iPhone 3G sales hampered by Windows Mobile

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
Sources within Apple's retail stores report that sales of the iPhone 3G are being slowed down by handhelds running Microsoft Windows Mobile/WinCE. That's because the stores have been selling new iPhones to customers using the old EasyPay, a problematic Pocket PC handheld computer that's causing employees lots of grief.



Apple began using the EasyPay devices in its retail stores in 2005. Ever since, management has been pushing to expand the use of the handheld systems, in part to deliver more personal service in stores commonly designed without a prominent check out area, as well as to provide flexibility in handling transactions for customers without requiring them to stand in checkout lines.



An initial report by Peter Burrows in BusinessWeek detailed Apple's optimism for the devices back in 2005, explaining, "Steve Jobs believes that many people who are comfortable buying on-line -- and that's a rapidly growing percentage of the total -- will not only accept but will actually prefer getting their receipts electronically. Also, the wireless, paperless checkout gives Apple an opportunity to improve in-store service, as well."



In July, just prior to the iPhone 3G launch, Apple again reaffirmed confidence in its strategy to handle the heavy demand expected for the new phone by using the handheld EasyPay devices almost exclusively to complete purchases and in-store activations. The irony is that problems with the EasyPay devices' clumsy software actually aggravated problems and resulted in slower moving lines.



The rollout of the iPhone 3G required US Apple Store employees to act as AT&T representatives in collecting data from customers and setting up their mobile activations right in the store. The EasyPay devices commonly turned a five minute process into at least a fifteen minute ordeal, according to sources familiar with the devices, severely reducing the number of customers each employee could help. That in turn resulted in extremely long lines that kept some iPhone 3G customers waiting for hours to get the new phone.



'Huge old ugly pieces of junk'



It's also ironic that Apple is relying upon handheld computers with a large Windows logo on the back to sell its iPhone, a handheld computer with an Apple logo on the back. Why isn't Apple using its own technology? For starters, the iPhone project was only just beginning to come together in late 2005, after the company's retail stores had already begun a successful pilot program using the Windows Mobile devices to ring up purchases. Apple's roughly 200 retail stores likely stock fewer than 6,000 of the devices even counting replacement units, making it a costly venture to custom design a hardware solution that would replace such a small batch of commodity handheld terminals.







The Apple Stores' EasyPay units are Symbol PPT8800 Pocket PCs manufactured by Motorola and cost around $800 to $1000, although Apple probably pays significantly less than retail price for the devices. The unit itself connects to an external credit card reader, both of which have issues. "They are huge old ugly pieces of junk," one user confessed. "I hate these things. In the middle of a transaction, I'll hit 'next' and end up dumped back at the login screen. It's so frustrating."



For security reasons, the devices are configured to log out after two minutes of sitting idle. However, when they just log out spontaneously it then takes "a good two minute process to login," one user lamented. Regular hardware failures and software reinstalls remove about three units from service per month, necessitating the need to keep a lot of extra units in stock. One insider said her retail store maintains roughly twice as many EasyPay systems as are needed in regular use.



'What is it doing?'



Preparing an Apple Store in the morning requires a lengthy starting up session for the dozen or so EasyPay systems a typical retail store puts into use daily. Just turning them all on takes around fifteen minutes, even if several are done together in batches. "You have to boot it up in the morning, an eight minute process for each EasyPay that requires clicking a series of 'OK' buttons as it boots up Windows Mobile and then the EasyPay application. If you don't click the buttons right, you end up at the WinCE desktop, with no way to manually start the EasyPay app," one former Apple retail store employee reported. "You have to start all over."



The units have an integrated barcode reader for identifying products without typing in their SKU, but "the barcode scanner takes five seconds to register," complained one frustrated Apple Store employee in the busy retail flagship in downtown San Francisco. Once the purchased items are all entered, clicking on "tender" to add tax "takes forever," another user familiar with the devices noted. "What is it doing? It's just calculating the tax."



In comparison, "Apple's own POS [point of sale] application on Mac OS X flies," according to a retail employee who has used both. Apple's retail stores typically have a small number of stationary MacBook Pros to complete sales for users, but managers encourage employees to seek out customers who are waiting to make a purchase and help them with the handheld EasyPay systems.



