Activating Your iPhone 3G: What You Need to Know

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What to Expect

So you're at the Apple Store now--what happens then?

In my case, as soon as I entered the store, a woman was asking the people ahead of me their first names, and then introducing them to their personal store employees as they became available to help the next customer. When it was my turn, I followed an employee in a blue shirt further into the store, where he asked me what I was looking for in the way of iPhone goodness. I told him I wanted a 16GB white model, and he went into the back to retrieve one. He came back a minute later with a lovely box. That's when the fun really started.

I took a seat on a stool (which felt good after hours of standing in line), while the employee--Apple calls them specialists--asked what rate plan I was interested in. I told him what I wanted and didn't want (no monthly text messaging plan, for example), and he produced the handheld device that store employees use to speed up regular purchases in the Apple Store.

The specialist punched in a few things on his handheld and informed me that my iPhone would cost $499. I politely corrected him that the price should be $299, since I'm a current iPhone user. After a few more taps, he said that must be the price before the promotion, and that it would end up at $299. I mention this in case you're quoted a price that doesn't sound right--Apple is touting the $199 and $299 prices for its 8GB and 16GB phones and while most people qualify for those prices, some do not.

An Apple Store specialist works at activating an iPhone 3G Friday at the Stonestown Apple Store in San Francisco.

Back to the activation process: the specialist asked me for my name, e-mail address, current AT&T phone number, billing zip code, and the last four digits of my social security number. After a minute or so, he informed me that there was an error and that I might have to go to an AT&T store to activate my phone. I was having none of it, so he went to talk to one of the orange-shirted employees. This other person got on the phone with AT&T, found out that there was some kind of business discount (one that I'd never heard of) listed on my account, which was causing the problem. After passing along my name, wireless phone number, and those SSN digits, the person on the other end of the phone forced something through and corrected the issue. After transferring my account over, I produced that ever-important credit card to pay for the iPhone. Because I was already with AT&T, my billing information just stayed the same on their end, and I wasn't required to give them my address or anything.

At that point, the specialist took me over to one of the MacBooks in the store to activate the phone through iTunes. We opened the iPhone box and he let me take it out, remove the protective plastic, and connect it to the 30-pin USB cable coming out of the MacBook. I did so and then... I waited. And waited. As iTunes tried to connect to the activation server, it timed out with an error message. Three times. At that point, the specialist told me I should just take the phone home and activate it through iTunes there. So much for in-store activation, I guess.

Presumably, the server issues bedeviling Apple will be fixed sooner rather than later and your activation will go through. If it doesn't, I can share how I got my iPhone up and running, which I will in just a bit.

But first, let's talk about what happens if you're a new customer buying an iPhone for the first time. Macworld Art Director Rob Schultz is such a person, and his experience at the Apple Store in Corte Madera largely mirrors mine (with decidedly fewer activation hassles.)

Like me, Rob was greeted at the door by a salesperson. Unlike me, Rob told the salesperson that he wanted to transfer his number from an existing account with another wireless carrier. The process of handing over name and billing information was much the same, only Rob supplied his existing phone number and account number from his current wireless provider.

And that was that. The specialist told Rob that he could either wait in a 10-to-15-minute line where another sales associate would help him activate the iPhone 3G, or he could take the phone home and do it himself. Rob went for the latter option and was out of the store in 15 minutes.

The lucky stiff.

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