iPhone customers’ frustration grows

Matthew JC. Powell
8 July, 2008
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As the day draws near for the iPhone to go on sale in Australia with still very little information from Telstra and Vodafone (and even Apple) as to the various providers’ intentions for the device available, customer discontent is becoming palpable. Potential customers who put down $50 and $100 deposits with Optus for “priority queueing” reported receiving refunds of those deposits, and angry confrontations have been reported at various telcos’ shopfronts, with staff unable to answer customers’ questions.

iMug, the Internet Macintosh User group, issued a press release earlier today, saying “”The iPhone 3G is on sale in just a few days. But consumers are on the receiving end of corporate-managed confusion, obfuscation and lack of transparency — it’s a poor effort on the part of Australia’s leading Telcos who will be legally selling Apple’s iPhone”.

iMug president Les Posen describes Optus’s plans as “overly complex” and “confusing,” laments Telstra offering “limited information” particularly regarding data usage, and derides Vodafone particularly. “Vodaphone must still be working their spreadsheets aswe’ve heard nothing from them with just a few days to go,” said Posen.

And this is not just one man’s opinion. Posen’s sentiments have been echoed on discussion boards and mailing lists around Australia, including the AMW forums. With the level of hype and expectation around the 3G iPhone, many customers are hoping to be “first on the block” to own one, and with such limited time available it seems unlikely, if not impossible, that customers will have time to weigh up all the options and make an informed decision on what is the best plan for their needs.

Apple has not been above the skulduggery itself. With only a few days to go it has not made any announcement — and has even avoided the direct question — as to whether or not the iPhone 3G will be on sale at Apple’s own company-owned store in Sydney. The device will be on sale at Apple Stores elsewhere in the world (there’s even a queue outside the New York Fifth Avenue store already) and it’s baffling that the company is still being so cagey this close to the launch.

In town for the opening of the Apple Store, Sydney, a few weeks ago, Ron Johnson, Apple’s Vice President, Retail told Australian Macworld that having the Store open before the iPhone goes on sale meant “we get to have two big events” — obliquely implying that the device would be sold at the Store and that the launch would be a second “big event”. The organisers of most big events know to send out invitations more than a couple of days in advance.

It remains to be seen whether the telcos and Apple will give customers a more complete picture of the iPhone offering before it goes on sale. If the plans aren’t available for scrutiny in advance, or not long enough in advance for informed decisions to be made, it could potentially impact on sales of the device or, in the longer term, harm customer satisfaction.

Posen goes even further, saying that the “mismanagement of the iPhone introduction” ought to inspire the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to step in and “ensure customers get a fair go”.

At the very least, he says, before you sign up you should make sure to grill the sales representative on the total cost of ownership of the device over the course of a contract. That seems fair advice.

Apple says the iPhone activation process will take about ten minutes. But if each sale involves expl;aining the plans in detail to customers who haven’t had an opportunity to understand the plans before time, that couyld blow out dramatically.

Time is of the essence.

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