Two years ago
Back in the summer of 2010 Apple announced the iPhone 4. At the time I had been using an iPhone 3G for about a year and a half, and I had grown impatient with how slow the device had been operating. When I saw the announcement of the retina screen, the gorgeous case, and the snappiness of the operating system of the new iPhone 4, I knew I had to have one. And when Apple announced that they were moving up the upgrade date for some AT&T customers, I knew I wanted one on launch day. So that’s what I tried to do.
However, my launch day experience for the iPhone 4 was terrible. At the time, I lived two hours away from my nearest Apple Store, and, although I had hit the road around 3:45AM, by the time I got to the mall housing my Apple Store around 5:45, there was already a considerable line for the door opening at 6AM, and the store didn’t even begin selling them until 8AM. I got in line and waited for hours, hoping they wouldn’t run out of stock while they continued to let in people with in-store pickups and kept the line for people that didn’t have one (like me) at a standstill. I was getting hungry, tired, and my feet hurt.
Eventually, after more than 6 hours of waiting, I was told that they probably didn’t have enough stock for the people in my section of the line. Fed up, I gave up and went inside to actually use the display devices they had set up, as one of the great ironies of standing in line on launch day is that people that aren’t in line to buy can easily go in and play with the new devices, whereas the people that actually want the device on launch day must buy it sight unseen. Though I don’t personally accept the description of Apple fans as “religiously” devoted to the company, I will say that waiting in line for hours to spend hundreds of dollars on a device you’ve never seen or touched or used does require a level of faith that’s typically only found in religious contexts.
In any case, I ended up going in, playing with the iPhone 4, leaving, and driving the two hours back home having wasted most of the day. Two days later I called around and found that my local Radio Shack, of all places, had one available, so I got it. Of course, if I’d have known I could have spared myself the time, gas, and grief, and gotten one at Radio Shack there’s no way I would have stood in line.
Lesson Learned: Be Prepared!
When the new iPad was announced, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get one immediately. In the email discussions back and forth with the CHAOS team about the currently ongoing iPad contest, it came up that a high profile product launch is the perfect place to meet other local Apple fans and to promote Ask Different. So with only a few days to spare before the event, I decided that I would stand in line and buy a new iPad, and given my experiences trying to get an iPhone 4 on launch day, I decided to be prepared.
The day before the event I went to the Apple Store and spoke with one of the employees, asking about the procedure for the following day and where to line up. I was told to line up by a specific outside door, and that they would suggest to the mall security to open that door first at 6AM. However, I was told that they couldn’t guarantee which door would be opened first, so there was always the possibility that the people lining up at the other door would be let into the mall first. Then, similar to the iPhone 4 launch, at that time the line would move indoors at and the store would begin taking its first customers at 8AM.
I then stopped by Wal-Mart and bought a cheap folding chair so I wouldn’t have to stand or sit on the floor for hours. I also went to the bank and took out the exact amount of cash I’d need for the model I wanted. I’d had my card declined buying stuff from the Apple Store before, and I didn’t want to take any chances. Additionally, I avoided eating and drinking much of anything for 12 hours preceding the launch event, so as to avoid having to use the bathroom. Finally, before going to bed I plugged in my iPhone and my MacBooks so I’d have something to do while waiting in line. I was ready.
On March 16 I awoke at 3AM. I showered, packed my fully charged MacBooks into my backpack, hopped into my car, and arrived at the mall at 3:30. It was cold – my iPhone reported that the outside temperature was 34F – and it was lightly raining. Looking around the parking lot I spotted a few other cars, but I didn’t see anyone lined up at the door yet. Rather than get out of my car and sit out in the cold, I found a parking spot where I had a clear view of the door, put The Talk Show on, and waited for other people to arrive.
At around 4AM I saw two people walk up and sit down outside the doors. The first people in line had arrived. As I was warm and comfortable in my car, I decided to continue waiting for more people. I didn’t need to be first, or even third, so long as I wasn’t too far behind in line. I continued to wait, and the rain started falling a little harder. I started seeing a few cars arriving with employees, presumably of the Apple Store, getting out and going inside.
