For the third time in two years, I'm an idiot. Here I am, once again hanging around the main Apple store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan waiting for the new iPhone, the 3GS. For the last few hours I've been wrestling with a hypothetical: Would I be doing this if I wasn't getting paid for it? And if the answer is yes (and I'm afraid it is), why? Is is simply my inner supergeek? Is my id so weak that I need the ego-fluffing first-on-my-block bragging rights? Would I do it simply because as a New Yorker I'm attracted to the city-that-never-sleeps spectacle that usually accompanies these iPhone intros? Is the iPhone itself that spectacular to get me out here wandering around in the middle of the frickin' night?
I'll be blogging here in the wee small ones on all the doings outside the Apple Cube, iPhone Central in midtown Manhattan asking these and other existential questions while in the iPhone queue. Click below for the blow-by-blow.
7:15 a.m. I'm in and done, a brand new iPhone 3GS fully activated — in just 15 minutes! And, I paid only $299 instead of $499. I'm a happy iPhone owner.
There were about 1,000 or so customers lined between the barricades as the clock chimed seven and the doors flew open. I was part of the second wave waved in, past the much smaller gallery of TV and still cameras than last year, winding down the spiral staircase past the now-familiar phalanx of applauding Apple evangelists, yahooing our willingness to shell out another $300 for an incrementally improved phone. Even some of the customers are whooping it up in synchronicity. I sound cynical because all the cheering by the rainbow T-shirted Apple army is borderline creepy.
Every instinct inside of me yells to pooh-pooh the overblown pomp and circumstance. And yet, I'm conflicted. Yes, I am happy I got my new toy. And the speedy 15-minute acquisition completion was great. But I feel let down, as if the anticipation far exceeded the actual event, a "That was it?" kind of disappointment. Religious types might say that is the flaw of soulless materialism, a doomed search for fulfillment through objects rather than through the spirit — and they may be right. Or maybe I'm just tired.
But that Fordham University maintenance man just came clutching his new iPhone, his face splintered by a too-broad Cheshire Cat grin. Maybe I should just accept that happiness is a warm iPhone.
6:30 a.m. Here are the clowns. The orange T-shirt dispensers are back and I do my best Brett Farve imitation to dispense the goodies to those at the front of the line. A guy in an iPhone suit representing a recycling company poses for the cameras. A mob in lime green T-shirts from a marketing company distribute cans of Izze Sparkling Apple naturally flavored juice beverage. Get it? Apple beverage? Clever lads.
Last year, the line wound down East 58th Street, up Madison Avenue, and back around East 59th Street, which forced Apple to start erecting barricades to collapse the line. Now? About 250 to 300 stalwarts now are snaked up and down the barricades. Still not a soul lined up on East 58th Street other than Apple employees and even more news vehicles. The media will soon out-number the customers.
I've spoken to a couple more folks, and they have no more insight into the why, other than the usual "I want the video," "I like to experience the hype" and "I want to be first."
Half hour to go.
5:40 a.m. Right in front of me in line is an iPhone virgin. Kerian Walker, a maintenance man at Fordham University, is a Samsung Instinct user on Sprint. Why is he switching? Apparently, the Instinct is "crappy" (don't shoot the messenger, Sprint and Samsung). He's barely touched the iPhone, but he likes the bigger screen, built-in iPod and that it doesn't run on Sprint (disclosure: I am a Sprint data card customer — I'm using it right now to upload these tasty blog bites). He's nearly completely unaware of the 3GS improvements, so I pontificate with a show-and-touch. He seems pleased with his decision.
The number of news trucks has doubled, but only 30 or so more people have joined the line in the last 45 minutes. I see at least four other bloggers balancing their laptops as I am. There are none of the marketing types that plied their wares along the line as in past years. The whole humid atmosphere seems a bit more muted than in past years.
The sun is actually beginning to push aside the overcast. Morning has broken like the first morning….
One hour to go.
5:00 a.m. In New York, it rained on two-thirds of the Gillette triumvirate (Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter), but Al Roker couldn't ruin Steve Jobs' parade. There are actually blue patches poking through the clouds, which were supposed to produce copious precipitation during the overnight.
I have re-arrived after my way-past-midnight snack at Mickey D's, which I hadn't been to in years (and I haven't missed a bit), then wandered over to a 24-hour CVS to purchase a folding beach chair (j'ever try blogging standing up?), which it turns out I didn't need. As soon as I got on line, Apple people started pruning the line for those who had a reservation. They snaked about 200 of us around and through 20 or so metal barricades. I'm leaning my MacBook on an intersection of perpendicular barricades rather than squating conspicuously on my bright orange velvet chair.
There are far fewer folks here than last year. I'm up on the plaza in front of FAO Schwaz's front door, around 300 feet due south of the Apple cube, rather down East 58th Street where I was last year. 90 minutes to go to show time.
3:10 a.m. The first hawkers arrived while I was chatting up with my fellow Apple acolytes, bearing orange T-shirts extolling those to take a picture of themselves wearing the free apparel for a chance to win $2,000 worth of iPhone accessories. I want to check with my editor before providing the promotional benefit of mentioning the Web site, but for those online, a free T-shirt is reward enough. I never cease to be amazed at our/my willingness to be wooed by a free garment, especially if shot out of some kind of compressed air canon. These were not, so I'm not nearly as excited about them.
But let's get back to my first existential question: why are we here, and why so early? Dariel Lopez, a gregarious barber from Brooklyn, cheerfully admitted he was waiting for the TV cameras to arrive and figured a premier spot near the front of the line would get him some air time. I never cease to be amazed by what we'll do to get on TV for even a couple of seconds. Someone else told me that last year, after waiting for seven hours at the Soho Apple store, he was told they were sold out and they sent him here. This year, he decided, he'd just come here and skip the whole Soho scene. Everyone else was simply anxious to get their hands on the thing. When I asked why, they started shouting about the features they were looking forward to. The video capability seemed to be the most eagerly awaited enhancement, but the faster processor, improved still camera and faster network data speeds all got shout-outs. Sprint and Palm don't want to know the derision and mocking the Pre received.
I'm now going to repair to the local fast food joint to refill my tank. Stay tuned.
2:47 a.m. The circus has begun. Apparently the folks at the head of the line I was too polite to wake up have been here since 7 a.m. yesterday morning. WTF! I spoke to a couple of slightly more ambulatory iPhone enthusiasts farther up the li. Each one I spoke to had a 16GB 3G model they are trading up from, just like me. But there was some dispute about whether they had to be here. Both Apple and AT&T are providing ship-to-home service, but no one was clear whether you still have to go to a store to get your iPhone activated or if it shipped activated. Not even some of the powder blue T-shirt-clad Apple employees were clear on this. Another point of uncertainty was how much 16GB 3G owners would be paying for their new 32GB 3GSs — $299 or $499. Larry Williams, a college student from Brooklyn, said he called AT&T and said he was eligible for the lower price. (I was afraid to ask how a college student can afford both the $299 and the monthly iPhone data subscription.) In all events, there was much frivolity amongst the assembled iPhone worshipers.
2:18 a.m. I have arrived after my Thursday night poker game (I won $24, if you're interested). There are about two dozen other really early adopters. The first half dozen were dozing peacefully under Apple logo'd umbrellas amidst Apple elves assembling snaking barricades for the expected crowd. To be honest I and my editors weren't expecting a crowd, a combination of this being the third time around and the seemingly incremental improvements to the iPhone and the lousy weather, which washed out the first day of the U.S. Open. Well, I'm to chat with some of these early birds to find out why they felt the need to get here so early. Be back in a bit.