retrying several times, Kroll said he was able to download and use the free apps he had selected. Later that night after an hourlong wait for phone support an Apple technician was able to walk me through the necessary steps to get my email working properly on the phone. And by midnight I had wirelessly downloaded my first app directly onto the device, without any snafus. I was relieved momentarily, but still disappointed that Apple and AT&T had left so many users adrift on launch day.