I went to the Apple Store in Walnut Creek, California on Saturday to buy what I KNEW would be the best birthday present ever for my uncle… An iPhone without the contract. Now, before you gasp, gulp, and bemoan the fact that I’ve never bought YOU such an extravagant birthday gift, let me digress for a moment to say: 1) Stop whinging ;-D 2) It’s the thought that counts 3) it was a joint gift 4) a group of us agreed to buy it for him last year, but didn’t because we didn’t want him to get stuck with the hefty data charges. We rainchecked the gift, so this year counted double. I’ll get back to my story soon, but first, another diversion to set the stage…
My uncle, is awesome. He’s the best kind of hardware engineer there is: a super-smart, technical, card-carrying Trekkie AND, he’s also social, and highly entertaining – an all around good guy. As an added bonus, he provides always-on tech support to the whole family (which I’m particularly thankful for because, frankly, if the family weren’t calling him for tech support, they’d be calling me!). The only demotion he gets in the “cool uncle” and “great engineer” stakes is that he carries the WORST phone you’ve every seen… A seriously wonky clam shell number from 3+ years ago. That’s just wrong, and he knows it. He deserves a better phone, but AT&T’s iPhone data plan is pricey. Not everyone want to sign up for a 2 year agreement that requires you to pay data charges of $30/month for two years – especially given how quickly mobile phones are evolving. What my uncle needed was some encouragement, and when AP broke the news that AT&T was now selling the iPhone sans contract, I figured that was the perfect excuse for “Operation Best Birthday Present EVER.” Now, back to my story…
On Saturday, I trooped into the Apple Store, and asked for an unlocked iPhone. I figured, if Apple and AT&T were agreeing to sell the phone without a contract, the phone must be unlocked. It’s not. While I was at the register, the Apple sales guy handed me his mobile POS system and asked me to sign the AT&T Terms of Service (TOS) before he would sell me the phone.
The TOS he asked me to sign wasn’t noticably different than the one I’d reviewed when looking at the iPhone as a potential contract upgrade six months ago. And, oddly, given that the iphone was being purchased under ‘contract’ with AT&T, it said something like (and I’m paraphrasing), ‘by signing below, I understand and agree to AT&Ts Terms and Conditions and the AT&T Terms of Service which I acknowledge were presented to me previously’. Having not received the TOS they were referring to, I asked the Apple sales guy to show them to me. He couldn’t. He said that he didn’t know where they were but he “might” have them in the back of the store.
About five minutes elapsed, and the sales guy emerged, but he didn’t have the document. Instead, he went to a Mac in the corner and began surfing the web trying to find them. After waiting a few more minutes, I asked why, if I was paying $599 for an iPhone with no contract I would need to sign anything from AT&T. I explained that the phone was a gift, and I didn’t want to inadvertently sign my uncle up to a $30/month data plan. (My concern was that if my uncle plugged his old SIM into an iPhone, AT&T may notice and try to make him pay $30 every month that he used the phone – even without a contract.) The Apple guy didn’t know what to say other than to tell me that every iPhone sold in the US had to be activated on AT&T and abide by AT&T’s Terms of Service. Huh?
I can’t help but wonder why Apple and AT&T told the press that they’re offering a contract-less iphone, when consumers are still forced to sign a contract before purchasing the device. The Apple guy I spoke on Saturday to was never able to find the correct TOS, and I wasn’t willing to sign a contractual agreement without actually reviewing it. So, I walked out of the Apple store empty handed.
Operation “Best Birthday Present EVER” was a bust, but all was not lost. We wrote my uncle a check instead. This way, he can upgrade his phone through AT&T for $199 and forget about data charges for a long time.