"I don't know why they don't create an iPhone application for handling transactions," one Apple store employee said. "The camera could act as a barcode reader, and Apple should be able to figure out how to build a USB interface for the credit card reader. It looks bad to be using these old clumsy things. Plus they're PCs, and we advertise the whole Mac PC switcher thing."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 74
    It is truly sad and disgusting to see these in the Apple stores. Or anywhere for that matter. There so ulgy
  • Reply 2 of 74
    dr. xdr. x Posts: 167member
    Very good article. I wish Apple could develop its own application and hardware to take place of the EasyPay systems. I know Apple can do it or maybe they are already developing something.
  • Reply 3 of 74
    columbuscolumbus Posts: 281member
    I'm sure Apple will eventually replace them, but right now with so much work to do on iPhone that will benefit so many customers, I guess writing a custom bit of software for the retail stores isn't high on the list of priorities.
  • Reply 4 of 74
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 30,099member
    So a few Apple Store employees being unhappy about using a Windows product, yes? It's Apple's fault for not being more proactive and engineering a rock-solid solution based on OSX that would be a real first for retail. Instead, they play it safe by sticking with an "off the shelf" POS. Where's Steve's anger and bile now?
  • Reply 5 of 74
    aries 1baries 1b Posts: 1,009member




    Or maybe this will light a fire to get the New Newton released?



    V/R,

    Aries 1B
  • Reply 6 of 74
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    So a few Apple Store employees being unhappy about using a Windows product, yes? It's Apple's fault for not being more proactive and engineering a rock-solid solution based on OSX that would be a real first for retail. Instead, they play it safe by sticking with an "off the shelf" POS. Where's Steve's anger and bile now?



    I concur. Apple should make their own software or adapt USB CC reader (as stated) for the iPod Touch. but I don't see this being a priority with only a few thousand needed. It sounds like it would be financially prohibitive.



    Since Apple doesn't make a single PoS system I don't see much irony here or that it's a big deal. The system issues seem to be more a problem with Symbol's software, not with MS. Doesn't Apple use a non-Apple solution for their iTunes servers?



    My experience with Apple employees using these Symbol devices over the last few years has been great. No issues at all.
  • Reply 7 of 74
    The fact that they can't run the program after windows boots, shows that they are not running off windows. POS programs are unique, and don't typically run off another OS's GUI. ie IBM 4690 et al.
  • Reply 8 of 74
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by smokeytheperson View Post


    The fact that they can't run the program after windows boots, shows that they are not running off windows. POS programs are unique, and don't typically run off another OS's GUI. ie IBM 4690 et al.



    But doesn't Symbol make that device? The screen I saw sure looked like it was running under a mobile Windows OS. It is sold as a Windows device, I don't understand why someone would develop an alternate OS for it rather than develop on the device's intended OS.
  • Reply 9 of 74
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    I concur. Apple should make their own software or adapt USB CC reader (as stated) for the iPod Touch. but I don't see this being a priority with only a few thousand needed. It sounds like it would be financially prohibitive.



    Since Apple doesn't make a single PoS system I don't see much irony here or that it's a big deal. The system issues seem to be more a problem with Symbol's software, not with MS. Doesn't Apple use a non-Apple solution for their iTunes servers?



    I don't know. Rumors are that the back end of each retail store is on a Windows server. I don't know if that's true, but if there aren't OS X programs to handle a niche need for that, then they need to use what's available or pay a lot to develop one for just a couple hundred stores, their developers are better used to work on paying products.



    But if they partner with a company, to make a docking card reader, I don't see why it wouldn't be worth doing. That way, the reader and program can be marketed to other companies.





    I personally hadn't seen any problems with the devices when I paid (or got a refund) through those devices.
  • Reply 10 of 74
    nvidia2008nvidia2008 Posts: 9,262member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    My experience with Apple employees using these Symbol devices over the last few years has been great. No issues at all.



    Buying an iPhone 3G accessory in the UK Regent Street store, was pretty smooth and good for me. I could buy it on the spot, the guy was pleasant and efficient, and I don't have to carry around more stupid pieces of paper from who knows what poor trees.



    That said, I hope Apple continues to improve its wireless POS systems.



