iPhone 4S: A Worthy Upgrade Clouded By Activation Issues

When the iPhone 4S was announced on October 4th, there was much gnashing of teeth by Apple fanboys and stock market analysts about how this “lackluster” iPhone refresh was going to allow competitors to overtake Apple. That without a re-designed case and bigger screen and more storage and…and…and. All of the rumors (and the subsequent disappointment) ignored one of the simple economic realities of the cell phone market:

When buyers are locked in a two-year upgrade cycle, you don't need to change the product landscape with every model.

So if you’re like me and using an iPhone 3GS (or older!), the iPhone 4S should definitely be a worthy upgrade.

iPhone 4S Hardware: Many Improvements over the iPhone 3GS

One of the biggest reasons I’ve been looking to upgrade from the iPhone 3GS is that my phone has just started acting “tired” in the last 6-9 months.  When I purchased the 3GS, that was before iOS4 and iOS5, and with each iOS update I’m sure the processor usage has increased.  Skipping the iPhone 4 and waiting for the 4S, that’s two processor upgrades compared to my current phone, which I’m sure will make the phone feel that much speedier.

But it’s not just the processor here that’s a huge improvement…moving to the 4S gives a better camera with flash, front-facing camera to use with FaceTime, the Retina display for improved screen clarity, longer battery life, and 1080P video capturing.  I opted to purchase the white iPhone 4S (which doesn’t provide any additional functionality!) and upgraded to the 32GB storage instead of 16GB on my 3GS.

I think it’s safe to say that even without a case re-design, the iPhone 4S is in a different world hardware-wise than my current 3GS.

iPhone 4S Activation Issues

At this point, you’re probably expecting that I would cover how the iOS5 software is working on said hardware upgrade.  But if you’ve been following any of the major tech blogs like CNET, you see that there are widespread reports of users being unable to activate their iPhone 4S’s.  At first, I thought it was just AT&T’s generally poor service and network, but InformationWeek is reporting that all carriers are experiencing this phenomenon.  There may have been gnashing of teeth during the iPhone 4S announcement, but with Apple’s announcement of a pre-sale sell out, clearly there are ton of buyers out there.

One thing I can blame on AT&T though is a lack of foresight of proper error messaging.  When you sign in through iTunes, here’s the error message you get:


Well, which is it AT&T and Apple?  If my activation is still pending, and you are going to send me an email, why do I need to try again later?  I have to believe that some of the activation server problems stem from not being clear about what to do.  With users (like myself) re-sending the activation over-and-over again, and potentially a script inside of AT&T trying to activate all these iPhones, there’s got to be a ton of redundant processor cycles being burned.

I’ve also tried to activate straight from my iPhone via Wi-Fi and over the 3G cell network, and even called AT&T.  Not surprisingly, the customer “service” rep at AT&T claimed there’s no internal report of an activation problem, but I should try iTunes to see if that will activate my phone.

Thanks for nothing.

Once the Activation Issues disappear…

Eventually, I’ll be really happy with my purchase.  Until then, I’ve got the equivalent of a Christmas present that comes “Some Assembly Required” or “Needs Batteries (not included)”.  What was the promising start to the weekend with my new iPhone 4S is now just a blackout period, waiting for AT&T to get their shit together.

Update:  New error message

As if the first confusing error message wasn’t enough, now AT&T/Apple have switched it to say “Turn your phone on and off to retry”.  Wow, the old “Did you reboot your PC?” trick!

7 hours in, who knows how many attempts…no activation.


Update 2:  iPhone 4S Activation Complete!

After 7 hours of trying, finally I have a working iPhone 4S!


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