iPhone 3GS Experience – The “buy”

I haven’t had my new 3GS long enough to really give a good account of what I think of the various upgrades, but I can, at this point, give my opinion on the Apple Store experience that I had getting the upgrade.

For the record, generally, I have had no problems at the Apple Store, and, in the grand scheme of things, my upgrade purchase experience wasn’t as bad as an impacted tooth extraction, but it wasn’t up to the standard I expect of Apple. Here’s how it went down…

I knew that evening that I was going to purchase the 3GS, so I went online to check availability of the model I wanted. I saw that you could pre-process yourself for the upgrade online, so I did so. At the end of the process, you are presented two options (1) Go pick it up at a store, (2) Have it mailed to you at no charge. At this point you have not specified which model of iPhone you’re after.

Since I wanted the phone immediately and live near an Apple Store that had them in stock, I chose the pick-up option. I was a little surprised that as soon as I chose that option I was, essentially, done. No further questions were asked, it simply told me which Apple Stores were nearby my zip code and that I should go see an orange-shirted concierge to complete my transaction.

At the front of (I assume) most every Apple Store are the twin tables of high sales, iPhones on one side, MacBooks on the other. I walked in and trundled right on past the iPhone table and headed for the one orange-shirted concierge visible in the store, who, upon explaining that I had pre-processed myself online for an upgraded iPhone, told me I needed to go back to the iPhone table and talk to one of the “guys” floating around there.

That was strike one. (Hmm, that’s a baseball metaphor. Don’t they have cricket metaphors for this sort of thing? How about, “Going on to hit middle stump, but just slightly pitching outside leg stump”?)

So, I proceeded back to the iPhone table, where there was one Apple employee “floating around.” He was, however, engaged with another customer. A customer who had an iPhone, another iPhone box, a folder full of papers, several of them spread out on the iPhone table, a phone in hand and obviously lots of problems with… something. I never did find out (or care) what.

The thing was, the Apple store guy was helping him. He was answering questions as the guy was on the phone, but most of the time, he was just standing by. After I’d been there for a minute or so, and there was a lull in the Apple guy’s time, I just mentioned to him, “Hey, I know you’re with this customer first, but when you get done, I’m pre-approved for a 3GS upgrade and I’d like to pick up my phone.”

“Great!” he said, “that’ll just take two seconds. Do you have MobileMe?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Oh, that’s great! It’s really useful.”

“Well, I have 6 Macs and the iPhone and it’s great for keeping them all synced up cleanly,” I said, trying to inflate my Apple capital as much as possible in the hopes that the two seconds to upgrade could start right now.

“Six Macs, really?”

“Yeah… about. I’ve got two laptops, an iMac, an eMac, a PowerMac G4… oh and a MacMini, so yeah, six.” (Knowing full well that I gave the G4 to my dad years ago.)

“Cool. Did you know when you buy an iPhone you can get MobileMe for only $69 instead of $99?”

“Well, I’ve already got it.”

“Is it due for renewal? You can still buy it with the phone and get the $30 off.”

Another Apple employee, who wasn’t apparently doing anything, drifted in from over near the MacBooks, and helped, for a few moments to try to sell me on MobileMe… a product I already own… not the product that I had already stated I was there to buy – right this instant, with credit card in hand, if only someone would take my money. Please! Take my money!

Apple guy 2 walked away when someone approached the MacBook table.

At this point, the first Apple guy, who was facing the large glass front of the store started staring out the window. He was staring a particular way. He was staring in that way that you do when you’re looking at hot women walking past the store. His head tracking as they passed.

The funny thing is, this being an Apple Store, for some reason, I didn’t want to look. The look should have been reserved for hot chicks in skimpy clothing but, being an Apple Store… I was a little afraid to look. I had my doubts that I’d see women outside that window. And, not because I had any indication that this particular Apple Store employee… as Stephen Fry put in a speech at Lords the other day, “…bowls off the wrong foot…” but just simply the Apple Store environment seems to divorce people from the ordinary world of human interaction.

“Did you just see what I saw?” he said. Apparently oblivious to the fact that I had my back to the window and was talking and looking at him at the time, in a vain hope that, while his other customer was still embroiled in a somewhat heated discussion on the phone, that he might start that two-second transaction I needed to get going.

“No. I didn’t.” Not asking what it was in a subtle hint that i didn’t want to know. I resisted the temptation to say, “If I had my iPhone 3GS, I could have video recorded it.”

“I just saw a bunch of wizards walk by.”

“Wizards?” I said, thinking I hadn’t quite heard him right.

“Yeah, some friends and I were going to go see Harry Potter at twelve, but I guess that means that it will be full.”

I hadn’t, until that moment, made the Potter connection and thought he was actually seeing “wizards.”

At that moment, the customer ended his call, and the employee went back to talking to him. In just a couple seconds, something had been decided, and the Apple guy had to go into “the back room of mystery” at the back of the Apple Store.

OK, the guy was helping the first customer, and I can’t fault him for taking care of one customer at a time, but the fact that he had time to yak with me and try to sell me on MobileMe, rather than just sell me my phone was strike two…. or, in carrying over the cricket theme, “a thick outside edge that didn’t quite carry to first slip.”

If I’d been writing this in a clever fashion, I would have somehow subtly worked into this narrative a passing, imperceptible comment about how I was wearing a dark maroon, almost dried-blood brown polo shirt. In fact, I probably would have called it brown, if asked. I failed to do that cleverly, so let this paragraph represent the ham-fisted foreshadowing of what’s to come.

While I’d been waiting, talking with the Apple guy, a couple had arrived at the table, and were also clearly waiting for help. Another guy, in a bright red polo shirt, entered the Apple Store and went right to an open phone at the iPhone table. He picked it up and started examining it.

An Apple Store employee swooped on him immediately. “So, you want to buy a new iPhone?”

“Um, yeah, well, I’m interested, but I’m not sure I’m going to get one tonight.”

Apple Store employee looks confused and says, “Oh, they told me to come here and help the guy in the red shirt to upgrade his phone.”

I look at my not-quite-but-sort-of red shirt and realize what’s (finally) happened. “I’m the guy in the red shirt.”

First the Apple Store employee looked at my shirt with skepticism, then recognition dawned on his face… you see, this Apple Store employee, who I intentionally didn’t identify as “Apple guy #” was in fact, Apple Guy 0, the employee in the Orange Shirt that I sought out when I first walked in the door, 15 minutes earlier.

That’s a thin inside edge that dragged the ball back onto his stumps for a wicket. (Really, baseball lends itself much better for this type of metaphor.)

Anyway, at this point I was committed, so I let him finalize the purchase, which didn’t take two seconds, but more like 5 minutes. The phone switchover process might have taken “a few hours” but completed before I got the kids away from the iMacs and was out the door.

As I said, it was nothing in comparison to dental surgery, but it was my worst Apple Store sales experience.