Apple fans, old and new, got to experience the good side and the dark side of Apple's product launch mania during Friday's iPhone 3G release. Lines were long, though some said not as long as for the original iPhone, but the big news was all the iPhone activation problems. Apple's decision to brick iPhones until they were activated at AT&T stores, or via users' iTunes software, showed the real weak link in Apple's launch strategy of bringing out the iPhone 2.0 software and iPhone 3G devices on the same day.
Bringing out a new phone, updating original iPhones and iTouchs with 2.0 software, and launching the online App Store was more than a bit too much for Apple to handle. Apple became the victim of its own marketing hype machine by making customers wait an extraordinarily long time in AT&T store lines. 16GB models quickly flew off the shelves leaving others to buy the 8GB model if they wanted to take one home right away. The two most prevalent pros and cons reported by users of the new 3G models were that the GPS was very fast, and battery life is noticeably shorter.
Why all the activation problems? ITunes, one of the biggest pieces of bloatware on the planet (that is, next to Microsoft Outlook). ITunes activation and download servers proved woefully inadequate to handle the demand created by the Apple marketing machine. ITunes not only proved to be the single point of failure for new iPhone 3G buyers, but all of the activation problems had the ripple effect of disabling iPhones and iTouch devices which failed in the middle of the 2.0 firmware update process. Only emergency calls could be made from disabled iPhones. ITunes has managed to brick my iPods on more than one occasion, both happening during a firmware upgrade. TMCnet blogger Tom Cross had his iPhone bricked while performing an upgrade to the 2.0 software, (see "iHate My iPhone Because its iDead.) Tom had to wipe everything on his iPhone and even his AT&T voicemail system to get back to a place where he could start using his iPhone again.
ITunes has been the vehicle for huge music and video sales by Apple. No doubt that iTunes has been a big part of Apple's success. But iTunes can also be the most frustrating piece of software you've ever used. Very slow to start up, visual interface bugs, over-frequent software updates, and now activation problems.
Now that we've seen the impact iTunes server failures can bring, does this foretell a future of distributed DoS attacks against Apple's iTunes and App Store servers? Could there have even been some nefarious activities at the root of Friday's iPhone activation issues? The iPhone 3G may be the cool new device out on the street but iTunes could prove to be the Achilles' heel in Apple's online strategy.
Related Link: 3G iPhone Follies
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