Why the Apple Store is the worst place to buy your new iPhone 11
I recently accompanied two of my friends to the Apple Store in Aventura, Fla., to take advantage of the reduced pricing on the iPhone 8 and XR before the release of the iPhone 11.
While I encouraged them both to do this remotely by using the Apple Store app on their devices to complete an order and execute a mail-based trade-in, as I did for myself with the 11 Pro Max in the current upgrade cycle, they wanted to go in person. I had never been to the Aventura Mall location, so I wanted to see just what it would be like, too, on the eve of the iPhone 11 release.
The store itself is gorgeous. It occupies a cavernous space, on two levels, incorporating an amphitheater with huge glass windows into its design. As a retail space, it is probably one of Apple’s best showcase stores. If you’re ever visiting the greater Miami area, I encourage you to check it out; it’s beautiful.
We got there at 6pm after having a quick round of happy hour Mai Tais at the Grand Lux Cafe around the corner. The store was starting to fill up, as folks coming out of work were filing in to do their iPhone XR and iPhone 8 upgrades from older models.
I even got to see one woman bring in her classic iPhone 5 and had to act as interpreter in Peruvian Spanish for the retail representative that was working with her. That tiny phone next to my iPhone XS Max was ridiculous (like Bambi vs. Godzilla).
The retail rep was very accommodating and worked with my two friends, Dakotah and Bobby, during the entire process. After deciding on iPhone XRs for the two — one in Coral (orange) and the other in Product Red — it was time to do the purchase and trade-in.
Bobby wanted to do his trade-in and finance the purchase with his new Apple Card. He attempted to do it several times, using the CVV code indicated in the Wallet app. Each time, the card was rejected, using the physical card itself. The retail floor reps executing the trades have to use a particular credit card terminal case for an iPhone, which appears to be a model that is several years old, possibly a iPhone 7 or even a iPhone 6. While it supports NFC and Apple Wallet, they aren’t using a specially-designed app to transact with Apple Wallet in the store, and it doesn’t appear to be Apple Pay-optimized.
Bobby ended up having to use a different physical card, as did his husband, Dakotah, and they had to do the financing through his wireless provider, AT&T, for the transaction to work. We spent about 15 minutes on this just trying to figure out how to get through the payment. Apple needs to upgrade the terminal payment infrastructure, especially for Apple Card and Apple Pay users. And for financed customers, the workflow needs to be better understood on the retail floor so that any potential hiccups can be mitigated. Ideally, the financing should be taken care of by Apple Card itself and not through a carrier.
Once we got payment out of the way, it was time to do the data transfer. Data transfer within an Apple Store is always a burdensome process, especially during a significant upgrade period, because a large number of customers are in the store and are attempting to share a single broadband connection.
I am not sure what a standard Apple retail store broadband connection is, but when you have 200 or possibly more customers inside an Apple Store, and most of these folks are attempting to back up and then sync data across to a newly provisioned iPhone, it’s awful. Apple needs some in-store caching server appliance for doing backups and restores, instead of having to go out to the ‘net and iCloud to do it.
Now, I’ve written about these issues before, and Apple has done very little to do anything about it since. In my opinion, if you know what kind of iPhone you want to upgrade to, for Pete’s sake, do not go into an Apple retail location, especially on an upgrade weekend, because it is pure madness.
Use the Apple Store app on the device or in the browser on your PC/Mac to purchase the phone, which is all set to work with your payment method of choice, and opt to do an upgrade and swap from the other phone at home. Apple will, in turn, ship you a return box for your old phone, and you get to do this entirely at your convenience, with your broadband connection. That gives you the ability, at your leisure, to make sure all your data and apps have come across the way you want prior to returning the old device.
But my experience at this Apple Store was a double whammy. Not only was it a big weekend for iPhone purchases, but it was also iOS 13 update day — and that means that, from the very moment a new iPhone boots up, if it hasn’t been upgraded from iOS 12 to iOS 13, it will prompt you to do so. iPhone XR and iPhone 8 are both older stock, with iOS 12 preloaded, and are not refreshed to iOS 13 in the retail stores before the sale.
That’s a 2GB download for most folks, and some people may have to do that twice because the old phones they were about to trade in would also prompt the upgrade if they hadn’t done it earlier that day. And because Apple doesn’t appear to be caching that download in the store, you guessed it: Everyone has to download it over that same pipe. It is a nightmare.
To top it all off, while you are sitting at the tables doing the phone restore process to transfer your junk, the Apple Store doesn’t provide you with an ideal way of charging the new or old phones. Most of the phones come out of the box nearly dead and need a power source to do the iOS upgrade and data transfer.
Apple lets you use the puny and slow 5W USB-A to Lightning charger that comes in the box, rather than providing you with USB-C to Lightning cables and USB PD power bricks, which would juice the phones so much faster.
Fortunately, I brought my Zendure SuperTank dual-port USB-PD battery with me, and my Anker PowerLine II USB-C to Lightning cables and was able to assist. You should have seen the look on faces of the harried retail store folks when I pulled that thing out. The new iPhone 11 phones come with an 18W USB-C to Lightning bricks and cables, but if you opt for an iPhone XR or iPhone 8, you’ll want to bring your own or buy the ones they have in the accessory section at the store.
Bobby and Dakotah were still dealing with the upgrade and transfer issues at 9:30pm when I left the store. I was dehydrated and hungry, and I had to go. I saw a lot of miserable and tired folks, not to mention a lot of kids, all of whom were on the edge of meltdowns at the time I was high-tailing it.
Are you planning to go into an Apple retail store, or are opting to do the iPhone swap at home? Talk Back and Let Me Know.