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Activating your iPhone 3G: What you need to know

By Jonathan Seff, Macworld
July 14, 2008 09:49 AM ET

Macworld - No, it's not a lot of fun standing in line for three-and-a-half hours to buy and activate an iPhone 3G. But I'm not here to recount Friday's ordeal or pile on about the activation snags that marked the global roll-out of Apple's latest iPhone.

Rather, I would like to talk to you--the gentle, discriminating and (as it turns out) exceedingly wise reader who decided to wait for the hoopla of the July 11 iPhone release to die down before buying your 3G phone. Even though you may not have to contend with the crowds, you'll still have to face in-store activation for the iPhone 3G--a change from last year's iPhone launch when you could buy the phone, take it home, and activate it at your leisure. I'd like to talk to you about how the process works--what you'll need, what to expect, and what to do if things go as horribly wrong as they did for me on Friday.

What you'll need

Apple sent out an e-mail earlier this week in advance of the iPhone launch detailing what you need to bring to the store. Those items include:

A credit card: Apple won't let you use cash to buy an iPhone, though on at the store I was at Friday, you could use cash to pay for a gift card, which you could then turn around and use to buy a phone.

A social security number: I assume this is used to run a credit check, a standard practice when you sign up for a mobile phone plan.

A photo ID: Any drivers license, state ID card, or other government-issued form of identification will do.

Your current wireless account number and password: If you're a new customer, that is.

If you've got a corporate account and plan to use your iPhone through that, you'll need to go to an AT&T outlet to pick up an iPhone 3G--not an Apple Store. A few people in line with me Friday made that mistake, and it's not fun to be re-directed to a new location after you've waited your turn in line.

Wondering about iPhone 3G availability at your local Apple Store? As it did last year, Apple shows the availability of each of its stores on its Web site, using a color-coded system of green and red dots to say if a store does or doesn't have phones in stock. The page is updated after 9 p.m. each night to show next-day availability. Plan your shopping accordingly.

What to expect

So you're at the Apple Store now--what happens then?

In my case, as soon as I entered the store, a woman was asking the people ahead of me their first names, and then introducing them to their personal store employees as they became available to help the next customer. When it was my turn, I followed an employee in a blue shirt further into the store, where he asked me what I was looking for in the way of iPhone goodness. I told him I wanted a 16GB white model, and he went into the back to retrieve one. He came back a minute later with a lovely box. That's when the fun really started.

I took a seat on a stool (which felt good after hours of standing in line), while the employee--Apple calls them specialists--asked what rate plan I was interested in. I told him what I wanted and didn't want (no monthly text messaging plan, for example), and he produced the handheld device that store employees use to speed up regular purchases in the Apple Store.

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