Please, AT&T, Just Tell Me How Much You Want For an iPhone 3G S

By  |  Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 4:23 pm

AT&T FrownyI swear that I’m not trying to turn Technologizer into an AT&T bashfest. But I’ve spent part of my afternoon girding myself to get an iPhone 3 GS. I’m ready to pre-order and pay up. So far, though, I’m just confused.

I started at the AT&T Store at my local shopping center. A helpful rep looked me up in the system and said that I didn’t qualify for a discount–I’d have to fork over $599 for a 16GB 3G S or $699 for the 32GB model. He stood there expectantly. But I arched an eyebrow and asked him if he was sure I didn’t qualify for some sort of discount.

He told me that I might, but said that I needed to dial 611 on my phone to find out. Why didn’t he mention this until I asked? How come he couldn’t determine it himself? I don’t know.

Back home, I decided to check out the AT&T site. Its “Answer Center” help system told me this:

The new iPhone 3G S is $199 (16GB) and $299 (32GB) for new and qualifying customers. iPhone 3G is $99 (8GB) for new and qualifying customers and $149 (16GB) while supplies last. A 2-year service agreement is required. These prices are available to the following customers:

  • Customers activating a new line with AT&T
  • Current AT&T customers who are eligible at the time of purchase for an upgrade discount

Qualifying customers are those that qualify for an upgrade. Upgrade eligibility varies with each customer, but in general you will become eligible the longer the tenure in your service agreement. Visit www.att.com/iPhone to determine if you qualify for an upgrade.

As far as I can tell, that says that you qualify for an upgrade if you qualify for an upgrade. Not terribly helpful. So I logged in and clicked on the Upgrade button, and got this:

iPhone Upgrade

Okay, so I can get “a discounted iPhone upgrade at a higher price” (is that an oxymoron?). But should I wait until July 12th, the day after the first anniversary of my iPhone 3G purchase? I can’t quite tell, since I’m not sure if the “may” in “You may qualify for a full discount…” means I will qualify or that it’s just a possibility, and AT&T doesn’t specify what the “full discount” is.

When I proceeded with the online upgrade process to determine what my higher-priced iPhone 3G S discount would be, I got this:

iPhone Error

I gave up on AT&T and moved on to Apple’s site, where I could also log in using my AT&T account info:

iPhone 3G S at Apple.com

$399 for 16GB or $499 for 32GB is what I expected I’d have to pay. But Apple, like AT&T, told me that I “may” qualify for a discount on July 12th. (In this case, it’s a “standard upgrade” rather than a “full discount,” but I’m assuming they’re the same thing.)

I was still curious about that discount that I might be entitled to in a little over a month, though. So I followed the AT&T Store rep’s advice and dialed 611 on my phone. I reached a friendly lady who quoted the $399 and $499 prices, but told me that on July 12th, I’d qualify for the same pricing as a new AT&T customer–$199 for the 16GB model or $299 for 32GB. This was the first I’d heard that someone who owned an iPhone 3G might get the same price as an AT&T newbie so quickly, and I’m not sure if it means that anyone who bought an iPhone 3G on the day of release can get one that cheaply on the day after the anniversary of his or her purchase.

My conclusions?

If you bought an iPhone 3G early on and an AT&T rep tells you that you don’t qualify for a discount, ask again, or ask elsewhere. But don’t shell out $600 or $700.

If you’ve got an iPhone 3G, find out what sort of discount you’ll qualify for once you’ve completed your first year of ownership–by waiting, you might save $200.

AT&T desperately needs a consistent, plain-English guide to determining what you’ll pay for an iPhone 3G S–“Upgrade eligibility varies with each customer” doesn’t cut it.

Me, I want to get the 3G S as quickly as possible–hey, I want to share my impressions with you–and so my goal is to pick one up at 7 am at my local AT&T Store on June 19th. Which means that my next step is to go back to the store and attempt to convince it to honor the pricing quoted to me the AT&T rep I spoke to on the phone.

Wish me luck, everybody…and if you’re preordering a 3G S, lemme know what AT&T tells you about its cost.

 
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19 Comments For This Post

  1. Michael Fauscette Says:

    Hi Harry,
    I checked yesterday. I guess I’m lucky and am past my anniversary on my 3G, I was quoted the $199/$299 price.

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    Interesting! You aren’t past your anniversary on your 3G, since the phone didn’t go on sale until July 11th. I’m more confused than ever…

    –Harry

  3. Marc Says:

    I wonder if the inability to get a cohesive answer is a product of the lack of fully integration of the old Cingular billing systems completely into AT&T’s. Very possible that the store still uses a different system than the 611 operators…

  4. Shawn Roberts Says:

    I paid 399.00 for 3G S. My one year date is July 16, 2009.

    Wont you get a review unit from Apple or ATT?

  5. Mike Says:

    I don’t understand why any iphone 3G users are even considering buying the 3Gs, even at a discounted price. You are basically paying to add two features to your current phone (three possibly). The first feature you are getting is a bad video camera. I cannot imagine that the quality of a 3 megapixel video camera is going to be worth anything. Second, you are paying for voice command. This is kind of a cool feature but not work buying a whole new phone for. Third, you might be getting a bigger hard drive. Everything else about the new phone is the same as the old phone, it even looks the same. Now you might say “but the internet capabilities are going to be faster too.” While the new iphone is going to be faster, it will not actually be faster with ATT until 2011. By then there will be at least 2 more iphones out. So, for now I am sticking with my trusty white 3G.

  6. Dave Zatz Says:

    I visited a real, not affiliate, AT&T store who didn’t know why my reset day is in May. Rep said call in. Phone support thought my *May* reset date was due to a refurb I bought in a *September* which is odd since it’s not 12, 18, or 24 months. She also said she wasn’t sure about that and that I should visit a store for clarification. Which is of course where I started.

    Bottom line seems to be I pay the $400 to upgrade my gen 1 iPhone or I pay the separation fee and see if some other carrier has a better system (doubtful). If Palm Pre had Yahoo Synergy, I’d probably leave now. Especially since I have no GSM coverage at work.

    I agree with Mike that the exact same exterior/form as the 3G is a let down. Was hoping for something newer, rounder, slimmer. Like a Pre. But no physical keyboard. Maybe I need a G2/Ion/Magic.

  7. Shawn Roberts Says:

    @mike – To me, the huge plus of the 3G S is the increased speed of the device, due to an enhanced processor and ram. For anyone that has waited for the SMS app to open, that alone is worthy of an upgrade.

    Also, I disagree with your take on camera upgrade, between the additional megapixel and the autofocus/white balance, pictures should be substantially better and video provides all kinds of new options – I have always found that the best video camera is the one I have with me.

    I agree with you on the Internet speeds, no immediate benefit from the 7.2 Mpbs potential.

    Finally, I don’t want the device any slimmer, it is just right for me.

    http://www.twitter.com/shawjroberts

  8. K Says:

    dude just be patient and wait another year it will be even better then trust me

  9. Backlin Says:

    So if I’m reading this correctly, those that honor their contract for a year are eligible for the heavily subsidized price? This does not make any sense, since the average turn-around time for cellphones is in the 18-24 month time-span. That little voice inside of me is saying that people get the advertised price when they go to renew their contract. Maybe AT&T is offering an incentive to get these things out the door? Great! Now I’m confused!

    Anyway, I’m starting to like that frowny-face AT&T logo.

  10. Bill Snyder Says:

    Well, my story is remarkably similar to Harry’s. I’m one of those existing AT&T customers (OK, call me stupid. I become eligible for an upgrade on July 3. I spoke to someone at AT&T who was eventually fairly helpful. The bottom line: If I buy a 16 GB iPhone 3G S today (actually June 19th is when they go on sale; AT&t won’t take orders until then, I was told.) it will cost me $399. On July 3 it will cost $199. I think the upgrade eligibility price is firm, because I’ve heard it from more than one AT&T rep. I suppose I could have been misinformed, but that’s what it looks like right now. Remember the new AT&T customer does get the $199 price without waiting, but must agree to a two-year contract. My take on the tethering/MMS nonsense will be live at the above address Thursday morning.

