Is this the New Apple?

PowerPage podcaster Youngmoo Kim relays his experience with trying to get an iPhone 3G and on being an "IRU" Individual Responsible User.Apple just doesn't want me to have an iPhone 3G.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor on

PowerPage podcaster Youngmoo Kim relays his experience with trying to get an iPhone 3G and on being an "IRU" Individual Responsible User.

Apple just doesn't want me to have an iPhone 3G.  After a few half-hearted attempts (bailing at the sight of long lines), I spent about two hours in line at the Apple Store this morning (starting about 7:15am), only to find out that my account has somehow been tagged with the dreaded "IRU" (Individual Responsible User), signaling that it is tied to some kind of corporate plan (it's not... nor am I receiving any discounts).In short, they told me I wouldn't be getting 3G'd today, no way, no how, and I had to leave empty handed. Everyone who knows me knows I am pretty much an Apple fanboy, but to put it mildly, I'm quite frustrated with this experience. Given Apple's recent troubles (unavailable iPhone activation servers, the MobileMe launch disaster, product delays, etc.), I am starting to wonder whether Apple is no longer the Apple of recent memory. Instead of under-promising and over-delivering, we're starting to see broken promises and hedges. AirDisk can be used for Time Machine, right?  MobileMe "pushes" your contacts and calendar to the desktop, right Phil Schiller? Apparently not.

The longer version of my story is after the jump...

So, I was the 23rd person in line at the Apple Store, King of Prussia this morning. The store opened at 8am, and shortly thereafter an Apple Store employee proceeded down the line of customers to inform us of the basic requirements and restrictions (contract status, IDs, credit cards, etc.). When he asked if my plan had any discounts, I wasn't 100% sure, so he told me to call 611 (customer service). So I called, and after talking to an AT&T customer service representative, they verified that I wasn't receiving any discount. About 15 minutes later, another Apple Store employee (carrying a handheld account verification device) came by and asked for my account information, which he typed into the handheld, and the dreaded IRU came up. (As an aside, "IRU" shows up inside a big red text box on the display, I suppose for dramatic effect. It might as well say "Danger!" or "Radioactive!").

That's when the employee told me that I couldn't upgrade through the Apple Store. I protested: "I just spoke to customer service and verified there's no discount" (to no avail). He claimed that there was nothing they could do from their end, and that I needed to talk to AT&T. "Can I call them back and have the IRU removed?" According to the Apple Store employee, it would take 24 hours for the IRU to be removed (more on this below). So my only options were to upgrade through an AT&T store (yeah, right... they might get more phones by Christmas) or call AT&T customer service, wait 24 hours, and get back in line. To their credit, the Apple Store employees were very apologetic ("I wish there's something I could do...") and seemed genuinely sorry. In the end, I believed them and walked away empty handed... (this may have been incredibly stupid on my part, see below).

This has been pointed out elsewhere, but the iPhone 3G purchasing experience is far from "Apple-like". Is this really how Apple wants to treat a bunch of customers for whom this may be their first Apple purchase?  You need to know quite a bit about your existing mobile contract, you must bring sufficient documentation, and there are other "gotchas" (if you're on a family plan, the primary account holder must be present... that one nabbed at least one or two people in line ahead of me). All necessary info, perhaps... but does it make the process seamless? Far from it.  Now I know that this is a complex process involving two large corporations, but one of the reasons we love Apple is that they know how to make complex things simple. Last year's launch was simplicity itself... you walked in, you bought a phone, you walked out. No contract verification, no IDs, no IRUs. Then you went home to activate. Usually we expect things to be improved the second time around.

My primary purpose in writing this is to warn others that there are still (after more than a week) potential issues in obtaining an iPhone 3G launch. You can think you have everything right (I'm a current iPhone owner... what could go wrong?), and still be caught by some contract minutae that the Apple Store can't (or won't) help you with.  Why the heck should it matter whether or not I'm getting discounts or not? Whether I'm on a corporate plan or not? Why isn't there a big warning on Apple's iPhone Web site that says "Current iPhone owners: ask AT&T if your account is marked IRU"? Of course I understand Apple is a corporation, and their goal is to make money for their shareholders. But the old Apple seemed to get these details right while still generating a ton of revenue. Is this the new Apple?

Epilogue (it gets worse)... I returned to the office and just got off the phone with AT&T. The rep told me that the "IRU" has been removed... just like that. Apparently, it was put there when I looked into discounts through my University, even though none had been applied. On top of that, the rep said she'd done it for people while they were waiting in line at the Apple Store, and it takes effect immediately. So either the Apple Store employee was misinformed or just didn't want to deal with the hassle of my account.

It's going to take a long time before I set foot back in the Apple Store, King of Prussia... maybe I'll just sit this one out. Turns out 3G coverage is pretty spotty out here, anyway ;)

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