Opinion: Aussie 3G iPhone is a bad joke

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Opinion: Aussie 3G iPhone is a bad joke

Never have so many suffered so much for one gadget.

iPhones were meant to delight Australian technophiles. As with most consumer trends, we patiently watched footage of lucky Americans queueing for iPhones, using their iPhones, getting mugged on the subway for their iPhones. We waited patiently because iPhones themselves are technically excellent. So we assumed that when they came to Australia, they’d be just as good.

Regrettably, telco providers have completely fouled up the iPhone’s Australian launch. From announcements, to pricing, to data limits, to service provision, telcos have gotten it wrong at every step.

Start with communication. On the day before the iPhone launch, I visited an Optus Store, a Vodafone Store and a generic telecomms store. (If this sounds like the beginning of a joke, don’t be surprised.) None of the stores could tell me how many iPhones they’d have in stock; when the phones would be arriving; or how their plans worked.

One Vodafone staff member said that they would stock 16GB prepaid iPhones, but customers would need to get a new phone number, both of which turned out to be false. “Sorry,” said one customer service clerk, “They don’t tell us much.”

The availability of iPhones was equally problematic. It is not possible to buy an iPhone. First one chooses a provider. Then one chooses post-paid or pre-paid. Then one chooses a plan. If you’re after a 16GB iPhone, then you choose a colour. Having made a selection from one of forty choices, one then hopes that the corresponding iPhone is in stock.

At the generic telecomms store on iPhone Launch Day, the manager noted that he had no control over his stock; he simply had to receive whatever they sent. At 10am the courier arrived with a pile of 8GB iPhones, all bound to contracts. “I guess it doesn’t matter what you wanted,” he said; “since an 8GB iPhone is what you’re gonna get.”

At the Optus flagship store in Sydney, the extremely limited stock of pre-paid iPhones was sold out between midnight and 2am on launch day; other Optus stores didn’t receive any at all. An Optus representative said that more stock will arrive in a week, though she didn’t know how many pre-paid phones would be included.

The next puzzle is pricing. Since I lack a degree in advanced astrophysics, I had some difficulty comparing plans between providers. Optus voice calls are charged per minute, except for voicemail and international calls. There’s “Mycredit” and also “Mytime Money”, neither of which are defined.

Vodafone’s dizzying array of plans contains prices per month, but no mention of how long the contracts last. Nor, for that matter, does the advertisement list call rates and flagfalls—the very bottom of the page makes reference to it, but there’s no link.

You can be assured that carriers are laughing at us when you read about the data plans. Most plans sit at around 500MB per month. The Sydney Morning Herald front page is about 1MB in size, and it refreshes every three minutes. By the time you read the news every day, you’ve blown your quota.

The cost of a data plan is hidden in the package. Vodafone $49 plans give you $310 of calls and no data. A $69 plan gives you $310 of calls and 250MB of data. So you’re paying $20 for 250MB of data. But data transfers aren’t that expensive. Over at 3, they’re offering 1GB downloads for $15/month. So why do data plans cost so much?

The staff don’t know the products, nor do they know anything about the plans. Products are impossible to get anyway. The prices are confusing, and the service levels woefully inadequate. Remind me, why was I queueing for an iPhone again?
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