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a Vermonter’s guide to getting the iPhone

by Rob Friesel

Though I a possess a certain hyperbolic certainty that I was the last person in Vermont1 to obtain an iPhone, I thought I might assemble this handy guide for the folks that (despite my aforementioned certainty) might not be on this particular wagon quite yet.  Perhaps you’re waiting for a check to clear; perhaps you’re waiting for an old contract to expire — who knows?  Hopefully my mistakes and/or transgressions will help you in crossing over.  And perhaps these tips are useful to folks in other locales, as well.

How to prepare:  My first piece of advice is to spend a few minutes preparing your things before you head over to the store and make that minimum 2 year commitment.  Before investing your energy into this preparation, know that it’s only worth it if you plan on keeping your current number and “porting” it from whatever other service you have.  Any other prep you might do is the usual What do I expect from this phone and this service? type bollocks that you can get from skimming some Apple and/or AT&T marketing mumbo jumbo.

That being said, if you plan to port your number, you have a good chance of it working out just fine on the first try.  Make sure (however) to:

  1. bring a copy of your most recent bill; 
  2. any and all PINs, passwords, passphrases, and security questions you might use to access your current account; and
  3. a map of which numbers you are porting and to which phones (as a courtesy to your in-store retail professional).

With these items in hand, you are ready to go to your local AT&T retail frontage.

What to expect from the retail store:  Once you’re at the retail store, there is a good chance that you’ll be in for a bit of a wait but once you get face-time with a retail professional, things should go quickly and smoothly.

My wireless retail sales experiences so far have all been with/through Verizon, so I was a little surprised that telco giant AT&T had resorted to the low-tech solution of a pen-and-paper sign-in sheet at the front of the store2.  Though I felt the need to keep watch over that sign-in sheet (you never know who is going to try and sneak up to cross you off), folks kept it civil and before too long, I was being helped.

A special note about Vermont AT&T stores for my Vermont readers:  Remember that AT&T just finished their acquisition of Unicel and flipped all those retail stores into AT&T stores.  When you get to the AT&T store, expect 3 out of 4 people ahead of you in line to be there asking about how they can put more minutes on their pre-paid Unicel phone or how they can avoid getting a bill on AT&T letterhead.  Granted, this will die out fast but if you’re reading this between January and (say…) April of ’09 then it’s likely to apply.  Your mileage may vary.

Continuing: once you’re actually being helped by one of the AT&T retail professionals, expect everything else to take 30-60 minutes.  If you’re not porting a number nor anything else fancy, it might go even quicker than that.  I was expecting it to take at least 2 hours because we were:

  1. buying an iPhone but
  2. not getting an iPhone as the 2nd phone in the plan and also
  3. porting our “old” numbers over from Verizon to AT&T.

I’d like to think that my preparations3 are the reason things went so quickly.  I handed over my cheat sheet, the guy came back with two boxes, and we spent the next 30 minutes or so standing in front of his computer telling it to set up stuff.  Total time in the store was just over an hour and by the time I left, our phone numbers were dialing through to the new phones.

An additional word of advice:  Even with your cheat sheet, be wary and cautious:  if you want to get the activation fee(s) waived4, you’ll have to be really pushy; if you ask about a plan (e.g., FamilyTalk 550) that is not mentioned in the in-store brochure, you’re unlikely to get an answer about it; if you ask How can I affordably get text messaging for everyone in this FamilyTalk plan? then you’ll get directed to the Unlimited Family Messaging instead of discussing whether/not you could fit that into two 200-per-month SMS plans per phone5.  So yeah, be warned.

The first couple of day or so:  If you ported numbers from another provider and things went (apparently) smoothly at the retail professional’s desk, then you should expect things to be just fine more/less the moment you leave the store.  Your new iPhone should ring when people dial your old number, you can start browsing the web immediately, sending text messages, etc.  According to the retail professional that assisted me, I expected to receive a text message from the porting center that said the porting had been completed; after receiving this message, I was to turn off all the phones, leave them off for a full minute, then turn on just the new ones and leave the old ones off for at least 48 hours.  That said, I never received that text message; things have worked out just fine, however6.

If you weren’t porting numbers…  Well, you’re already in great shape, aren’t you?

A special note about porting numbers:  Be really, really sure that the retail professional assisting you gets the right numbers assigned to the right phones on the first try.  If the wrong number goes to the wrong phone, it’s not just as simple as swapping the SIM cards.  Someone still needs to tell the network (apparently) that the SIM cards have been swapped.  But even then just because the AT&T network sends the right calls to the right phones, their billing system still needs to be updated with that same change.  Otherwise, it sees your iPhone and (even though you’re receiving calls) cuts off the data plan and then doesn’t let you straighten it out on your own through their website — it’s an extra call to their customer service center.  Not that it’s a big deal for them to fix it.  I’m just saying.  Get it right the first time.

On syncing:  If you (like me) want to sync different things from different computers, you should be fine.  This is basically built in, although it will feel like it isn’t.  I grab my calendars and contacts from my work computer (MacBook Pro) and I grab my music from the iMac at home.  First sync  was from the MacBook Pro — sucked in the contacts, calendars, etc., no problem.  Second sync was from the iMac:  told it explicitly not to sync contacts, etc., and instead to only sync the music.  iTunes still panicked and told me that I would be overwriting data but after disconnecting, I still had the correct contacts and calendars from the laptop and the music from the iMac.  The only “gotcha” I’ve found with this approach so far is that the little graph in iTunes is different from one computer to the other — the laptop thinks there’s next to nothing on the iPhone and the iMac thinks that the only thing I have on their is music.  I can live with this.

UPDATE:  I may need to revise my statements in the “On syncing” section.  Tonight’s most recent sync was unusual in that it re-synced every song in the ≈6GB of music dumped from Malkovich (the iMac) to the iPhone.  Hrm…  Further investigations are pending.

  1. Except for that Luddite A., of course. []
  2. Compare this with my experience at Verizon where a concierge/host greeted us from his podium and punched us into some electronic tracking system, handed over a buzzer (like at a restaurant, know what I mean?), and then implanted dissolving RFID chips in our forearms in case we got abducted before the sales transaction could begin.  Maybe other, larger AT&T stores do this, too.  Just not the one I went to. []
  3. I had a little sheet with the plan I wanted, the features, the phones, and the numbers we’d be porting and which phones to port them to; also I had my latest Verizon bill. []
  4. I was unsuccessful there. []
  5. Since apparently you can’t just get a 200-per-month SMS plan and divide that up between the included phones; but no one will tell you that for sure, either. []
  6. With one small exception unrelated to the porting itself. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

3 Responses to a Vermonter’s guide to getting the iPhone

Charlie Aronovici says:

Hi Rob… While I waited impatiently for months for Vermont’s iPhone day to arrive, I still haven’t gone to Burlington to get mine. I’ve devoured every blog posting about how to become an iPhoner (Unicel is my heritage;) and, enjoyed your post ver much — thanks!

Joe Mescher says:

I didn’t even think about someone crossing my name off the list at AT&T on Dorset street.

Luckily it was a smooth transition after a long wait.

One of my favorite things about the iPhone:

The ability to snap photos, then email them to my FriendFeed account where they are posted automatically.

I consider it my ‘mobile photo hard drive in the cloud’.

found_drama says:

@Charlie– glad you enjoyed it!

@Joe– Too true. I’d been posting my photos to Flickr via email-over-SMS from my old Motorola E815 but everything about sending the photos from the iPhone is much faster, no doubt about it.

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