Thanks, Apple: You saved me from an expensive mistake (buying an iPhone X)

I did not need to make a decision about buying a new iPhone this year. By botching the purchase process, Apple did it for me.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer
Image: ZDNet

Last night I did what many technology writers looking to keep themselves up to date with Apple's products did -- I set my alarm for 3 am, and prepared -- no, steeled myself -- for the anxiety of having to possibly wait a week or two to get the device and shelling out a lot of money.

For the last few years, I have repeatedly done the same thing. I've bought a new iPhone at full retail, and picked it up at my local Apple store in a week or so's time.

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Sometimes I've chosen the home delivery option, but I've gotten my equipment fast enough. It was never an issue. At the end of the year, I traded the phone into Amazon or Gazelle, and used that money to partially offset the cost of buying a new one.

This year, though, things turned out differently.

This year I decided to bypass the trade-in process (my wife's 6S was getting long in the tooth so I gave her my 7 Plus) and I skipped over the iPhone 8.

I wanted the iPhone X.

Yeah, well so did everyone else. And based on many industry reports we all knew availability was going to be limited due to component manufacturing scale issues with this particular model.

There was never a guarantee you were going to reserve this $1100 phone. But I expected that if I got up at 3 am, and placed my order fairly quickly, and I bought the more expensive 256GB model, I'd probably have a good chance at getting one in a normally expected timeframe.

Here's where things went awry. This time, I decided to enroll in Apple's upgrade program.

Why? Well, first I heard a lot of good things about the upgrade program experience and having Applecare rolled into the entire SKU.

I'm not a typical smartphone user. I write about this stuff and I look at a lot of accessory products for the new phones. To stay current I replace my iPhone every year, and if you do the math, the price works out about the same as buying it full retail and getting maximum cash on the trade in a year later (assuming the phone is in perfect condition).

It's leasing your smartphone. Like a car payment.

There is another important reason why I wanted to take advantage of this program for this purchase. My cell carrier is currently AT&T. Although I might not exercise the choice, I want to have the option of switching to Verizon.

You see, since the introduction of the iPhone 7, Apple changed the bill of materials for wireless baseband components in the device depending on carrier. It used to have only one modem chip across all models, Qualcomm's.

But as the company has been embroiled in protracted litigation with Qualcomm, they now use two different modems, one for Verizon, and one for the other carriers, made by Intel.

Why is this particularly important? Well, if I am going to buy a Lamborghini of a smartphone I would like to be able to extract the maximum amount of performance possible. The "AT&T" model does not allow me to do that, for a number of technical reasons.

The Qualcomm version for Verizon actually works on all the AT&T 4G LTE frequencies and supports the faster LTE standards. So it's definitely the preferable model to own. Apple makes it a lot more difficult to obtain one as a non-Verizon customer, however.

The Apple upgrade program provides the ability to switch carrier models with no additional cost. So that pretty much determined my course of action.

The sign-up process to buy the phone from the Apple Store (not from a carrier) requires carrier account validation. So while I could have just bought a Verizon phone full retail, and then buy AppleCare separately, I felt that there were more advantages to doing it this way.

It was a mistake on my part.

The upgrade program had to be joined during purchase, I wasn't allowed to enroll a few weeks before and defer payments until the phone shipped. So that's a problem because if anything goes wrong with that process, you're screwed because of such limited device availability.

(Editor's note: Apparently there was an opportunity for a credit pre-approval a few days before. I did not get the memo.)

That's precisely what happened. I chose my desired phone -- a 256GB model worth $1400 with the included Applecare -- and I filled out the quick credit application with Citizen's One, Apple's financial partner for the upgrade program.

I was expecting a minute of anxiety and then an all clear, you're good to go, pick the thing up in Boca Raton next week. My credit is perfect, something in like the high 700s. I get several credit card offers a month. Not to worry.

Instead, I got a message that they could not verify my financial information and they would let me know within 8 hours, and please do not attempt to apply again.

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I woke up this morning to an email from Apple that they couldn't process the application and to place a new order.

Ok, screw it, let's order it cash at full retail. Click, click, click at the Apple store. Delivery date was projected December 28.


That would be fine if I didn't actually need the phone for reviewing accessories and other things. But I wanted to look at a bunch of cases and Qi chargers for holiday gift roundups.

December 28 was not going to cut it.

So what am I going to do? I'm going to do what any sane person might do in this situation. I'm going to walk away.

Now, I'm not going to walk away from iOS and the Apple platform. I have an iPad Pro 12.9" that I love and use as my primary device nowadays. And my wife has my iPhone 7 Plus if I really need to test an iPhone-specific app.

But I feel no pressing need to own an iPhone X, not at this ridiculous price.

I am annoyed at having to figure out how to game the system to get the faster of the models with a Qualcomm modem, and having to use a finance/leasing program in order to mitigate the risk of the device being a lemon -- which given all the new tech in that phone, is very possible.

I don't mind being a beta tester for Apple but I don't want to be stuck with a lemon that nobody wanted in a year if any of that new tech doesn't work right. I wasn't prepared to make an $1100 or $1400 mistake.

So this year I'm going to stick with my Androids -- my Samsung S8+ and my Pixel 2. They may not be as sexy, they may not be as fast on paper, but I can buy two more high-end Android phones for the price of one iPhone X, let alone the cheaper phones which for the most part, work just as well.

Maybe once Apple gets their supply chain sorted out I will try this again with an iPhone X2 next year.

Given all the things to have concerns about -- people suffering unimaginable tragedy in Puerto Rico, and with folks I know losing everything in fires in California, this definitely reeks of first-world problems.

Other than losing a few hours of sleep there was no real harm done. But I can already hear the derision of Apple devotees channeling Eddie Murphy and taunting me along the lines of his Ice Cream bit from his brilliant 1983 "Delirious" album.

"You didn't get one! You can't af-ford it! And your credit is on the wel-fare!"

Yeah. Very humiliating. See you next year.

Update: I was finally able to snag one via alternative channels. Thanks to my buddy @jesscoburn for the hookup!


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