Obviously, I like Apple stuff, and I have for a long time. I even used to work there, some 20 years ago. However, unlike some tech pundits who shall remain nameless, I don’t think Apple should be given a free pass when they screw up.
Well, right now, Apple is screwing up, and doing so badly. Today is June 15th, the day that pre-orders for the iPhone 4 were supposedly going to start. I say “supposedly” because while the online Apple store is configured to take orders, it is not actually able to do so, at least not for me.
Bloggers and tweeters are already blaming AT&T for the snafu, but I have a hard time believing this is entirely the fault of AT&T. Actually, it cannot be entirely the fault of AT&T, because if AT&T can’t handle it, Apple should have known that and done something about it in advance.
However, despite that, and despite the fact that AT&T may indeed be overloaded, Apple is doing a terrible job of dealing with the situation, because as far as I can tell, they are doing exactly nothing about it. There are no warning messages on the store Web site, not even a “we apologize for the delays and difficulties some customers are having.” There’s nothing. There’s just a store Web site that randomly dies, and because the process is multi-step (and presumably not all the steps directly involve AT&T), there are many different points along the way where it can die.
Here are the steps after you click “pre-order” on the model you want:
1) Note what kind of customer you are (e.g., returning AT&T iPhone customer)
2) Provide your AT&T information (i.e., phone number, billing zip code)
3) Confirm or change rate plans (this may actually be multiple steps as well)
4) Add to cart
I don’t know what step 5 is, because I’ve never gotten that far. Dying after step 2 seems to be the place where blame might mostly be laid at the feet of AT&T, since that’s where the site says that it’s getting information from AT&T.
However, I’ve had it die after all four steps. Sometimes it says “Your session expired,” even though I’ve never left it idle for more than 10 seconds. Sometimes it literally says “Oops, there’s an error” with no explanation. Or “Your request couldn’t be processed” also with no explanation. This, from the company that prides itself on the user experience?
Give me a break.
Look, Apple, if you cannot actually provide the service, shut it down. It’s not for lack of trying, I’ve been at it for hours. (Fortunately, I’ve had other work to do while doing it, since it requires only infrequent user interaction—mostly just waining for the site to generate the next error message.) It’s especially annoying when Apple has clearly already handled the AT&T front end and the process dies when adding the final order to the shopping cart. That one cannot be laid at the feet of AT&T.
I think the problem at Apple is attitude. @gruber reflected this attitude well in his tweet: “Remember when that one Android phone was so popular that the carrier was overloaded attempting to process preorders?” Yep, everything is fine as long as customers are flocking to us with their money. If we’re making money, we must be doing it right! Ugh, by this logic, Microsoft did everything right in the 1990s, because they made truckloads of money then. Hey, if everything is rosy for the stockholders, everything must be great, right?
Except it isn’t, at least for the customer. What this fiasco says is “we’re not professional enough to handle our business.” Not that everybody always is, of course, but Apple’s corporate image is one of responding to the user. Apple needs to better understand what it can and cannot do. Apple didn’t try this with the last iPhone I bought, the 3G. You had to go to an Apple store on launch day and wait in line for hours. This was annoying, sure, but it wasn’t like Apple was trying to provide a service and failing, which is exactly what Apple is currently doing with pre-orders. Stevie told us all on the keynote stage that we could pre-order on June 15th. We can’t. It’s certainly OK for the Apple suckups to call Microsoft or Google out onto the carpet when they break their promises, but Apple somehow gets a free pass?
I mean, sure, ultimately, this will just be a blip on Apple’s record. Millions of people will (eventually) get their iPhone 4s, and they’ll be great and sleek and cool, and the Apple fanboy press will be abuzz with love for them, and Apple will make buckets of money, so it will all be great in the end, so who cares?
Well, maybe, but I’m worried. Apple is starting to be accused of turning into the company it used to call the Evil Empire, Microsoft. This is exactly the kind of anti-customer stance that plays into that perception. Is this really just a blip, or it it another step down a dark path? I hope it’s a blip, but I fear it’s a step. Time will tell.
Finally, as I noted in the title, this is a great commercial for Android. Even, or perhaps especially, if this is somehow all blamed on AT&T. Google execs must be drooling. “Look at what a crappy customer experience you get with AT&T. You know there are Android phones on Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile, right?” Somehow I’m betting this is not the message Apple wants to be sending, but I’m sure there are plenty of people hearing it loud and clear right now.
Look, I want to spend my money on an iPhone. More importantly, I want to do it when Apple said I would be able to do it. It shouldn’t be this hard… apparently, Apple neither needs nor wants my money. Or, more likely, they don’t give a crap because they know they’ll get it anyway. It’s a Joan Jett moment, Apple—I hate myself for loving you. Or something like that.