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Verizon claims record iPhone pre-order sales, AT&T offers more free stuff

by Phil Hornshaw

Verizon (VZ) opened up pre-orders of its upcoming iPhone at 3 a.m. EST on Feb. 3, and by evening of the same day, the company was reporting the stock allotted for pre-orders had been sold.

In fact, Verizon is now saying it’s breaking sales records with the iPhone and it sold out in only two hours, from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. EST. The company isn’t releasing just how many phones it sold, for some reason, and said pre-order sales are closed until Feb. 9, according to Mashable.

On that day, users can get online at Verizonwireless.com or Apple.com (AAPL) and order new iPhones starting at 3:01 a.m. Otherwise, there’s no way to get hold of a Verizon iPhone 4 until Feb. 10, when it becomes available in stores, including Wal-Mart (WMT) and Best Buy (BBY).

Meanwhile, Engadget is hearing that customers who did get their pre-orders in are already receiving emails from Verizon that their iPhones are being shipped, though FedEx isn’t tracking the packages as of the site posting its story. Inclement weather may also delay those shipments, seeing as large swathes of the country are currently experiencing minor ice ages.

As Verizon gloats over its iPhone sales, AT&T (T) isn’t quite giving up on trying to convince its customers that they’re better off where they are. Without making a big deal out of it, the company is starting to offer select customers a free 3G microcell for their homes or offices, according to Ars Technica.

The devices are basically meant to help boost cellular signals in small areas, like homes and offices, where cell signal penetration isn’t all that great. AT&T retails the devices at a whopping $199, so it’s kind of a deal if you happen to receive an email with a barcode explaining what you need to get yours for free. This follows AT&T’s change in its data plan for tethering, doubling its data allowance for the plan from 2GB to 4GB, to combat Verizon’s HotSync mobile hotspot offer with the iPhone. Oh, and AT&T’s quietly offering select customers a chance to switch back to unlimited data.

But like all AT&T’s moves to keep its iPhone customers, this new one falls squarely into the “too little, too late” category (again). As cartoonist The Oatmeal put it so succinctly in his State of the Web comic, AT&T has been treating its customers like garbage for the last few years as it enjoyed the iron fist of iPhone exclusivity. Those microcell devices? Yeah, those were AT&T’s answer when customers called them up to complain about coverage -- the company would actually suggest that people having trouble with its service pay them an additional $199 to have their devices work.

Customers aren’t forgetting classy moves like that one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if hearing stories like this one and not receiving an email from the company don’t sour other customers, since AT&T doesn’t deem them special enough to fight for them. (I fall into this category as well, likely because I upgraded to my iPhone 4 only a few months ago -- so it would probably cost me too much to switch, AT&T figures.)

Seems to me, if AT&T really wants to keep those customers it fears losing, it might want to step up its efforts. Sure, Verizon’s sales so far only indicate its own customers who are clamoring for an iPhone -- but I expect they’re an accurate portent of Feb. 10. It’s going to take more than a few emails to prevent customers from seeking new opportunities for customer service and network strength.