At 4:30, an hour after I first arrived, the third person in line showed up. He pulled up beside my car, got a folding chair and a bag out of his car, and proceeded toward the door. Since things seemed to be picking up a bit, I decided to get out of my car and get in line myself. I put on my jacket, picked up my own chair and bag, and headed toward the door.
I arrived at the door relieved to find that there was a small awning protecting a few feet in front of the doors from the rain. I set up my chair next to the man who just arrived, and struck up a conversation with him. I found out that he had taken the day off from his IT job and driven three and a half hours to get to the mall. Seeing that he was obviously very prepared, I asked and we talked about some of the launch events he had attended in the past, like the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S launches, and how they compared with my experience at the iPhone 4 launch. I told him about Ask Different, and gave him one of my moderator cards.
He and I talked off and on as more people started to slowly trickle into line. The rain stopped, and the sky started to lighten as the sun began to rise. As 6AM approached, we could see through the mall that a few people were lining up by the opposite door. We started to get concerned that all our time and effort waiting outdoors would be for nothing if we weren’t the first ones let into the mall. So at 5:58, 2 minutes early, we saw two mall security guard each approaching a set of doors. We started to worry as the security guard reached the opposite door with his key in hand while the guard that was to unlock our door was still a few strides away.The tension mounted; the guard for the opposite door had a double door to deal with, but he was still ahead of our guard that only had a single door to unlock.
I know not which door was unlocked first. All I know is that once our door opened the 20 people in our line did a full sprint to the Apple Store, where they already had line dividers set up, and we made it first. I had secured my fourth place in line.
Once everyone had settled in, the Apple Store employees started going down the line asking what kind of iPad you wanted to buy. Once you told them, they gave you a numbered card with those specs printed on, guaranteeing you an iPad that day. However, that card would not guarantee you a spot in line, so if I left I would have to start again all the way from the end of the line. Because I liked my position in line, and because I didn’t have any immediate needs, I decided to sit in my chair and wait the two hours for the store to open.
While waiting, there were several Apple Store employees that were walking around the crowd talking with the people in line. Most were just trying to engage people in conversation to pass the time until the store opened. There was one employee with an iPad showing off some features and gestures that I had seen before, but that I assume were informative to most of the people there. He did get my attention at one point, though, by claiming that periodically going into the multitasking bar and quitting apps saves battery life, something that I’d been hearing about a few months ago and that had been resoundly debunked. I had been skeptical about how widespread the problem was, but apparently it’s still going on.
As 8AM approached, the line continued to grow. What was a 20 person line when the doors opened at 6AM had grown to 50-60 people, making me glad that I didn’t pop out for breakfast. The store manager was trying to keep the energy high and keep people excited by getting people in the line to do the wave, having us shout “rocks” in response to her shouting “Apple” several times in a row, and other similar things.
Shortly before 8AM I packed up my MacBook and folded up my chair, preparing to go in.
With much fanfare the first few customers, including myself, were let in at 8AM. There were employees lining both sides of the center aisle of the store clapping as we were let in, noticeably with somewhat forced enthusiasm (I waited in line for hours, and even I wasn’t as excited as they seemed to be for the new iPad). I met the person that handled my order at the front of the store, and he escorted me to the Genius Bar at the back of the store.
He asked for the card I was given with my desired model configuration on it, and I gave it to him. Behind the counter, there were several cardboard boxes with the capacity, color, and carrier written on in marker on the floor. He took one out from the appropriate box, scanned it with his handheld POS, and asked if I wanted AppleCare+, explaining the benefits of the service at protecting against accidental damage. I’ve purchased many Apple products over the years at the Apple Store, but this was the hardest I’ve ever been attempted to be sold to when it came to AppleCare. He almost seemed surprised that I refused to buy it, but I told him that all I had was the exact amount in cash for the device. I think he believed me when I handed him the nearest dollar amount for the device + tax before he gave me the total.
After making sure that the receipt email went through, I left the store and was asked to hold up my purchase as I left for the line to see. The time on my receipt shows that my iPad was purchased at 8:04AM, indicating that the whole transaction took less than 5 minutes. As I walked out of the store and out of the mall with my new purchase, I got a better look at how large the line had gotten. Not as large as the line for the iPhone 4 launch, but large enough that I’m glad I arrived early.
Part 2: First Impressions coming soon. Stay tuned!
Filed under Hardware Reviews