Failure to launch

iPhone Friday rolled around, and while half the world went crazy for the new 3G device, the rest of us just had to sit and watch in envy

Tags: 3GApple IncorporatedFirefoxIPhoneMozilla Foundation
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By  Mark Sutton Published  July 13, 2008

iPhone Friday rolled around, and while half the world went crazy for the new 3G device, the rest of us just had to sit and watch in envy. Except, quite a few new iPhone 3G buyers also ended up sitting and waiting, as Apple's activation servers crashed due to global demand.

And it wasn't just new iPhone users that ended up without their toys - the simultaneous release of the 2.0 firmware upgrade for existing iPhones also caused a massive spike in demand as people tried to upgrade, and of course, down went the site. Some users even reported that incomplete downloads caused their iPhones to cease working until they were able to complete the download.

The server crashes were so bad, that many Apple retailers closed early, with one store in central London even calling the police to make sure that they could close the shop safely without being overrun by hordes of angry iTards.Server problems weren't the only thing that spoiled Apple's big day. Stocks in many retailers were exhausted quite quickly, leaving only Apple's own stores with plenty of stock.

Apple is not the only organization that has fallen foul of a global launch event recently. Mozilla's grand attempt to launch Firefox 3.0 onto a record number of desktops hit the skids from the start as demand for downloads crashed the servers.

The trend for global launches in the IT industry seems to cause a fair bit more problems than its worth. Of course, back in the days when Microsoft would launch Windows in the US, then Europe and the rest of the world would have to wait months for localized versions, it was not surprising that customers got 'product-envy' and started to demand faster local launches. But global launches seem to be no more than marketing hype.

There is an argument that global launches help to minimize grey market. Grey is/was undeniably a problem - with the first iPod launches, many eager Europeans bought US iPods because they couldn't get their own, but then found that the 220-240 volt power supply in Europe was frying the batteries of US models meant to take 120 volts.

But in the days of eBay, the global grey market for hardware moves too fast for a single launch day to make a difference to stock availability. Unlocked 3G iPhones were advertised for sale all around the globe well before launch. UAE auction site souq.com is offering 3G iPhones for around $700, complete with claims that the phone has already been unlocked and tested in the UAE.

Unfortunately, marketing seems to have decided that a big bang launch gives the most value to the brand, instead of say, spreading a roll-out over a week or a month. Vendors are happy to sacrifice customer satisfaction for the headlines created by a global 'happening', and until they wake up to the fact that stocks, servers and services need to be ready for a global rush, we're stuck with queues and chaos. If you're desperate enough for a product to have to buy it on day one, that is.

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