    What perhaps many people don't realise is that the problem with iPhone 3G sales is not likely to be the wireless POS system. It is probably all the idiotic carrier activation, credit checks and contracts.



    I've said it before, the problem is not that Apple has to use non-Apple stuff. It is that they have to rapidly roll out all sorts of procedures that are hampered by the poor quality, poor maintenance, and poor response of all the complicated mobile network systems just to get a signal.



    I can name numerous examples, as many others can.



    Carphone Warehouse in the UK - poor service, poor Apple knowledge, very limited stock. I have personally entered several transactions through their POS system, which is integrated with carrier activation and credit checks. Let's just say their POS really is a Piece Of Sh*t. More seriously, it is some sort of terminal that logs into some sort of remote mainframe-esque server. We're talking very old school here.



    O2 in the UK - Apple Retail Stores in the UK had to install VMWare, just to use IE to access the O2 website. Again, personal observation shows that there were two separate systems, for example "O2 URU" or something like that and then O2 credit check, activations, etc.



    Celcom in Malaysia - Hard to find stores, lack of stock such as prepaid SIMs, staff suggesting certain mobile broadband solutions with Mac drivers that were made pre-Leopard launch (and didn't work when I tried it with my MacBook).



    I wonder how different AT&T could be compared to all the above.



    That said I hope Maxis in Malaysia will carry the iPhone 3G. It is overall a better quality service providers, on an international scale.
  • Reply 11 of 74
    wobegonwobegon Posts: 764member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    "I don't know why they don't create an iPhone application for handling transactions," one Apple store employee said. "The camera could act as a barcode reader, and Apple should be able to figure out how to build a USB interface for the credit card reader.



    That employee brings up an interesting point. While it would be much less expensive to go with an iPod touch, it lacks a built-in camera, thus it wouldn't be able to scan barcodes (without some custom, external barcode scanner that interfaced with the iPod).



    So, perhaps Apple's desire to rid its stores of these WinMobile-based devices will coincide with customers' likely desires for a camera on their iPod touch. If they did such a thing, I wonder if they'd use a better 3MP-5MP camera, instead of using the iPhone's fairly average 2MP camera. That might enrage the iPhone 2G and 3G users though. \
  • Reply 12 of 74
    nvidia2008nvidia2008 Posts: 9,262member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post


    I don't know. Rumors are that the back end of each retail store is on a Windows server. I don't know if that's true, but if there aren't OS X programs to handle a niche need for that, then they need to use what's available or pay a lot to develop one for just a couple hundred stores, their developers are better used to work on paying products....



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    So a few Apple Store employees being unhappy about using a Windows product, yes? It's Apple's fault for not being more proactive and engineering a rock-solid solution based on OSX that would be a real first for retail. Instead, they play it safe by sticking with an "off the shelf" POS. Where's Steve's anger and bile now?



    Like I said, the problem really isn't that they are using non-OS X, non-Apple devices. It's all the integration with archaic and ill-conceived mobile network systems.



    Apple focuses on the overall Retail experience, which Apple still does better than many, many others.



    While they should certainly explore and expand their own OS-X, Apple-driven retail systems, the main focus should now be all this mobile network integration. Wi-Fi is a piece of cake now. It's 2G, 3G, 4G, etc. going forward, then Apple knows is a key challenge. Beyond the iPhone 3G, through 2009-2010, portables and tablets and many other new, exciting devices and services will require stable, reliable, easy-to-activate ubiquitous carrier networks.



    How hard is it to buy a Mac, go to your local cafe with free Wi-Fi, and get online? Not very. 10 minutes from Apple Store to Intarweb gratification.



    A Windows Vista PC? perhaps 30 to 45 minutes.



    Now the iPhone 3G? An *order of magnitude* more difficult compared to a Mac and Wi-Fi. Global average time for this process may be within 100 minutes. If you're lucky.



    The iPhone 3G is definitely not "Apple's Vista", but the mobile activation process certainly feels like you're trying to set up networking on a Vista PC.



    And I haven't even mentioned this carrier-locking nonsense.



