I had every reason to believe that my iPhone experience would be the same as any of the other Apple experiences I’ve ever had. The process has repeated itself through several laptop purchases, and a couple of iPod purchases. Hit the Apple store in Pasadena, buy a product, take it home and use it. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Unfortunately, as I discovered, buying an iPhone isn’t a typical Apple experience. I spent the better part of this past weekend trying to activate the phone. The worst part is that my activation problems weren’t entirely AT&T’s fault. Apple is at least partially responsible for the torment I experienced trying to activate the iPhone.
The first part of my adventure went pretty much as planned. The Apple store employee ringing up my purchase started to explain that I would need iTunes and an Internet connection to activate the phone, then he stopped, looked at my t-shirt and said, “Never mind. I don’t have to explain the system requirements to you, you’re wearing a Firefox shirt”.
Ha! We both laughed, and I thought to myself, “it’s fun being a cool and tech savvy iPhone owner”.
I raced home to activate the new iPhone, and that’s when things began to go wrong.
I connected the phone to my computer and began the activation process. iTunes launched and I successfully made it through the first few steps, past the AT&T account verification and to a screen that required an iTunes store login. Except the iTunes store login wasn’t working with the iPhone activation process. I tried creating a new iTunes account — no luck.
Around this time I began to question why anyone would need an iTunes account to use a mobile phone. Yes, it’s an iPhone, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be buying songs from iTunes. Apple doesn’t require iPod owners to create an iTunes account, why should iPhone owners be required to have one?
I called AT&T on my land-line and was informed that an upgrade to the activation system was taking place over the weekend and that it wouldn’t be possible to register a new iPhone until Monday morning.
MONDAY FRACKING MORNING!
I hear that the iPhone is the best iPod ever, but without activation it isn’t even the best paperweight ever.
And so I began my iPhone hacking career.
I was briefly tempted by anySIM, a program that unlocks the iPhone’s SIM chip and allows it to be used with any mobile provider. anySIM’s release was big news last weekend. It’s a strange coincidence that anySIM debuted on a weekend when AT&T was having activation problems — you have to wonder how many customers unlocked their phones and went with another provider because AT&T couldn’t sign them up. I was certainly tempted to.
Ultimately, though, I passed on anySIM — if for no other reason because it was so new, there seemed to be a surprising amount of confusion over how to use it, and no one could answer the all important question: “what happens when the next iPhone firmware update comes out?”
Next up, I stumbled upon a program called iNdependence. iNdependence has the ability to trick the iPhone into thinking it’s been activated. This process essentially unlocks all of the iPhone’s non-phone features without going through AT&T’s official activation process. You can’t make calls with an iNdependence activation, but you can still use WiFi, Safari, and all of the iPod features.
iNdependence was exactly what I needed. I ran the faux activation on the iPhone and proceeded to surf the web and view YouTube videos over my WiFi network.
Suddenly it was fun being a cool and tech savvy iPhone owner again.
Then Sunday morning came and I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I’d read reports that some new iPhone owners had managed to activate their phones through AT&T late on Saturday night. I was certain I’d be able to do the same.
I de-activated the phone with iNdependence, connected to iTunes, and started the official activation process all over again.
This time I made it past the iTunes login and all the way to the AT&T terms of service, then the Apple terms of service, then the screen that asked me to confirm changes to my existing AT&T account. I sensed victory. The iPhone was almost activated.
Then I was notified that the phone had to connect to the iTunes store one last time to complete activation. And that’s where thing went wrong all over again. The iPhone was unable to connect to the iTunes store for the final step of the activation process. The iTunes application eventually displayed an error telling me I was out of luck and suggesting that I try again later.
Another failure, but this time it was even more annoying.
Shortly after the activation process timed-out I received an email message congratulating me on my new iPhone purchase and welcoming me to AT&T. As far as AT&T was concerned, the new iPhone was active. Except the phone was still telling me that it needed to connect to iTunes before activation was complete. There was no way to get past the iTunes activation message on the actual device. The iPhone was back in paperweight mode.
Worse yet, AT&T had de-activated the old phone. So now neither phone was working.
Suddenly it was no longer fun being a cool and tech savvy iPhone owner.
That’s when I picked up the phone and started yelling at people. No one at AT&T or Apple seemed to care. “Activation is down until Monday morning, you’ll just have to wait until then”. No one could explain how I managed to get far enough along to deactivate the old phone.
An AT&T representative suggested that I remove the iPhone SIM and transfer it to the old Motorola Razr. That would at least get the old phone working.
The thought of removing the SIM from the allegedly activated iPhone and installing it into an old Razr seemed wrong on so many levels. I refused, and abruptly ended my conversation with AT&T.
Then it dawned on me. I’d activated the phone once already with iNdependence, and now the iPhone SIM was associated with my account — maybe all I needed to do was run the iNdependence activation on the phone one more time to get past the iTunes activation message.
So, despite the fact that I was told by numerous AT&T employees and an Apple employee that there was no way to get the iPhone activated before Monday morning, I had the phone working by late Sunday afternoon.
Man, I showed them.
And and lost most of a weekend in the process.
In retrospect, it seems obvious that Apple is using iTunes as a way to establish an ongoing relationship with iPhone customers. Without the iTunes account requirement AT&T would own iPhone customers exclusively. Still, if I didn’t already have an iTunes account I’d probably be hesitant to hand over my credit card information for a service I’ll never use.
It won’t be long before someone complains about the iTunes account requirement. When that happens Apple could be facing some interesting accusations. In some ways the artificial iPhone/iTunes connection reminds me of the artificial connection Microsoft created between Windows and Internet explorer.
While comparing Apple to Microsoft at this point might seem like a stretch, just wait until the wireless iTunes store comes to the iPhone and services like eMusic begin asking for access to the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. Anyone looking to break Apple’s lock on the digital music market will almost certainly start exploring the anti-trust angle.
The worst part of this story? This phone isn’t even technically mine. It’s Kassia’s. I’m living vicariously through her iPhone (activation problems and all). Meanwhile, I’m still using my cheap-screw Virgin mobile phone on a pay-as-you go plan.
After my iPhone activation experience I have a feeling I’ll be using Virgin for the foreseeable future.