Finally, after trying the Apple support experience (fail - an hour wait on the phone and no online chat), I turned to AT&T. Much to my surprise, they had a special phone prompt setup to route you to an iPhone expert, who answered in under a minute. He listened, and immediately solved the problem by instructing me to switch the SIM cards...something Apple says "In the US, iPhone 3G includes a SIM and your original iPhone's SIM is not needed." Moments after switching the SIM, with the SIM ejector tool Apple included in the 3Gs (yes, that's right: they included it, but told you not to use it), the 3Gs was alive and kicking.
This frustrating experience was not isolated. Many people encountered the same, and the Twittersphere lit up with the experiences as if they were an Iranian protest revolution. Well, Apple realizes it's better to make good than be silent, so word comes today in my email that they are ready to make amends:
Dear Apple Customer,Thank you for your recent Apple Store order. We appreciate your patience and apologize for the inconvenience caused by the delay in your iPhone activation.We are still resolving the issue that was encountered while activating your iPhone with AT&T. Unfortunately, due to system issues and continued high activation volumes, this could take us up to an additional 48 hours to complete.On Monday, you'll receive an email from Apple with an iTunes Store credit in the amount of $30. We hope you will enjoy this gift and accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience this delay has caused.Thank you for choosing Apple.Sincerely,Apple Online Store Team
Well Done, Apple. For a pittance, you can turn this experience around. Kudos for fast thinking and fast action.