Today's biggest story: A new way to activate a cell phone

With all of the hoopla surrounding the iPhone, we have all forgotten about the most important development of today's release: a new way to activate a cell phone.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read
Apple iPhone
Apple iPhone CNET

With all of the hoopla surrounding the iPhone, we have all forgotten about the most important development of today's release: a new way to activate a cell phone. You can have your iPhone. I'll take the home activation and enjoy it for much longer than you will enjoy your new phone.

For years, I have been buying new cell phones from Verizon Wireless. And in each of those years, I've been forced to waste the better part of a Saturday afternoon on activating the new phone I had been coveting for a few months.

Here's the scenario: go online and find the phone you want when your contract is up. Once you pick out your new companion for the next two years, drive over to your carrier's nearest location and wait for one of the sales representatives to ask you why you're there in the first place. Once you tell them you want a phone, go look around at all of the cellies they have laying around while they confirm that you are eligible for the low-cost offer.

OK, so now that your sales representative has come back, tell them which phone you want, and begin the agonizing process of switching your number to the phone and signing documents. One hour later, you are finally on your way home with a new cell phone while looking down the barrel at hours more of inputting contacts. Sounds great, huh?

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With the release of the iPhone, this process will be entirely averted. Here's the new scenario: Walk in and tell the sales representative you want an iPhone. He or she hands you the box, and you pay the bill. See ya later! In just a few short minutes, you will have your new phone, and a half hour, at best, is not wasted. Now that is what I call a revolution.

I'm not too concerned about how well the keyboard works on the iPhone or if the EDGE service is slow enough that I can't even load up my favorite Web sites. Instead, I'm most interested in seeing how simple it will be for consumers to take their phones home, log on to iTunes and activate the iPhone.

If it works as well as I think it will, we may be on the cusp of an entirely new way of buying phones. If activating a phone can be done at home, and all of the credit checks and account setup can be done with a few clicks of the mouse, when will the need for the brick-and-mortar middleman finally cease? Let's hope it's soon.

Once again, Apple may succeed in revolutionizing an industry that is in significant need of development. The current state of phone purchases are abysmal at best, and to be able to bring an iPod-like model to the cell phone industry could change the way we all get things done. Apple and AT&T were smart to let this activation process become a reality. A similar process works for the iPod; why wouldn't it work for the iPhone?

The mainstream press and many readers are focusing on the wrong topic. While the iPhone is the vehicle that could revolutionize cell phones, the new way of activating a cell phone plan will revolutionize the entire industry. iPhone innovation will come and go, but the ability to save time by speedily activating your cell phone at home will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the entire cell phone industry.