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Friday June 4, 2010 12:08 pm

How Apple and ATT can fix the iPad 3G pricing bait-and-switch

At&T iPad 3g price change

After having a couple of days to let the absolutely ridiculous bait-and-switch that AT&T just pulled on Apple’s 3G customers sink in, I’ve come to the conclusion that one, or both, of these companies needs to do something for the customers that just got screwed.

In a nutshell, when Apple announced the iPad, there was the Wi-Fi-only version, and there was the 3G version. The big draw with the 3G model was that it had a very reasonable unlimited data plan for $29.99 for 30 days of access. You could start and stop at any time, no contract required. Let’s not fool ourselves here—this plan was a major selling point for the 3G iPad. However, in just three days—just a little over a month after the iPad 3G went on sale—that unlimited plan goes away and is instead replaced with a $25 plan that allows you just 2GB of data. A true bait-and-switch if we’ve ever seen one.

The iPad was announced on January 27th, 2010. The Wi-Fi iPad went on sale on April 3 in the US. If you wanted the 3G model, you have to wait until April 30th. This entire time, neither AT&T or Apple ever spoke up about a possible change in that unlimited data plan. Here is the thing though—corporations don;t make major, sweeping changes to their pricing structure overnight. I would bet anything that when the iPad 3G went on sale on April 30th, AT&T was well aware that they’d be turning that unlimited start-and-stop plan off just 38 days later. In other words, both Apple and AT&T were content selling iPads under false pretenses to buyers for a full month.

Sure, some will argue that AT&T isn’t truly doing away with the unlimited plan, because they’ve announced that as long as you sign up for the unlimited plan before June 7th, and keep it, you will be grandfathered in. There are two problems with that line of thinking:

  1. The whole allure of the unlimited iPad plan was that you could start and stop it as needed. Now AT&T is saying that you need to start it before June 7, and keep it going. If you ever decide to stop the access, and then want to start it again, you won’t have that unlimited option anymore.
  2. The iPad has been in short supply for a while now. What about the people who placed orders for an iPad 3G before AT&T made the announcement of the change, and who won’t receive those iPads until after June 7th? They never even got the opportunity.

Now, this isn’t a law blog, nor am I a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination. However, this feels like false advertising. Announcing a specific price for a service to go along with a premium product, when that service is one of the main reasons that the product sells so well, and then changing the terms just one month later without letting original buyers keep the deal they were promised? Yeah, we were lied to. In fact, as I write this article, the Apple iPad page still says that you get unlimited data for $29.99 a month, and says nothing about the change that takes place just a few days from now. I’m sure that there are plenty of people buying iPads that have no idea about the change, and Apple hasn’t even stepped up to address it on their iPad product page.

So what’s the solution? I can only think of two:

  1. AT&T can man up and allow people who purchased their iPads before June 7th to be grandfathered in on the old deal. That means allowing you to somehow register your iPad serial number and date of purchase in their system, or even having you email in a receipt or bring one to an AT&T store so they can manually flag your account, and let you maintain access to a 30-day unlimited data plan that you can start and stop at will.
  2. Apple can man up and let anyone who purchased an iPad 3G to return it—at no cost—due to the change in the deal. There should be no restocking fee, and that 14-day return window needs to be wide open. If you ordered your iPad, then they should refund all shipping costs as well.

For us, those are the only two options that make sense, with the first one being preferred, since those are the terms that people bought the 3G iPad under in the first place. However, if you have any ideas, do let us know in the comments.

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