I’m not sure, but you may have heard about the newest generation of the Jesus Phone. It comes out next Friday from Apple and AT&T. The preorders for it started yesterday.

I was running a fever yesterday. A pretty bad one. So when I say I was up at 4am trying to buy one of these, I want to make it clear that it was because I couldn’t sleep from the fever – NOT because I was waiting for the preorder to come up.

When I attempted the preorder process at 4am, I was greeted with a server time out once I made the jump from Apple’s site to AT&T’s billing servers. Ok, I thought, this is probably just them not syncing up yet. The sale did just go online a few minutes ago. I laid back down and tried it a few hours later, 7am-ish, maybe.

Imagine what it would be like to be in an fighter aircraft in the middle of a dogfight – and lose. Imagine the sounds. The screaming of the bending, ripping metal. The unmuffled roar of jet engine and wind. Because those must’ve been the sounds the servers were making when I attempted to preorder a second time. It didn’t get any better for the rest of the day.

Gizmodo has a pretty descriptive rundown of every thing that went to shit for Apple and AT&T yesterday. From the servers giving you access to some one else’s billing history to AT&T stores resorting to their “fail-safe” pen and paper preordering.

Bottom line, this was one of the biggest clusterfucks in the history of retail sales. And it was entirely AT&T’s fault.

Sometimes, in situations like this, a company launches a product and gets legitimately overwhelmed by the consumer response. A perfect example is Blizzard’s launch of World of Warcraft. Within a week of launch, every single retail CD key had been activated and was in use. The game was kissing 3 million active users, when even the best analysts said it would do good to hit a million its first quarter. Servers were melting left and right. But, they recovered from it and now maintain the largest and most successful online game in history.

AT&T had the same problems with the original iPhone launch. The authorization servers went down and didn’t come back up for almost two days. People had their shiny new Jesus Phones, but they couldn’t use them. Things went smoother for the 3G and 3Gs launches. It looked like while their cellular network might be straining to the breaking point under the weight of all those dataplans, their billing and authorization servers were finally, FINALLY, up to the task of launching products.



What always boggles my mind when things like this happen is that the retailer is always “surprised” by the amount of traffic they get. Which is funny, considering, you know, they know exactly how many people on their network are eligible for an upgrade deal (which is more than ever because of the special early-upgrade deal they did), they have metrics on how many people will pay the premium to upgrade anyway, and they have previous history to know how many “gawker”-types they are going to have. The numbers are right there. All they had to do was support those numbers plus a little bit more.

And they couldn’t do it. They couldn’t even come close to doing it. Everything was either broken or just flat shut down. There were fucking AT&T stores closing because their only business was preorders and they couldn’t do them.

But all that was yesterday. The tsunami of web traffic has subsided 24 hours later. Things are working now. Except, what’s that? The iPhone 4 is now back-ordered to July 2 at the earliest. Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.

AT&T is expected to sell 9.5 million iPhone 4s within a month of their launch. Which probably puts the views somewhere in the 12 million range. And while that is a lot, especially if they swarm the server all at once, Blizzard clears more than that same number every day in World of Warcraft. Millions more than that number, in fact. And they don’t seem to have a problem with it.

I guess it really comes down to the fact that AT&T doesn’t have to work for your money. They have the Jesus Phone locked into an exclusivity contract, even if it is killing their entire cellular network. Why should they spend any money on upgrading servers or networks when the simple truth is that people want the iPhone, and will deal with shit to get it.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do at this point. My 3G is more dead than alive, which is why this upgrade was so important for me. But I’m not sure if chaining myself to AT&T, as well as the Apple App store’s black hole, is worth it if things like this continue to happen.

Regardless, way to fuck up, AT&T. Way to fuck up.

EDIT: Barely had time to get this up before AT&T completely suspended preorders.

EDIT 2: Apple sent out a press release saying they sold 600,000 preorder units. Which is funny, since you’d assume they’d have more than that. I mean, it’s not like they were trying to sell millions of them this month or anything.

EDIT 3: Preorders now being kicked back to July 14. Stores better be overflowing with retail units come launch day.