07/19/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Apple 3G iPhone and Today's Perfect Storm

Unless you've been hibernating, you probably know today was the day Apple began selling their new 3G iPhone all around the world. The momentum had been building for months, but with tens of thousands all buying and activating their phone within several hours of each other, could anyone know how smooth it would go?

I got to the San Diego UTC store at 7 am, but my wait-in-line person I hired off of Craig's List was there at 4:30 am and was #25 in line. The first person in line arrived 5:30 pm the night before, and at the time of the doors opening there were 200 people in line behind me.

The first signs were positive. Apple employees brought bottled water and coffee to those in line. Seems like they had prepared for the onslaught. I got in at about 8:20 am
and was greeted by Erik who seemed eager to help. He took down my account information on his handheld computer that connected to AT&T's. But in spite of several attempts, AT&T's computer would not approve my upgrade to the 3G phone from a year old iPhone. Erik shuffled me off to their experts that were there to help with AT&T issues and introduced me to David R. He called AT&T and got right through, signs that my luck might be changing.

After an hour on the phone with Tracy, a very nice AT&T supervisor, she was able to close one account, set up a new one and give me a new customer ID to get their system to be kind enough to sell me the phone.

The next step was activation, a short step where the phone is connected to a computer and to the itunes store to be registered and turned on. But Apple's servers were experiencing outages, and the normal process was taking about an hour instead of 3 minutes. I took the iPhone home to complete the activation later that day. That went like a breeze; everything on my old phone synched to the new one, including my contacts, calendar, songs, podcasts, photos, and even my home screen.

What's the lesson here? Don't be an early adapter like me, wait a few days. Apple and AT&T's faulty preparation was mitigated somewhat by their personnel, who were amazing. In spite of all the glitches that many like me had. They were patient, never rushing, and taking their time to be sure everything could be done to get the phone working. That attitude seemed to be infectious as most of the people in the store seemed to take everything in stride. Of course this is laid back San Diego and who would think otherwise?

But I doubt those outside the store, more than 400 by the time I left at 11 am, will be as happy. If the average time for a transaction continues to be 30 minutes. With about ten customers being handled at once that's a wait of 20 hours for some, assuming they don't run out of phones first. No one would say how many phones they had, but I counted 300 on their counter.

All during this time I was talking with my friend Larry on the East Coast and many of the problems were similar there. At an AT&T store in New Jersey there were 100 in line, but the store only had 30 iPhones to sell. And one salesperson told Larry that of the 10 phones he sold, 8 were new customers, and, get this, 6 of the 8 were existing Verizon customers!