Wednesday, July 18, 2007
iPhone Review Part 2: What I'll Miss About Going to the Verizon Store
Markets are very efficient, most of the time.
Thanks to the human survival instinct, word spreads very quickly when something’s happening that might affect our well-being—because we constantly watch what other people are doing to see if anybody else has a competitive advantage we’re missing out on.
That’s why investors watch the tape for strange movements in stocks and constantly wonder what everybody else in the world knows that they don’t know. And why shoppers standing in line at the supermarket—particularly male shoppers— keep an eye on the other lines, like one of those automatic electronic outdoor surveillance systems, only more efficient.
We want to see if somebody else somewhere in the universe might in fact be moving through whatever line we happen to be in slightly faster.
It drives my wife insane.
And if we male shoppers do see a faster moving line, we perform a quick mental calculation of the inherent cost to our well-being and decide whether it makes sense to give up the line we’re in and go for the open lane, or stay put.
It drives my children insane, too. But, hey, it’s important to save twenty or thirty seconds in line.
Of course, that was before the cell phone came along and made all kinds of formerly unbearable activities like commuting and standing in line at checkout counters suddenly productive uses of time. Stuck in line? Whip out the cell phone and check in at the office.
Lines got even more bearable when the Blackberry came along: suddenly we could accomplish work.
And now we have the iPhone, a device that could actually make waiting fun, not just productive...and leads me to the terrific example of efficient markets which occurred the day of the iPhone launch.
The lines at the Apple stores late Friday afternoon were exceedingly long, not only because of the media hype, but because those were the stores that were getting stocked with the precious iPhones. But since I didn't want to sleep on the sidewalk to get one, I tried a few Cingular stores.
And the lines at the Cingular stores—at least the ones I checked—were non-existent.
I knew immediately I wasn’t going to get an iPhone at Cingular, but decided to stop at one and ask when, if ever, they might come in. “We’ll know if we’re getting them by 5:30,” said the guy who was standing around smoking in front of the store.
It was 5 p.m.
There was no way on earth an iPhone would be arriving at his store in the next thirty minutes without somebody, somewhere, knowing about it, which, in turn, would mean everybody would know about it, causing a line to form in front of the store in place of a guy smoking a cigarette. I left for the next store, but it was the same story: no lines and no iPhones.
All in all, the market for iPhones launch was very efficient.
But it was not 100% efficient.
An alert friend surfing the internet that Friday night had discovered a few iPhones still available at one of the less popular Apple stores, went down there and bought one first thing Saturday morning, then shipped it my way.
Now, it’s not the 8 gig version; it’s the 4 gig iPhone. So I haven’t even bothered downloading songs yet and haven’t got a useful thing to say about the iPod-type features of the iPhone.
My interests—and what will make or break the iPhone—are its utility as a phone, and its ability as an internet access device.
As I said previously, we here at NotMakingThisUp have been putting the iPhone through the most demanding consumer testing methodology any leading-edge consumer products company could ever devise.
We’ve been letting teenagers use it.
And yet the single coolest thing about the whole experience did not come out of the many strenuous activities of our youthful panel of experts.
Sure, the finger-flicking touch-screen you’ve seen on the television ads is extremely cool, and useful; and the lack of anything but a single button on the front of the iPhone to navigate around the device actually works quite nicely and far better than the endless sets of buttons on my regular old cell phone.
Not even the size and clarity of the screen, which is—and I’m going to use a phrase you might easily dismiss as hyperbole, but it is not—like nothing you’ve ever seen, was as slick as the thing that caused most of the negative headlines the morning after the launch: the activation process.
Everybody knows—hey, the mainstream media told us so!—the activation process stunk
Eager sleep-deprived buyers who’d waited two or three days in line to be the first on their block to buy an iPhone found they couldn’t use it because they couldn’t get a phone number, or they couldn’t transfer their phone number, or the computers at AT&T were swamped.
Maybe that did happen to a few people. (I talked to a friend in the business who said the problems happened to people trying to transfer business numbers or where Cingular couldn’t do a credit check—which they do before giving you a phone number.)
But the fact of the matter is this: the iPhone’s activation process is, in and of itself, revolutionary—to use an extremely over-used phrase, especially when it comes to Apple products.
In fact, I’d say it’s as revolutionary as the day personal computers stopped being sold strictly at “Authorized Dealers” by FORTRAN-talking young men in short-sleeved white shorts and started being sold at consumer-friendly stores like Best Buy.
The entire activation process worked, for me, like this:
Step 1: I take the iPhone out of the box. No batteries to insert, no user manuals in English, Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Anglo-Saxon, and Gender-Neutral Flemish. Just a slim, metal and glass iPhone, a thin getting-started pamphlet called “Finger Tips,” and a connector to link it to a computer.
Step 2: I turn on my Mac and discover I need to upgrade my iTunes to the latest version, which I do. This takes maybe five minutes which turns out to be the longest part of the entire process.
Step 3: I plug the iPhone into the Mac using the connector cable provided in the box.
Step 4: Since all my information is already in iTunes—name, address, and credit card—everything I’d normally have to fill out online has already been filled out. The only thing I have to do is click a couple of “I Agree” buttons and pick which plan I want from AT&T.
Step 5: My iPhone is activated. My new phone number appears.
And that, literally, was it. Aside from downloading the latest version of iTunes, it took maybe three minutes.
Now, I might miss the days when I had to go to a Verizon store in order to get a new cell phone, instead of being able to buy the phone online and activate it at home.
I might especially miss signing in at the store—Verizon makes you sign in when you enter their stores using a touch-screen sign-in device even when there is nobody in line and the clerks are waiting for poor shlubs like me to finish the stupid process of signing in.
I might miss touching that glass screen infested with microbes from the sweaty fingerprints of thousands of Verizon customers before me, punching in my name, address, phone number, user name, password, favorite dog, mother’s maiden name, least favorite opera, preferred brand of sneakers and most influential motion picture, simply to get in a line which did not exist when I entered the door but is now so long it appears Verizon is suddenly offering free tickets to a Beatles reunion, with John and George too.
I might even miss—once I get to the head of the line—the helpful sales clerk waving his hand in the general direction of bunch of cell phones tethered to the wall and saying, “That’s what we have.”
And I might miss waiting while he goes into the back room to see if whatever I’ve picked out is “available”—as if Verizon doesn’t have zillions of these things stacked floor-to-ceiling in the back room and he’s not actually sitting around with six other Verizon sales clerks playing “Solitaire” on the computer while they make us all wait.
I might also miss the part where, after the sales clerk comes back with the box and waves it triumphantly because he just won three games in a row, I have to select a new plan because according to the sales clerk the old plan was waaaaaaaay too expensive for what I’ve been doing with the phone even though that’s what the sales clerk told me the last time I was there too.
And I most especially might miss the part where the clerk opens up the box and takes out the phone and the battery and unwraps them and assembles them while telling me how long to recharge the battery and what my security code is and why I should get cell phone insurance.
But I doubt it.
So the first genius of the iPhone is this: no longer will people who buy cameras and televisions and even cars online be forced to shlep down to a cellular phone store and have an hour’s worth of their brief lives wasted by a clerk.
We’ll buy the phone at a store—brick and mortar or virtual—just like anything else made out of plastic, glass and chips. We’ll activate it online and be done with it.
Coming up, our panel of experts—teenagers—will tell us what they like, what they hate, and why they will or won’t go out and buy one.
And we’ll disclose what the iPhone’s version of “Solitaire” is.
I Am Not Making This Up
© 2007 NotMakingThisUp, LLC
The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.
Posted by Jeff Matthews at 12:09 PM