iPhone 4: How I Learned to Hate the System

Posted: June 25, 2010 in Tech Talk, XY

Wednesday, June 23rd

11:04 PM I am currently hiding in the parking lot of the Danbury Fair Mall. Only one hour ago I had been the first person in line for the newest iPhone 4. After having spent nearly an hour and a half on a train from New Haven to Danbury, my latest and greatest achievement was shot down in less than half that time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On June 7th, 2010, Apple CEO Steven P. Jobs formally revealed the newest generation of iPhones. It had been leaked months earlier, but that was not too big a deal in the grand scheme of things – after releasing a phone every summer for the past three summers, most have grown to expect it. For the first time, the exact features were, for the most part, very well detailed. A front-facing camera for video-chatting, an ultra-high-resolution display, and an HD video camera all to complement the new design, which sports an aluminum band to house the various antennas and stronger glass the alleviate many owners’ complaints about the durability of the phone.

I followed the announcements around the clock. I even threw a WWDC Keynote Viewing Party. There was not a single story I didn’t read. The phone was to be released June 24th, with preorders beginning the 15th.

On June 15th around 10 PM EDT, I began to try preordering my phone. A couple hours later, I was still trying. With AT&T’s (“It’s the Network”) servers down from millions of people trying to order the phone online, I finally got through (only to realize that I could ship my phone to my billing address, more than 3000 miles away from my current location.) No longer able to get through to the AT&T’s servers, I was not able to change my billing address even if I wanted, and there was no way for me to preorder the phone to pick up in store.

So I moved on to my next choice. I called Best Buy and was thrilled to realize that they were still taking preorders, though only in-store. Not having a car, this was useless to me. So I turned to Wal-Mart. “I’m sorry, but we won’t know if we’re getting iPhones until we get them.” RadioShack? “Yeah, we’re doing this thing where if you come by the store tomorrow after 1, we’ll put you on a list, and we’ll call you right when they get in so you can pick it up.” Thanks. So I was out of options, for a while. I called Best Buy again. If I could get over there, I’d get a phone, right? “Right now we have about thirty people on the list, so if you pre-order, I can guarantee you get it by the end of the summer.” The summer! “Yeah, it won’t be Christmas or anything.”

The ship date for the iPhone from apple.com having been moved until July 14th, having to pay $50 to Best Buy for a chance to pick up an iPhone by the end of the summer (when I may or may not be in the same state as the store) was highly unappealing. At this point, some of you may be wondering why I even cared so much about getting the phone when it came out. Sure, it’s a novelty item, but is it really worth all the effort? To answer this, I must appeal to the taxation laws in the great nation of ours.

Sales tax is different in every state. As it turns out, there are three states in the United States that charge tax on unsubsidized prices for products that are subsidized (read: phones). The way a phone is sold is that the handset manufacturer charges the network company for the phone, and the network sells you the phone and service for a deal. That is why you get cheaper prices on phones that come with new two-year contracts—the network provider is recouping the loss it incurred buying the phone by guaranteeing your service for the next two years. That is also why if you wanted to buy the phone when you’re not “upgrade eligible” or without a contract, it typically costs substantially more.

So the real price of the Apple iPhone for the base model (16 GB for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4) is actually $599. 94% of states do not care about this, but in California, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, when a customer purchases the phone at the subsidized price of $199 or $299, they are charged $599 or $699, sales tax is applied, and are rebated $400. As a result, the price of an iPhone in California (8.25%) in Santa Clara County (+1%) is $199 + $599*.0925 = $254.41. By contrast, in Connecticut, the sales tax is 6%, and the phone costs $210.94, for a savings of over $43).

In any case, after days of calling stores and examining maps to determine the closest place from which I could obtain a phone, I finally had settled on the AT&T store just three miles from my home. Unfortunately, AT&T announced less than 48 hours before the anticipated launch that they would not be selling phones to customers who had not preordered. Back to square one.

It was at this point that I realized more than anything that I did not want to be forced into a cycle of checking stores every few days to see if phones had arrived, and I knew that if I wanted a phone, I would have to get it launch day. I made a decision: I’m going to the Apple Store.

The nearest Apple Store was over forty-five minutes away by car, but impossible to get to because of my transportation handicap. Instead, I chose to go to another store close to some family friends who lived just outside New York in Fairfield County. Convincing one of my friends to come along, on Wednesday evening we hopped aboard two trains to take us to our destination. Stopping only at my friends’ house for dinner and things like chairs and sleeping bags, we headed off to the mall.

We were the first ones there. Excited that there were no others in the line, we celebrated a little, taking pictures to showcase our accomplishment. Our joy was quickly curtailed, however, when the mall security guards came by and told us that we were on private property. “You can call the nightshift guards, but in the meantime, get out.” Slightly dejected but hopeful that the nightshift would let us stay, my friend and I hung around until 11 when the new shift was to arrive, visiting the carnival next door to amuse ourselves, and then settling in the car for me to begin writing this post. And now, slightly past 11, I have learned that I will not be able to be on mall property until 6:00 am.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

4:45 AM I’m standing in line for the iPhone in the mall parking lot. Apparently, there were some brave souls who stood up to the security guards, and the line had been forming with them. For the next two hours, I will be hoping that I am in a good position to obtain the iPhone. Being about fifty or sixty people back from the front of the line, I am extremely disappointed, as I knew I could have been the first had I not been thrown out in the first place.

5:57 AM Wow. Just a few moments ago, somebody had opened a back entrance to the mall near the end of the line, and people bolted. I left all my stuff by my friend and ran to see what going on. It became clear soon enough—we were re-lining up in front of the store. I managed to advance about ten positions because of this scramble, but I was still not sure if I was going to be receiving a phone.

6:40 AM “20 minutes until opening!”—Apple Store Employee

7:00 AM The store opens, and one person from the non-preorder line is let in. I remember from waiting in line for the 3GS last year, they give preference to the pre-orders. Hopefully it won’t be too long before they get to me.

7:45 AM It seems like only two people from my line have been taken. The ratio of people from each line seems to be greatly skewed toward the other line. I do have to get back to my lab…

7:55 AM I’m guaranteed a phone! A couple of employees came by and handed out cards that indicated that we could come back any time in the day to redeem our phone. So it will just be a matter of time before I get it.

10:30 AM Well, this has been rather disappointing. It seems like all the customers who were able to preorder (those who were lucky) have been dominating the sales, with basically five people from the non-preorder line let in the past nearly three hours. I haven’t budged from my original spot (except to pick up some free coffee from Starbucks and play with the new iPhone at the AT&T store.

11:00 AM It looks like they finally got the message and are now taking a little less than equally from my line. Now, hopefully, I should get there sometime soon.

11:15 AM A guy from Baskin Robbins has come by and is giving out free ice cream. Apparently Apple buys the tubs and these stores use it as free marketing.

12:10 PM I’m the fifth person in line! Any moment now!

12:26 PM I am the proud owner of a new iPhone 4. And it is absolutely amazing. Ro is going to be so jealous. Calling her now.

7:24 PM Okay, so after playing with my iPhone 4 for some time, I have realized there’s a huge problem with it. After using its ultrahigh resolution display, any other display just appears unbelievably pixellated. This is not a joke! My laptop (13” MacBook Pro) just doesn’t have the incredible pixel density of the phone, and the text just isn’t as vividly clear as it is on my phone. Looks like I may do all my reading on my phone from now on.

Friday, June 25th, 2010

12:44 AM Tonight I will sleep like a baby.



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