Cautionary tales are a dime a dozen on the Internet, especially when it comes to articulating the horrors of the Day One iPhone line. In fact, they’re so common that at TNW, we talked about how it’s more rare to have no lines at an Apple Store — like this case at a store in Portland.
But trust me, this one is worth reading and it will save you plenty of heartache. I spent five hours at the San Francisco flagship Apple Store on opening day, and I want to help you avoid the same fate.
What they don’t tell you
I prepared for the opening day of the iPhone 6s the way any seasoned veteran would: I made a reservation to pick up my rose gold iPhone 6s, loaded up all the necessary account information I thought I needed, and packed plenty of entertainment to keep me occupied.
Given that my appointment was at 11:30am, I made the last-minute judgment call to head out a little early and get to the store by 11. This proved to be a wise choice, as many tech-forward San Franciscans had skipped their lunch breaks to stand in line. All in all, I waited for about an hour.
By the time I had reached the front, I had thought that the worst was over. I was wrong.
You see, what Apple doesn’t tell you before your reservation is that you must have not only a form of ID on you to pick up your phone, but also the account ID for your carrier, the primary number listed if you share the account with others, and all of the personal information for the phone account holder.
As a millennial with kind parents, I have always been on a family plan. But in the progressive phasing out of two-year contracts, AT&T decided to withhold the opportunity to purchase a subsidized phone with a contract through Apple. Because my only other option was to order online, pay for the phone with my mom’s credit card (as the company foolishly requires you to purchase using a credit card with the primary account holder’s name) and ship the phone to my parents’ house two hours away.
Luckily, the rest of my family was already on a different plan with Verizon, so I figured I would simply go in and add a line to their account.
Caught in the red tape
From the outset, it seemed that my extensive preparation paid off. I have had my mom’s personal information memorized since I was in high school, including the very essential Social Security Number (hi mom, sorry!), and my dad was on standby in Sacramento in case anything went awry.
I successfully ported my phone number to Verizon, where my parents had already indicated to a customer service rep that a new line would be added. The associate I worked with at Apple, Allyson, put all the information in and activated my phone. The service on the temporary off-contract AT&T Android phone I had in the interim period between the theft of my iPhone 5s at a restaurant and my shiny soon-to-be 6s suddenly shut off.
But Verizon sent an error message from its server indicating that it would not allow my phone to activate, and then the longest three hours of my life began.
Between two giants
Even though Verizon had been notified by my parents that a new phone and number was porting over to the account, the carrier stopped my activation for authorization.
Here is where things get hairy: In order to be an authorized user on an account, you have to have a name and a phone line to authorize. In other to have either of those things, you have to have a physical phone with that number on the account.
Even though I had a physical phone number and a phone in activation status, I was not an authorized user because I had nothing to authorize with before. But for security reasons, even though I had a phone present, I was not allowed to open it and give information about the phone to my parents.
Why? Because in order to open a phone at the Apple store, it has to be fully activated.
So I was stuck: unless I magically transmogrified into my mother at that very moment, I wouldn’t be able to provide the credentials Verizon needed (namely, a driver’s license) to pick up my phone. But the phone was already at least partially activated — so if I left that moment, my Android phone would be dead and I would have no way to reactivate it, and my number would be ported into an iPhone that I could never purchase.
I called my dad to see if he could help sort things out, but despite his pleas to make me an authorized user to Verizon, nothing ever materialized. And the Verizon reps who were stationed at the store on opening day had left, suddenly, in the early afternoon, leaving our struggles to a game of phone tag between me, my parents, Allyson and the various phone folks at Verizon.
So how did I leave the Apple store with a phone in hand? To put it simply, luck and pity. The management team at the store recognized my agony and decided to just tell Verizon that my mom had shown up. She texted me her driver’s license, and with clearance I walked out five hours later with my new phone, plus a free case and a discount to the Apple store in gratitude for my pleasant demeanor while being dragged through the hot coals of bureaucratic hell.
In hindsight, I learned a few things that will hopefully save you from the pain I experienced:
Suck it up and buy outright: I will admit wholeheartedly that my decision to take advantage of a two-year contract subsidy cost me hours of my time and way too many brain cells. The easiest way to avoid any of this hassle is to purchase an unlocked phone and assign it to the carrier of your choosing later, away from the madness of mass iPhone purchases.
If you’re milking that family plan, buy your phone with family: Millennials with the same sweet deal I have should, when possible, go to the store with someone clearly authorized on the account — ideally the primary account holder. Even if I had gone to a Verizon store to make my purchase solo, I would have needed the validation of an authorized user — and they perhaps would have taken less pity on me.
Manage your plan: I had a feeling that my jump from carrier to carrier would be a pain, but it could have been avoided if I was more familiar with my family’s plan. The more knowledge you have here, the better. Get the passwords early to the mobile account and check to make sure everything is order before you step into the line.
Never switch carriers on iPhone day: This is the most glaringly obvious one. I set myself up to fail by putting myself at the mercy of the carriers while purchasing my new phone without actively engaging in any set-up. If you absolutely must switch carriers on iPhone day (or any big phone debut day), try to do as much as you can before you go. Take an unlocked phone to the new carrier and just ask for a SIM card. Port numbers early and save yourself the struggle.
Yes, my phone is beautiful and cost me $300, but the tears and heartache that day reminded me that all that glitters is not (rose) gold.
Image credit: Christian Rasmussen
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