    When you buy a Mac or PC, does it mean you can only log on to Wi-Fi or DSL broadband that is provided only by AT&T, O2 or Vodafone? Does your Mac say, "Sorry, but you can't use free Internet here because this Mac is locked to AT&T..."? When you go overseas on a holiday, and your hotel or hostel provides free Wi-Fi, does your Mac say, "Sorry, but each MB is charged at $5 since you are not in the country where you bought your Mac..."?



    Of course not. Why should an iPhone be so different? In this case it is even *more* crucial to be able to access the best and most appropriate network provider. I don't think I am being facetious here. Consider that whether it's Ethernet, Wi-Fi, 2G, 3G, 10G, whatever, an average user doesn't give a rat's ass about what is used.



    As long as it is affordable, inexpensive, easy to use, reliable, fast, and easy to get started with. That is the future of "mobile Internet devices". Where would the Mac be today if DSL or cable broadband was 1/100th the quality of what it has been these past 5 years?
  • Reply 13 of 74
    nvidia2008nvidia2008 Posts: 9,262member
    Considering as well the MobileMe fiasco, Apple knows it is not enough to control the Hardware and Software. It needs to control the Network. As much as it can control the Hardware and Software.



    Sun Microsystems got it almost right many years ago. The Network may not be The Computer, but it's certainly a huge chunk of the computing experience now.



    Man, I am on a roll today...!
  • Reply 14 of 74
    asciiascii Posts: 5,928member
    When the Apple execs were making these plans about how it all would work, I wonder if any of them actually held one of these units in their hand at any stage.
  • Reply 15 of 74
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by nvidia2008 View Post


    Of course not. Why should an iPhone be so different? In this case it is even *more* crucial to be able to access the best and most appropriate network provider. I don't think I am being facetious here. Consider that whether it's Ethernet, Wi-Fi, 2G, 3G, 10G, whatever, an average user doesn't give a rat's ass about what is used.



    Apple alone offers the OS X experience from the ground up. They have complete control over each level of the presentation. This is not the case with the iPhone. AT&T?along with other providers?are a part of that presentation. You can bet Apple was able to make some considerable plusses available as a result of their partnership with AT&T. If you doubt that for a moment, you definitely need to read up more on the mobile phone industry.



    If not for this partnership it is unlikely that Apple would have found many people to accept the phone initially without nerfing some of its features (lookin' at you, Verizon). Prices wouldn't be consistent and reliable, just as they are with other phones. You definitely wouldn't be able to go to the store and buy your iPhone, today, for $199.



    As much as you would like to imagine the situation is as simple as Apple doing with the iPhone what they do with OS X, it isn't. They've got to play nice with some other 800 lb. gorillas or a huge mess is going to be created. I think they did the right thing, though. iPhone is a huge hit around the world and that is going to give them much-needed leverage in future negotiations.
  • Reply 16 of 74
    But is this really news?
  • Reply 17 of 74
    boogabooga Posts: 1,075member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    I concur. Apple should make their own software or adapt USB CC reader (as stated) for the iPod Touch. but I don't see this being a priority with only a few thousand needed. It sounds like it would be financially prohibitive.



    Since Apple doesn't make a single PoS system I don't see much irony here or that it's a big deal. The system issues seem to be more a problem with Symbol's software, not with MS. Doesn't Apple use a non-Apple solution for their iTunes servers?



    My experience with Apple employees using these Symbol devices over the last few years has been great. No issues at all.



    I also had no trouble buying my iPhone 3G, but those machines are God-awful slow. We were both sitting there waiting for the thing to process for most of the 5-10 minutes it took to buy the phone. And signing my name on the screen was funny... with the signature lagging behind the stylus by about 5 seconds. In short, yes, the Apple Store employees have learned to cope, but those things sure need to be upgraded.



    It would probably be cheaper, though, to just buy faster Windows Mobile hardware...
  • Reply 18 of 74
    I hope Steve is reading this. Every Apple Store employee should be making these transactions on an iPod touch running Apple's POS software.
  • Reply 19 of 74
    mactelmactel Posts: 1,275member
    It's Motorola and Microsoft sabotaging Apple!
  • Reply 20 of 74
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by MacTel View Post


    It's Motorola and Microsoft sabotaging Apple!



    The Empire Strikes Back!
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