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Apple Servers Fail To Handle iPhone Frenzy

Apple servers were overwhelmed Friday by requests to activate the new iPhone 3G or update older models with the latest 2.0 firmware.
Apple's servers on Friday reached their breaking point as people in the United States and 21 other countries rushed to stores to buy and activate their new iPhones or tried to update older models with the latest firmware.

People waiting in line at stores reported very slow progress in getting their hands on Apple's media player-smartphone hybrid. Others trying to update older models with the latest 2.0 firmware, the same operating system powering the new gadgets, fared even worse, since incomplete downloads of the software left their iPhones unusable.

Apple was not immediately available for comment Friday, but it appeared that the company's servers were overwhelmed. People trying to upgrade their iPhones through Apple's iTunes online store reported receiving a message that read: "We could not complete your iTunes Store request. The iTunes Store is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later."

InformationWeek blogger Eric Zeman reported making little progress in buying a 3G iPhone after waiting in line in the New York area for more than 3 1/2 hours. "The line I am in hasn't moved in over an hour, and we were told that the activation servers are down," Zeman said in blogging from the scene. "Apple and AT&T, you should have seen this coming."

People trying to upgrade older iPhones also reported being told that Apple servers were unable to handle the load. "I just got off the phone (it's now 9:19 a.m.) with an Apple tech support rep because my last update to 2.0 would not complete," a post on the Apple support forum said. "The tech said that Apple's server has shut down because of the huge surge of people who are updating their phones. They are now working on it, he said."

The current snafu left some people scratching their heads, given that Apple and AT&T, the exclusive wireless carrier of the iPhone in the United States, have had months to prepare for what will likely be Apple's biggest product launch this year.

"What a bunch of nuggets !!!!!" one person from the United Kingdom said on the support forum. "Global rollouts just do not work !!!!"

"All that brainpower at Apple and not a bit of common sense," another person said.

Some customers were less diplomatic in expressing their frustration. "Unbelievable incompetence! My phone is a brick because they were too dumb to allocate bandwidth???"

Nathan C., who apparently is an Apple support person on the forum, played down the problems. "The server is not shutdown," he said. "It is a bit busy, and it should eventually complete the process. Hope this helps."

The comment apparently didn't help, and was met with skepticism. "I don't think it's going to complete the process just from waiting, when you get a connection error and it stops looking for a connection," a post immediately following Nathan C.'s said.

Apple's new iPhone adds a number of enhancements to the product line. Among the most important is the ability to connect to carriers' faster 3G, or third generation, data networks. In addition, the gadget has a new operating system that can run third-party applications.

Apple on Thursday opened its App Store, making more than 500 applications available for the iPhone. Software includes games, educational programs, mobile commerce, and business productivity tools. About a quarter of the software is free, and a third are games.

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing