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Big problems between AT&T and Apple at iPhone 3G launch

Apple screwed up my iPhone 3G purchase today. For a company that makes excellent products, the buying experience couldn't be worse, says Matt Asay.

So, after waiting three hours in line at the Apple store, Apple was unable to activate my iPhone. The reason? There was a "PLU" on my account. Except that when we called AT&T, there wasn't a PLU on my account. Verdict? I'm out-of-luck.

What's a PLU? It is basically a corporate discount code that indicates that the user is on a "foundation" account.

In my case, there is no PLU because there is no foundation account. Apple told me I'd have to get the phone at the AT&T store, which was fruitless since AT&T was out of the iPhone 3G by 9:30 a.m. I walked over to the AT&T store to ask if I could buy the phone at the Apple store then walk the two minutes to AT&T to activate it. Nope.

This is one of the clumsiest product launches ever. Apple knows hardware and software--it knows nothing about telecommunications, and the lack of an effective hand-off relationship with AT&T makes for problems like this one. (I wasn't alone in having the PLU problem. There were dozens at the Salt Lake City Apple store who had the same problem, and I've read online that huge numbers of people are having trouble activating their iPhone 3Gs and getting their iPhones updated to the 2.0 software. While I was in line, Apple's activation system went down three times (apparently nationwide).

Apple, you wasted three hours of my time this morning. At the end of it, I have two bureaucrats sitting in your store and in AT&T's telling me that while there's absolutely nothing wrong with my account, I can't get an iPhone 3G. AT&T's system is telling Apple that there's a problem...the same system that the AT&T people looked at and said there's not even the shadow of a problem.

Try again, Apple. For a company that makes as excellent products as you do, the buying experience couldn't be worse.

(As an aside, it's "ironic" that Apple has huge quantities of iPhone 3Gs at its stores, but has rationed out the phones to the AT&T stores. So, the party best able to activate the phones is least likely to be able to do so, thanks to Apple's desire to make as much margin on the iPhone 3G hardware as possible. It wouldn't seem like such a nefarious plan if activation actually worked.)