How AT&T botched their 'biggest launch ever'

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: April 9, 2012

I've been on the fence about becoming an AT&T subscriber (again) since I moved back in the Winston-Salem part of the Triad in North Carolina. The Charlotte Metro area was great for me as a T-Mobile customer. Almost everywhere I went, I had a solid HSPA+ connection and speeds were great. But ever since moving back home, signal has constantly been up and down – I spend most of my time on EDGE – and speeds have been all over the place.

So Saturday evening, I gave T-Mobile a call and asked what my ETF would be, if any. After haggling with the rep for a while (read: fighting off her obvious last-stitch efforts at keeping me within the T-Mo family) and finally getting the information I was calling for, I made the trek to the local AT&T corporate store. One of my biggest fears was that I would have some outrageously high deposit. I applied for my own account at Verizon once a few years back and I laughed in their faces when they told me I would have to put money down to start an account. The same happened with AT&T, which is how I ended up with T-Mobile to begin with. But I digress.

After running my credit, the deposit was eluded. I then told the representative that I was interested in buying a Lumia 900. I knew it wasn't available at the time, so I saved him the trouble of having to explain that the device wasn't out yet and said that I would be back in the morning (Sunday) or on Monday.

Then he casually said it. "We're not open tomorrow. It's Easter Sunday."

Wait, what?

Two weeks ago, when I reported that AT&T, Microsoft and Nokia were prepping the Lumia 900 to be AT&T's "biggest launch ever," I was definitely skeptical. I wasn't knocking the Lumia 900 at all, but those are big shoes to fill, especially on Ol' Blue, where the iPhone has launched exclusively multiple times and has set (and broken) many launch day records.

In an attempt at their biggest launch ever, AT&T wants to follow multiple iPhone launches with their latest endeavor by launching Nokia's flagship device on their network on Easter Sunday? When most, if not all, of their locations are ... closed?

This may certainly be the biggest effort (or most money) AT&T has ever put forward for a device launch. But as far as launch days go, this may be the worst planning I have ever witnessed. Brian Chen of The New York Times wrote On Release Date, Crucial Nokia Phone Is Hard to Buy in New York in the Bits column. Chen says:

"The big day is here. But nearly all 39 AT&T stores within proximity of Times Square in Manhattan were either closed for Easter Sunday or did not answer phone calls. The few that were open did not have the handset in stock.

When AT&T stores within five miles of Times Square were contacted around noon, 18 of them played an automated message saying they were closed for Easter. Nineteen stores that were authorized AT&T resellers did not answer the phone, and two AT&T resellers that were open said they did not have the Lumia 900 yet.

The stores that played the automated voice message also played a short advertisement for the iPhone 4S and made no mention of the Lumia 900. 'Visit our store to see the exciting iPhone 4S and how only AT&T’s network lets your iPhone 4S download three times faster,' a female voice said."

Unless I'm missing something here, this might possibly be the worst launch ever, at least for a high profile device such as the Lumia 900. The only way for most people to purchase this phone on its launch date was to order it online and wait a couple days for it to arrive on the doorstep. There's still hope for post-launch sales, and I expect they will be noteworthy.

But yesterday's launch was, in every way, a fail. It came and went without a peep. There is no worse way to launch a device than to be closed on launch day.

Chen states that the Lumia 900 was ranked the fifth best seller in cell phones with service plans on Amazon yesterday afternoon. Things have changed since then, though. The black and cyan models of the Lumia 900 are now ranked first and second, respectively, in the same list. Thankfully for Nokia and AT&T, a botched launch day isn't the end of the world.

The Lumia 900 did go on pre-order early last week, both online and in-store. And many of those who pre-ordered got their Lumia 900 in the mail on Friday. The rep I talked to mentioned that he could have it shipped to me and it would come in just a few days. But it was already 7:30 PM on a Saturday afternoon. Even with overnight shipping, it wouldn't arrive before 3:00 PM on Monday.

I will be heading back to the store to pick up a Lumia 900 in a couple of hours. While I'm definitely excited for the phone itself, something tells me there won't be a line for it, especially not one that wraps around the block.

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