As I write this, my new white 16GB iPhone 3G is in the process of syncing about 10GB of music from my iTunes library. This is my second sync. Although I was one of the lucky ones able to both buy and eventually activate an iPhone 3G on Friday, I at first opted to copy over the same paltry 2GB of music that was stored on my first-generation 4GB iPhone along with my e-mail accounts and a handful of applications from the App Store. Having waited close to four hours in line at a New York AT&T store, close to 20 minutes for the purchase process, and another four-plus hours attempting to activate my iPhone at home via iTunes, I simply couldn't wait for a full sync before putting my iPhone through its paces.
I had already done enough waiting for one day. It was time to find out whether that time in line was worth it.
Waiting is the hardest part
For anyone buying and activating a new iPhone 3G, Friday was all about waiting. In a scene repeated to various degrees at numerous AT&T and Apple stores in the US, I spent hours in line. My waiting began about 6am Friday when I arrived at a suburban AT&T store and found about a dozen people already in line. (Two of them had been waiting in the parking lot since 11pm Thursday and were amazingly still awake when they headed home 12 hours later). Being near the front of the line, I expected no real issues snagging an iPhone, though I figured I might have to wait for an hour or more after the store opened.
Everything seemed to unfold as expected: the AT&T employees put out new demo iPhones and a worker came down the line to verify upgrade eligibility for existing AT&T customers; he also explained the contract requirements to customers and kept a running tally of who was planning to buy which model. After about the 30th customer, he indicated that the store might not have enough stock for everyone.
The doors opened just after 8am and four customers were ushered inside. Those of us left in line soon began to wonder if things were going smoothly as we our wait continued past the half-hour mark. Eventually, we were told that "systems" were running slowly and we should be patient. As more time elapsed, a couple of buyers went home. Others were allowed inside, but we were told that there was a nationwide issue with iTunes and the process of "unbricking" the new iPhones. Finally, we were told we could buy and activate a new iPhone 3G but would have to go home to unbrick it through iTunes on our computers. So much for the ballyhooed in-store activation taking no more than 15 to 20 minutes.
I finally got inside around 10am. Within an hour of spending my US$299, I was home, my still-bricked iPhone plugged into my MacBook generating the dreaded "Accessing iTunes Store" message (including those error codes: -4, -50 and -9838). The iTunes Store could not be contacted; I was urged "to try again later." I knew from the buzz online that I was not alone, but I didn't want to try again later. I wanted my phone working and I wanted it now.
Apple, it seemed, didn't learn from last year's US iPhone launch, which was also plagued with iTunes activation issues.
I repeated the process so many times that when I finally saw a screen asking if I wanted to activate my iPhone -- it was at 3:10pm -- I stared at it, briefly bewildered before rushing through the steps of verifying my phone number, entering my Apple ID, agreeing to the terms of service and finally telling iTunes to restore from my first generation iPhone's backup. I held my breath until the iPhone restarted. More than 9 hours after I first got in line for a new phone, I was finally up and running.