iPhoned: a story of shiny new gadgets and lousy customer service

Yes, I actually lined up yesterday at 7.30am in front of the O2 store on Western Road.

Yes, after enduring my current hacked iPhone for close to a year at GPRS speeds, I was craving the promised 3G broadband speeds. The built-in GPS wouldn't hurt either.

Yes, I had no clue that I was setting myself up for a tremendous disappointment.

It started yesterday morning, at about 8.30am, when we realized that the first batch of people who had been let into the O2 store still hadn't come out. Some quick backyard arithmetic later, we realized that it was going to take hours before we could even get into the O2 store.

This sad state of affairs was a direct result of O2 taking ages to process activations in-store (there were still hopeful rumors in the queue that they had scrapped the idea.)

Across the street, a small line had formed in front of one of the doors to the Churchill Square shopping center. People were waiting for 9am to try their luck at the other O2 store in the mall. After getting confirmation from an O2 representative that they were, indeed, taking activations in-store and that it would take about half-an-hour per person, I darted across the street to the mall. Realizing that even the little line would take ages, I tried my luck at the other door, where there were only one of two people waiting. At about a quarter to nine, they opened the doors and the three or four of us headed straight for the Carphone Warehouse on our side of the mall, sidestepping the queue for the O2 store.

We thought we were so clever. How young we were. How naïve.

At nine on the dot, the shutters were raised and we stepped, starry-eyed, into the Carphone Warehouse to pick up our phones. I was at the head of the line, one of the first two at the counter.

8 or 16, 8 or 16, 8 or 16...

Oh darn it, give me a 16gig! (Hey, if you're gonna do it, do it right... right?)

£35 or £45? I'd already decided on the £35 plan. I can't use up 10 hours worth of minutes, much less 20 hours. There's absolutely no reason why I should go with the more expensive plan.

£45 it is then.


He'll be just a minute. He has to pick up The Precious from the store room. He emerges, holding the sexy, lickable iPhone box in front of him. He struts towards the counter, every bit aware of how much desire -- nay, lust -- is aimed at the object in his hands from all corners of the room. My mind races... don't drop it, don't drop it. He doesn't.

It's resting mere inches away from me. All I have to do is lift my arm and I can touch it. I do. It feels good.

And then we begin with the usual questions. The credit check goes by smoothly and it looks like I'm going to get the first iPhone from that particular store. The chap next to me is not as lucky. He's upgrading his existing iPhone contract and the computer systems have frozen.

I overhear the other sales representative: "We should tell them that we only have one Apple Bluetooth headset left... and it comes with a dock -- the new iPhone doesn't!"

Ooooh, Bluetooth headset? Dock? There's a thought!

Umm... I'll have that bluetooth headset. Yep, just pop that baby right here next to its mama. Oooh my, what a beauty!

- So, what's next?

- Insurance, sir?

Before I can breathe to reply, my sales rep embarks on a lengthy double-speed staccato spiel about how aliens could invade, steal my iPhone, and start anal probing Simon Cowell on live television. With my iPhone. With MY iPhone! Now I wouldn't want that would I? My iPhone would never be the same. I'd need a new one. They'd give me one. Just like that. You see, they love me. They love me long time. Haha, but I'm too clever for them. I know how these things work. They make a killing from selling over-priced insurance.

Like a sucker I sign up for it, safe in the knowledge that I have a 14-day cooling off period.

I hand over my credit card. I enter my pin... and just like that, it's over.

I pick up the phone, we shake hands with my new friend from the iPhone queue who is still waiting for his upgrade to go through, and I turn around to face a store full of people who don't have the new iPhone 3G.

I look around and make eye contact with the dominant ones. Now I just need to remain calm and walk with a steady pace. Can't show any weakness... they can _smell_ weakness... I smile a smile that says, "I'm happy that I have my iPhone but not so happy that you should feel bad because you don't have one, and hey, good luck with the rest of your wait and I hope you get a lovely iPhone just like this one soon..." Yeah all that. I have complex smiles. Either that or I end up looking like a gloating, smug bastard scurrying off to fondle his Precious in glee. WHO'S GOT THE NEW IPHONE... WHO? OOOH YEAH, YOU KNOW IT, CARPHONE WAREHOUSE FTW BAAAAYBE!

