iPhone 3G S launch: Less euphoria, smoother customer experience

The launch of both the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G were plagued by long lines and logistical problems. This time around both AT&T and Apple have developed better processes to handle iPhone buyers and upgraders, plus the launch day enthusiasm is not quite as high.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief

The launch of both the original iPhone in 2007 and the iPhone 3G in 2008 were plagued by long lines and logistical problems at Apple and AT&T stores, frustrating many iPhone early adopters. Both AT&T and Apple have developed better processes to handle iPhone buyers and upgraders this time around, plus there's not as much customer euphoria about getting their hands on the latest iPhone on launch day.

See also: iPhone 3G S expectations: 500,000 units sold over the weekend

In Louisville, Kentucky (TechRepublic's hometown), the Apple Store in the Oxmoor Center Mall had a line of about 60-70 people when I arrived at 6:50 AM EST. By the time the store opened at 7:00 AM the line had peaked at about 100 and there were two lines, one for people who had pre-ordered and one for walk-ups (who hadn't pre-ordered).

The walk-up line only had about 20 people and everyone else had all pre-ordered their iPhone 3G S. Originally, I had read that walk-ups wouldn't start being served until 10:00 AM (official store-opening hour), but at this Apple Store they started working with them immediately. They had a separate process because they had to go through all of the AT&T verification.

The pre-order line definitely moved a lot faster -- at least twice as fast -- since buyers had already  made choices/changes for wireless plan, gotten AT&T verification, and knew the total cost of their order.

Customers at the Apple Store in Louisville, Kentucky line up to purchase the iPhone 3G S at 7:00 AM on June 19. Photo credit: Jason Hiner

Last year on iPhone launch day at the same Apple Store there were over 250 people in line for the iPhone 3G. I was about 200th in line. I arrived at 7:30 AM and it took until 3:30 PM to actually get an iPhone (there were several times when the servers went down during the day and that really delayed the line), so it took eight hours to get the iPhone 3G.

This year, I was about 70th in line and I made it through the line and purchased an iPhone in around an hour and 45 minutes. I walked out of the Apple Store with an iPhone in hand at 9:35 AM.

Here are few other random notes:

  • For existing AT&T customers, if you were trying to upgrade you had either be the primary account holder on the AT&T account or you had to have the primary account holder with you.
  • Anyone that was from T-Mobile and was trying to port their existing mobile number had to get a new AT&T number first and then was given a phone number to call afterward in order to do the number port.
  • For walk-up customers, the only iPhone 3G S available for purchase was the 16 GB black.
  • I would estimate that at least half of the people in line were existing iPhone users who were upgrading.
  • While Apple employees still used Windows CE wireless terminals to do the payment processing, the employees who managed the pre-order lines used the iPod Touch with a custom app to confirm pre-order details for each customer.

For coverage of iPhone 3G S launch day at other locations across the U.S., see CNET's live blog.

For more insights on the iPhone and other tech topics, follow my Twitter stream at twitter.com/jasonhiner

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