Last night at the AT&T store on East 86th Street in Manhattan, a woman had trouble getting some answers to her questions. It suddenly became clear to her what the problem was. She was a T-Mobile subscriber; their store is just down the block.
Mobile customers are confused, and it's not just the tech-naÃ¯ve.
When I first decided i was going to get an iPhone, I looked up the address of the nearest AT&T store. Heading there a day later, I managed to walk right past it. Yes it's a narrow storefront, but the real problem was I had been subliminally looking for the Cingular name.
AT&T is reaping millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of dollars in branding from the iPhone. And that's before the 11 o'clock news Friday night, showing the lines and the crowds at literally thousands of stores nationwide.
Not that Apple and AT&T are doing everything right in the launch. In case you hadn't heard, every AT&T store will close at 4:30 p.m. on Friday and reopen from 6:00 - 10:00 to sell the phone. Both companies have gotten an earful from orthodox Jews, many of whom work for tech and consumer electronics retailers and are often among the most tech-savvy of New Yorkers. AT&T is also giving no preference to existing AT&T customers. That has some people irate, as you might imagine. And New Yorkers are not known for hiding irritation.
No one who isn't already an AT&T customer seems to really understand the calling plans or what their monthly nut is going to be when they switch carriers after buying an iPhone. All the ads and signage tout the $59.99 nationwide plan, but as far as I can tell that just combines the standard $39.99 plan, with 450 minutes, with a $19.99 plan for unlimited messaging.
As far as I can tell, it doesn't include Internet access, which is a separate $39.99 per month. But if you get that, you don't need the unlimited messaging separately. So most iPhone customers will probably end up with the two $39.99 plans. Add fees and taxes, and you'll be in the neighborhood of $100 a month. And if, like me, you're leaving your old carrier before your contract ends, you'll have to keep paying that monthly fee, or pay the termination charge.
And of course there's no discount on the phone, which will be $599 (I'm betting almost no one will choose the $499 model that has only 4 gigabytes of storage, when twice that amount comes for $100 more). There's no question this will be an expensive proposition.
So will there really be long lines on Friday? After all, many people will wait until their existing contract ends, and many will wait because they believe (surely correctly), that the second generation will be much better. Just look at how much better iPods got within a year or so. Nonetheless, I'm betting the lines will be long, and the phones will sell out before 10:00. This is, after all, one sweet phone, as you can see in David Pogue's charming preview, and in Apple's elaborate 20-minute tutorial. If you come up to East 86th Street, I'll see you on line. If not, hopefully I'll see you, later that night, online.