We're in the iPhone... we're in the iPhone...

I trot to a corner of the local Starbucks-in-the-Borders and begin the unpacking ceremony with no less delicate care and awe than if I were broadcasting it on YouTube.

It's actually lovely to hold. No seriously, it fits your hand and there's more grip. And I can feel that it's lighter. Good first impressions.

Connecting it to my MacBook Pro and activating it go smoothly. And a few moments later, I receive my first phone call... from O2.

They're just checking up to see if everything is working well with my phone. My goodness, they're nice. These are good people, I can tell. Oh, and would I like to extend that no-contract insurance I bought a few minutes ago to cover the full eighteen months at a substantial discount? Oh. Umm. No.

Look on the bright side, at least I know that the phone works now! Woot!

So I get back to work and a few moments later I receive my second phone call... from O2.

They're just checking up to see-- Umm. I've had this call.

- Oh. Sorry, sir.

- That's OK.

I hang up. I put the phone down. I'm about to start typing. My phone rings...

Guess who?

- Hi, this is the third time you're calling me.

They're very sorry. I'm more amused than annoyed. We part ways amicably in a manner befitting gentlemen in gentler times.

One thing I've noticed even by this point is that I only seem to have one bar of signal. My old iPhone has full signal on T-Mobile. Maybe O2 doesn't have very good coverage in this part of the mall..? I make a mental note to check up on it and get back to work.

At one point, I decide to try the new bluetooth headset. Oh, yeah, and the dock... I can charge the pho-why-WON'T-it-GO-IN? (Don't push it, don't push it...) Oh. They sold me a headset and dock for the old iPhone. Lovely.

So I pack up my things and head back to the Carphone Warehouse.

- Hey, back again?

- Yep, unfortunately. You sold me a bluetooth headset for the old iPhone.

- Really?

- Yeah... the dock, it doesn't fit.

- Let me see what we can do, we normally don't do refunds for headsets, just exchanges.

- Yes but you sold me the wrong item.

- Oh, OK.

He takes it back. I get my refund. Oh well. It was a sharp headset but I can live without it. I still have my shiny new iPhone 3G. Don't I? Yes, I do. A-bu-ba-bu-ba-booo... who's the cutey-pie? Who? Yes! Yeees! Whose the most beautiful phone in the world? A-gu-ga-gu-ga-goo!

Cue rapid montage of the rest of my afternoon, set to an energetic soundtrack which, thankfully, only I can hear: I work on the Singularity web site, caress my new iPhone every so often, and, increasingly, begin to wonder why I don't seem to have a 3G signal (why am I always on Edge like this? badabingbadaboom!) Without 3G coverage, I'm only getting marginally better load times on Edge than I did with my hacked iPhone on GRPS. Hmmm...

When things don't improve at home (still one bar of signal), I'm pretty much convinced that the phone is faulty and decide to take it back.

This morning, I pack everything up and decide to run a test before I head out to the store. I put the O2 sim card into my old iPhone. Full signal. Back in my new iPhone. One bar.

That settles it then.

Confident in the knowledge that I have a defective iPhone, yet crestfallen in the realization that I have a defective iPhone, I make the painful trek back to the Carphone Warehouse.

I'm sad that we're going to be parting ways. It was a brief but passionate interlude, our short romance. You'll always be my first...

Right, let's get this over with as quickly as possible. The quicker the better. One sharp pain and then it's over. And I have work to do...

- Hey, back again?

- Yep, my iPhone's defective.

- Oh, are you having trouble activating, because-

- Nope. I heard about those issues... I'm not getting any signal.

- Oh.

- Yeah, so I have full signal on my old iPhone with the same sim card and one bar with this one. And I'm getting next-to-no 3G coverage. Here, let me show you.

I go through my best and-if-you-buy-in-the-next-ten-minutes demo with the sim card. As you can see, there's nothing up my sleeves... And, just to make sure that it's not the difference between 3G and 2G signal, let's turn 3G off on the new iPhone. Ah, still just one bar.

- Well, sir, we don't have any iPhones in stock. Let me call O2 to see what we can do...

My sales rep proceeds to call O2 and I wait on hold by proxy for about half an hour.

Half an hour later:

- We can ask for a replacement but we can't tell you how long it will take.