  11. bret Says:

    I don’t understand this entire debate. When you buy a cell phone — any cell phone — at a subsidized price, you need to complete a minimum period for the company to recoup that initial subsidy. That period probably averages 1-2 years, depending on how much you spend per month. To insist on an upgrade early would be asking the carrier to lose money. Why would you want to do that? If the carrier loses money, you’ll lose even more when the carrier goes out of business. We all want a good deal, but let’s face the hard reality: How many of us want a customer to insist that we take a pay cut so that they can get a discount? Finally, I also don’t understand why people don’t want to honor their contractual obligations.

    Having said that, I do agree that the waiting period is confusing to consumers because it is not based simply on time or the amount of your monthly bills. E.g. whether or not you are married and have a family plan could factor into it, because they will try to give you discounts to bring the rest of your family onto their service (and so you could get an early subsidy because they are looking for future income). Their formula is a trade secret and could be used by other carriers to win back customers.

  12. ATT rep Says:

    Harry McCracken. This is the correct information, are you ready?

    You CANNOT purchase an iphone 3GS unless you are activating a new line or fully eligible as an upgrade. Meaning, their is no higher price you can pay or early upgrade or no commmitment price like there was with the 3G.

    That being said, when you go to check your eligiblity, it’s telling you that you can upgrade early for the iphone 3G, not the 3Gs, meaning you could pay 400+ for the Iphone 3G….

    As of now, Apple does not want us to tell the new iphone unless it’s new activation or completely fully eligible….Oh and just so you know, there is absolutely NOBODY at this company that can change your eligiblity date for the new iphone, nobody, so don’t bother calling 611 and escalating cause you won’t get anywhere….

    I work at ATT and this is the correct information. I’m not bull shitting. Thought I could help, have a good one and good luck.

  13. Danny Says:

    I recieved a email from at&t and they said i can buy a iphone 3gS for 399 16 gb or 499 32 gb so dont say that you cant buy 1 at all without new service or full upgrade eligibility you may pay more but you can buy one

  14. TWIT fan Says:

    I would wager (but difficult to prove) that users who have paid a higher amount monthly for the services they have will be allowed to get a subsidy sooner than other users.

    The “first” iPhone wasn’t subsidized, the 3G was. Likely not everyone who bought a subsidezed 3G will get a subsidized 3G S until AT&T/Apple make back more of their money.

    Long as I’m here: Love ya Harry!

  15. TWIT fan Says:

    Wow my spelling is bad.

  16. k2f Says:

    Okay, well I got my V1 Iphone on “i” day 2007, and in July 2008 got the 3G. Yet I am told I cannot updgrade at standard price until December 2009. So why are some folks able to upgrade after 12 months, but I’m not? That’s inconsistency at work! It would help if they put out a plain English clarification. Well, since AT&T’s network is not ready for the 7.2 Mpbs, then the fact that the 3GS has the capability is of no value to current users anyway!

  17. juegos Says:

    Wow that is a lot of money for a cellphone specially with this economy, I stick with my blackberry :)

  18. Largo Says:

    bret Says:
    June 11th, 2009 at 3:35 am

    I don’t understand this entire debate. When you buy a cell phone — any cell phone — at a subsidized price, you need to complete a minimum period for the company to recoup that initial subsidy. That period probably averages 1-2 years, depending on how much you spend per month. To insist on an upgrade early would be asking the carrier to lose money. Why would you want to do that? If the carrier loses money, you’ll lose even more when the carrier goes out of business. We all want a good deal, but let’s face the hard reality: How many of us want a customer to insist that we take a pay cut so that they can get a discount? Finally, I also don’t understand why people don’t want to honor their contractual obligations.

    *********************

    Hey Bret,

    It would seem like you work for AT&T with that logic. I would agree with your logic if I believed the iphone was actually at a subsidized price, however there is significant evidence indicating that it is not subsidized. In fact, Apple stands to make a healthy 50% profit on both versions of the iPhone sold, with the costs of the 4- and 8-gig models only running $245.83 and $280.83, respectively. Although, this is old data, I would say it is safe to assume the price of these technologies have reduced substantially in cost.

    Check the full cost breakdown of both iPhone models here:

    http://gizmodo.com/229664/iphone-only-costs-250-to-make-rest-of-price-is-fanboy-tax

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