If you’ve been following me on Twitter this morning, you’ve seen a weird series of events unfolding.
Let’s start from the beginning. Last fall, when the iPhone 4S was released, I upgraded my iPhone 3G about a month after to a new, white, 16G iPhone 4S through AT&T’s online store. It was shipped directly to my house. I paid $199 for the phone plus whatever AT&T’s upgrade fee was.
A few days ago, I noticed that the external speakers on my iPhone 4S weren’t working. There was no speakerphone, key clicks, ringer–nothing. Yesterday, I called Apple and they helped me make an appointment at the Annapolis Mall Apple store. They informed me that my hardware warranty expired through Apple in 10 days, but when I got the speakers fixed, I could buy an Apple Care plan that would give me an additional year or so of warranty protection. (I fully intended to do this today.)
I got to the Apple store this morning and after spending 10 minutes trying to flag down a salesperson, I found someone to assist me. He said that fixing the speaker bar was a 5-10 minute fix and he’d take it in the back and make the repair. I thanked him and waited.
About 10 minutes later, he returned with my phone and said he made the repair. Then he asked, “Have you ever opened the phone?” I said no. He said, “Well, the phone has been tampered with. The screws are stripped and someone has tried to remove the serial number on the inside. It’s bent and damaged.” I was pretty shocked and asked him how that could have happened since I bought the phone new through AT&T. He said he didn’t know. I asked if he’d ever seen this before and he said it was rare, but they’d had some similar problems with Sprint iPhones. He said that I should speak to AT&T directly to resolve it because the tampering voided the warranty on my iPhone and I was no longer eligible to purchase extended Apple Care.
I immediately went to the nearest AT&T store in the mall and explained the situation to an associate there. He was pretty surprised and advised me to call AT&T Customer Care since I had purchased the phone online. He was adamant that I “demand a new phone replacement."
I called AT&T. After being passed around three times, I spoke with someone who told me that they were in "a tough situation” since the phone was factory sealed from Apple. They only recourse they could take, he said, was to transfer one of the upgrades on an old phone on our family line to my number and pay $99 to replace my iPhone 4S or $199 to upgrade to an iPhone 5. He said that before doing that I should call Apple again.
So I did. I spoke to a great customer service representative at Apple (David) who was sympathetic to my case and took about 20-30 minutes investigating what they could do for me. After he spoke to their Customer Relations department though, he explained to me that they really couldn’t do anything and that I needed to contact AT&T again. He sent me the following message after our call:
Thanks for giving us a call today. I understand this must be very frustrating for you. Please consider calling or going into your carrier’s store to speak with a customer relations representative/manager. Your carrier may have the ability to progress this case further.
When you speak to your carrier representative, please remember to tell that person everything you’ve told me. Be sure to mention that our Apple Retail Store discovered your iPhone had been tampered with, and that you absolutely had nothing to do with that. Regardless of their decision, they are likely to take that into consideration.”
He then gave me my case number in case AT&T wished to consult with Apple further.
I called AT&T back. After waiting on hold while they scrambled around trying to find someone that could address the situation, I was told that they couldn’t do anything. Case closed on their end. Done.
I understand that they don’t have to believe me that I didn’t tamper with the phone. I appreciate the Apple representative giving me the benefit of the doubt. Someone, somewhere along the supply chain between the factory to Apple to AT&T or wherever my phone started from and ended up tampered with it. Maybe I was sold a refurbished phone as new. Maybe something else happened. Either way, I bought the phone as a new device and neither company will cop to this being a huge problem.
I’m going to continue to see what I can do and the AT&T customer service rep who spoke to me on Twitter and asked me to DM her said she’d like to call me. We’ll see.
UPDATE: I spoke with a wonderful AT&T customer service rep (Catei via @ATTTeamNatasha) who called me after she asked my phone number via Twitter. She explained that AT&T can’t change the prices on Apple products, but they are waiving our bill this month to cover the cost of the upgrade to a new iPhone 5. Thank you AT&T and thank you Catei! I’ve had some of my best experiences talking to companies or their customer service departments through Twitter and this is no exception. Thanks again!
Trust me, this phone doesn’t need the first hundred pages.
Ralph de la Vega, then the Cingular Wireless COO, on what he told the “outraged” board to why he let Apple break the carrier’s spec rules (having to do with a physical keyboard, in this case).
The rest of the piece by Forbes’ Connie Guglielmo is pretty puffy — I mean, this is AT&T, who has shit the bed for years when it comes to their network compared to Verizon’s and left nothing more than a trail of excuses. But they did make the right call with the iPhone, no question about that.