- So I will basically be paying for a contract that I can't use for an unspecified period of time?.. That's not acceptable. I'd like a refund. I'll get a different phone when there's stock.

- We can't do that!

The other sales rep -- a proud example of the Alpha Male Store Manager 2000 Mark 2 line -- steps up to the podium, his full girth following a split-second later in shockwaves of authority.

- We can't issue refunds on iPhones.

- Sorry?

- No one can issue refunds on iPhones.

- No one? No one at O2 or Apple?

- No one.

- I find that very difficult to believe. Have you heard of the Sale of Goods Act? What you're selling me is not fit for purpose. And you are telling me that I am locked in to paying for a contract I can't use. I _will_ take this up with Trading Standards if you cannot resolve it for me.

- There's nothing anyone can do.

- I'd like to speak to someone who _can_ do something about it.

- There isn't anyone, not here, not at O2, not at Apple.

(And lest you think that I am exaggerating this part of it, I'm not -- I really wish I was.)

As he continues to speak, he begins to exhibit the characteristic flaws so prevalent in the Alpha Male Store Manager 2000 Mark 2 series: his color begins to shift to a decidedly crimson hue and condensation begins to form on his brow. But I'm not about to take no for an answer.

Finally, he caves in slightly...

- Let me double-check the _procedure_ manual... there are procedures- Oh.

- Apparently we can do refunds on new orders. They-Mustave-Changed-It.

Ah, that old ditty.

I don't mind. I'm not here to prove a point. They-Mustave-Changed-It, I echo. I understand. It's OK. You're still Alpha Male. I just want my money back, that's all.

- But you'll lose your number!

- What?

- We can refund you the phone but you'll lose the number you're porting.

- Why?

- There's nothing we can do about it.

- Really? Can O2 do something about it?

- No. No one can.

- Ah!

(Remind me how that one goes again?)

I proceed to call T-Mobile to see if they can cancel the number port on their end. They inform me that they could if I was moving the number _to_ them. And that O2 can do the same.

I ask Carphone Warehouse to give me my refund and tell them that I'll take up the issue of Potential Pending Unpreventable Catastrophic Number Loss with O2.

I get my refund.

I leave for the O2 store. By this time, I've spent over an hour on this.

I enter the O2 store and walk up to a clerk and tell him that I want to cancel a number transfer from T-Mobile to O2.

- Did you get the phone from Carphone Warehouse?

- Yes.

- Then they have to deal with it.

- They told me that only you can deal with it.

- But if you bought it from them-

- They can't do anything. They said O2 can.

He informs me that they can't do anything in the store and that I must call their 0870 (premium rate) support number.

I get the number and call it. After waiting on hold for a short period of time (which still costs me an undisclosed sum of money, the exact amount of which I will only discover when I next get my phone bill), I get a support representative that I explain my problem too.

- You see, I don't want to lose my existing number...

He tells me that he can't do anything because only the iPhone department can deal with iPhone issues. Oh, and there's about a twenty-minute to a half-hour wait.

I inform him that I do not want to pay for a half-hour premium rate call.

- Are you near an O2 store?

- Yes, I was just in one, they gave me your number.

- Oh, well, you can just call us from there for free.

- Oh. (Thanks for telling me guys.)

So I head back to the O2 store and ask to use their phone. I call support. After waiting on hold, I get a different person. He's intent on asking me my security questions. I don't have any yet. I'm pretty sure I won't have any.

- Can I just tell you what my problem is?.. OK, cool...

I explain that I want them to cancel the transfer of my number from T-Mobile.

I get put on hold several times and talk to two other people within a span of half-an-hour. I finally get someone who informs me that it looks like they didn't put the number transfer request through properly from Carphone Warehouse because they can't see anything on their system.

He also tells me that they've "put a note in the system" and will be watching out for a transfer request if it does come in so that they can cancel it.

And that's where I left it.

Over two hours after embarking on my quest to have my faulty phone replaced, I was without an iPhone 3G and with two hours of lost work to make up for in its place. Needless to say, I wasn't a happy puppy.

I still have my old iPhone. The number is still working (so far, fingers crossed). And I have this acrid taste in my mouth from the whole experience.

This is lousy customer service at its worst.