AT&T thinks I'm not good enough for iPhone 12 and I think I'm insulted

You'd think carriers would want all customers to upgrade to the latest models. Not, it seems, AT&T.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Does the carrier think I'm not good enough?

I'm used to it.

Every year, there's a new iPhone and every year AT&T emails me to tell me to upgrade from the rancid old dungheap of an iPhone I bought last year.

Once in a while, the carrier will try to get me to switch to something Samsung.

Generally, it peddles the idea that I can only be seen with the latest and the greatest.

Until, that is, this year.

We Love You. We Love You Not That Much.

I waited for the carrier to sent me a temptingly-worded email about pre-ordering Apple's new phone.

It didn't happen.

Instead, AT&T is trying to send me in a desperate, borderline insulting direction.

I should reveal that I have an iPhone XR. I've had it for a couple of years and it's been, well, fine. It's sturdy, a little heavy and hasn't broken once. Sometimes, it gets knocked down to the floor, but it gets up again.

It's not so fast anymore and it doesn't get the barely breathing 5G that's being touted by Apple, Verizon and, indeed, AT&T itself.

Why, for too long, AT&T has peddled the utterly mendacious 5Ge which is to 5G what Kanye West is to judicious presidential candidature.

Please imagine, then, my tortured feelings when, shortly after iPhone 12 was launched, I received an email from my carrier.

"BEST DEALS FOR EVERYONE," it screamed. AT&T wanted me to know that "new and existing customers get our best smartphone deals."

This was, of course, uplifting. There's always the suspicion that carriers prefer to acquire new customers than please their existing ones.

I read further and there was the insult: "Learn how to get iPhone 11 for $10/month."

Wait, AT&T thinks I'm only good enough for Apple's old phone? Has the carrier been snooping on the way I've been dressing down lately? Has AT&T decided that I've somehow besmirched it? Has Apple, perhaps, downgraded me to inferior status for not upgrading every year -- and then told AT&T?


This is all I'm worth?

Screenshot by ZDNet

This was truly perplexing, especially as the email then added that this astonishing offer required no trade-in, but was only open to those who signed a 30-month agreement. You hurt me, then you want me to stay with you for another 30 months?

That's the thing about personalized marketing. It's (supposed to be) personal.

We Really Love You Not That Much At All.

My existential pain continued.

It could be, I told myself, that the company has decided those who want any of the iPhones 12 already know which ones they want and need no reminders or incentives.

This felt, however, like being denied entrance to a restaurant because the host didn't think I'd spend enough on wine, given my tattered shoes.

So I went to the AT&T site to see what it was saying. The featured element: "New and existing customers get iPhone 12 for $0."


Was this, in fact, a better offer?

Screenshot by ZDNet

This sounded like the most wonderful deal. A deal AT&T clearly didn't want to tell me about. 

I read the small print. It began: "Get up to $800 off an eligible smartphone when you add a new line or upgrade an existing line."

Ah. Oh.

The small print went further. I'd have to "purchase an eligible smartphone on a qualifying installment agreement, including taxes on full retail price (up front) and $30 activation/upgrade fee."

Yes, AT&T charges you a fee to get a better phone. 

And the $800 wasn't actual cash. Instead: "Up to $800 in bill credits with smartphone trade-in value of $95 or higher (Up to $350 with trade-in value of $35 to $94) applied in equal amounts over 30 monthly installments."

I scrolled a little further down. And scrolled. And scrolled. The small print went on for 968 words. It even mentioned: "AT&T may temporarily slow data speeds if the network is busy." 

Perhaps, then, the iPhone 11 offer is, after all, the best deal. Or "deal."

And I Thought They Really Knew Me.

Naturally, I contacted AT&T to ask whether I'd suddenly been deemed déclassé or whether the company's sales strategy has merely changed. I failed to elicit any on-the-record comment.

I did, though, dig more deeply into my sources. It seems that the emailed encouragement to buy an iPhone 11 is targeted at those who have an iPhone older than an iPhone 8 on their account. Which isn't my case at all.

Perhaps, then, it may not have been a human who'd downgraded me, but merely an errant, arrogant algorithm. Which wouldn't be the first time. 

Then again, perhaps the personalization marketers really have decided that the only personal touch I deserved was to be demoted for not buying a new phone every year. And this after being with AT&T for more than a decade.

Even if someone has a much older iPhone, why wouldn't you at least try to excite them with a bigger dream than last year's phone? You can always tell them about the iPhone 11 offer too.

And there I was thinking I'd just go to an AT&T store, take a look at iPhone 12, hopefully like it and perhaps even buy it.

But if I do go, will they take one look at my account and immediately shunt me over to the iPhone 11 display?

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