Image: iPhone
Jason E. Miczek  /  AP file
A customer at an Apple store at Southpark Mall in Charlotte, N.C., examines the new Apple iPhone during the first day of sales for the device June 29.
By contributor
updated 7/5/2007 9:47:34 AM ET 2007-07-05T13:47:34

Falling in lust with an expensive device like the iPhone sets owners up for a hard fall if it stops working. I know, because mine died after only four days into our relationship.

At first I thought it was just a hiccup when the iPhone was working fine one minute, then wouldn’t turn on the next. I tried the prescribed reset (hold down the Home and Sleep/Wake buttons at the same time for several seconds until the device restarts) with no luck. Black screen, period. But when I plugged it in the Apple logo appeared as if restarting. Then it vanished, the screen went black again, and a few seconds later the logo reappeared, as if restarting. Again. Then again. And again. Trouble in paradise.

On a whim I held the buttons for a reset again but this time kept holding, until eventually a bright yellow triangle appeared, instructing me to Connect the iPhone to iTunes. This forced “restore mode” allowed the otherwise endless-looped iPhone to appear in iTunes, which prompted me to restore the phone. Since iTunes backs up the phone’s data after every sync I said sure, gladly, please do.

The restore process began — but then the loopy restarts started again. And again, ad nauseam. At that point I felt a little nauseous, too — four days and the iPhone I spent eight hours in line to buy was a goner.

I contacted the AT&T store and was told I could return the phone for a refund (with a 10 percent restocking fee) but could not exchange it for a replacement; all iPhone support is handled by Apple. I contacted a public relations person at Apple and she said she’d have customer service call me. While waiting on that call I decided to drive to the nearby Apple Store with the far-flung hope that they’d simply swap the phone for me (crazily assuming they’d even have another 8 GB model in stock).

An extremely polite Apple customer service rep named Nate called just as I was walking into the Apple Store. He introduced me to the store manager, Sean, who was also on the line. We hung up with Nate and conducted the service business in person. Sean said they’d simply swap my phone for another, and after some help from two guys named Chris at the Genius Bar, they took back the broken one and I left with the new iPhone. Driving home, I had a number of questions. Would they completely erase my iPhone when it reached the service department, so that my private data remains mine alone? What if they hadn’t had another iPhone in stock?

I got answers from Apple’s PR department. Yes, all iPods and iPhones that are exchanged for replacements get wiped clean. As for the in-stock issue, iPhone owners can swap a “DOA” phone for a replacement if within 30 days of purchase. If the store is out of stock or if the purchase is past thirty days (or if a customer doesn’t live near an Apple Store), the repair-by-mail process kicks in.

The owner removes the SIM card (which will work in the previously used phone that the iPhone presumably replaced), mails the iPhone to Apple, and they repair it and send it back. Apple offers the option of a rental iPhone during the repair process for a $29 fee — something that is bound to rub customers the wrong way.

There was no such fee from AT&T when one of my previous phones — the Palm Treo 680 — went in for repairs. While under warranty AT&T automatically ships a loaner phone, which you wind up keeping if they deem your original dead.

They do charge a small fee if you want the replacement sent overnight, but otherwise the repair process is free. (AT&T waived the rush fee the two additional times I had to send the Treo in for replacement due to the thin plastic bezel around the screen repeatedly cracking despite my handling the device with kid gloves.)

Why did my iPhone fail so soon? Apple’s Geniuses couldn’t say on the spot. But I think it had something to do with heat — my iPhone would get incredibly hot to the touch when plugged in and charging while I was on a long phone call. So hot I lived those first three days in constant fear that it would heat to the point of burning up.

So hot that I was tempted to put some raw egg in a foil cup and set it atop the iPhone to see if it would cook — or if not actually cook, turn opaque from the iPhone’s super-heated back surface. Describing this on my blog JOEyGADGET promoted one other iPhone owner to comment:

“Yep, mine seems hot but I don’t know if it’s too hot. Hotness is relative you know.” Agreed when discussing physical attraction, but when talking about physical touch, take my word for it, my original iPhone all but burned the skin on my hand.

Apple faced a similar too-hot-too-handle problem with the underside of the initial MacBook models; the situation has since cooled down, but personally I feel my own later-model MacBook’s underside is too much relative hotness for my taste. Or touch. Whether my first iPhone was a fluke remains to be seen.

As for the iPhone I was given to replace the little hottie, the new one is much cooler to the touch when plugged in and in use, and therefore, so am I.

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