Add me to the list of those doomed to iPhone activation hell (updated)

[Like Thomas Hawk my iPhone will not activate. This is not an isolated problem, it appears. I’ll update this post whenever I get let-in. I started this post while at the Apple Store this morning, but it is now about 5 p.m. and, well, read what Thomas says and follow some of the links on his post — the same thing’s happening to me.]

[Note #2: I was able to activate the phone at exactly nine hours after purchasing it. See updates below. Bottom line: I didn’t wait for the activation to work its way through the system. AT&T has humans who can intervene in the process if you get them on the phone and in a friendly, but forceful way, insist that you speak with someone who has the authority to access your account and see what the issue is. I will say this, also: Everyone I talked with at AT&T via their customer support number (see below) was friendly and calm, considering what they must be going through currently.]

I discovered yesterday that Apple Stores are getting iPhone shipments each morning. You can check Apple.com/retail at 9 p.m. each night for availability. The doors open at 9 a.m. So here I am at 8:30 (the store opens at 9) with about 15 others re-living the Friday night wait. I got here at 8 and am #2 in line (I live five minutes away). The first person had an experience similar to mine at an AT&T Store. He travelled 30 miles to be here at 6 a.m. this morning to make sure he gets his phone.

Later: The good news: Took all of 45 seconds to purchase one. The bad news: I am now the owner of what Steve Rubel and others are calling an iBrick. AT&T’s ability to activate the phones (mine’s a new account) is over-whelmed, apparently. I’ve only been waiting for an hour and am heading out the door for most of the day. Nothing about AT&T’s inability to handle the iPhone will surprise me. As Steve Jobs once said, “No one likes their cell phone.” What he didn’t seem to understand was that should have been translated to: “No one likes their cell phone carrier.”

Hour 7: Still an iBrick.

Hour 8: First, I’m not going to let this stress me out — it’s not near as angering as the squirrels who are attacking my garden, say. But a call to AT&T was rather useless as the rep said, “We’re backed up as you can imagine.” No, I said. I can’t imagine. You’ve had six months to prepare for this weekend.

There’s a debate taking place on the Apple forums (this and other threads) regarding who is at fault, AT&T or Apple. The thread pointed to says it now seems to be an Apple issue. It really doesn’t matter to me. I’m a customer. I’m not able to use something I was told would be a snap to take out of the box and activate. In the 23 years I’ve been using Apple products, all have worked out of the box — (my problems have all come later). For example, I’ve connected several models of Airports to different sources of internet-access. And with consumer-level skills, I’ve repeatedly transferred from one Mac to another for years with no problems. (Again, I’ve had my share of Apple-related melt-downs, just not at the point of setting something up.)

However, the fact that a large group of customers can’t activate their phones as advertised is Apple’s fault. As ridiculous as I thought the AT&T Store was being Friday night by “processing” customers rather than selling them phones, perhaps setting up a cell-phone account is a process, not a purchase.

Hour 8.5: I thought I’d try calling AT&T again, so I called a number Steve Rubel twittered earlier, 877-419-4500, and got a friendly lady in AT&T customer support almost immediately. When I gave her my “Order Number,” she asked me how long it had been since I received the e-mail giving me that. I stretched the truth a bit and said, “almost 12 hours.”

When I said 12 hours, she said it may be a problem with some feature settings that I requested and asked if I would mind if she transferred me to another department. No problem, I said, and ten minutes later was talking with another friendly agent who at least was able to see that, yes, it has something to do with the features I’d requested. After about 15 minutes, he came back on and said he needed to transfer me to “Care Activation Support” (he was merely “Activation Support”) because they could access my account and he couldn’t. He gave me their phone number: 877-777-4189, but I asked for him to transfer me. After about ten minutes, he came back on and said they’d made the changes for him and that he was close to getting my account arranged correctly.

Then, he prompted me to power off and on the phone while connected to my computer.

I got the activation message and a phone number which he then tested. It worked.

It’s now exactly 9 hours from the moment I purchased the phone this morning.

Don’t know anything about the phone yet, except that it’s no longer a brick.