I spent a really interesting and entertaining four hours in line at the Apple Store in Palo Alto (California, USA) last Friday morning, waiting to purchase an Apple iPhone “3G.” I had a great four-hour conversation with the guy in line behind me [see footnote Social Behaviors, below. And then I bought my iPhone.
And like most of the fanboys and fangirrls who have their phone already (it’s my first 48 hours) I am just really pleased with this communication device. And it has given me its own set of challenges as well.
Social behaviors: I had a great time observing social behaviors while waiting in the line for 4 hours:
- The store opened at 8:00am on Friday (July 11th, 2008). Some folks had arrived as long as 48 hours in advance to be first in line. But this was one of those hockey-stick growth curves, to point. I think that the first 100 or so people arrived maybe 6 or more hours in advance, and anther couple hundred arrived in the morning. After that the line was more or less constantly at a few hundred.
- I decided to sleep late, and made my 45-minute drive to Palo Alto so that I arrived around 8:15am. Sales had begun already. Just as I crossed the street to grab a place in line, a tall curly-haired guy came out of the store holding aloft a tiny Apple-branded shopping bag (tiny, to match the size of the iPhone box) above his head – and the crowd burst into cheers and applause. TV cameras for Channel 7 caught the moment for the evening TV news. I continued around the corner in line-seeking mode, only to see a nearly-block-long line formed along the sidewalk tailing away from the store (a long tail?). And I took my place at the end of the line.
- By happenstance, the person who pulled into line right after me was a 50’s-ish man who had a fascinating history in Silicon Valley and also happened to be a (retired) hang-glider pilot and knew Yosemite (my favorite place in the world) like the back of his hand. We began a chat that just didn’t stop until we reached the front door and had to finally pay some attention to the process. He had many times strapped on his hang-glider and jumped off the edge of the cliffs above Yosemite Valley, and cruised in the air around the valley, landing down on the meadow. And had taken flight at Fort Funston, another of my favorite hiking spots, and a favorite hang-glider location. He also knew microcomputers as far back as the 1970s – just as I do. Perhaps more interesting to you, we maintained an interesting social distance, not talking about our names or companies, but just participating in an open sharing of things we had done and activities other than our professional activities for the most part. I had a GREAT time doing this. And at the end we said goodbye and treated it as an enjoyable chance encounter.
- I think I may have had the only gray hair in the line. The median age was probably 28. Half of the customers might have been Stanford students. A quarter of them were probably Silicon Valley early-adopters who specifically targeted the Palo Alto store. (I didn’t want to brave the San Francisco store at all, and I had three appointments in Palo Alto that day, so I just pushed the appointments to the afternoon.)
- “Position in line” was treated as a sacred trust! For instance, the man behind me started out behind me, and we stood next to each other for hours talking, and then when it came time to talk to the sales clerk and get our phones, we all filed into the store in the precise order we had joined the line in the first place.
- I also ran into two old friends, one of whom I hadn’t seen for 8+ years and the other I hadn’t seen for maybe 5 years. We had short conversations before they got nervous and went back to their positions elsewhere in line.
- In short, I had a great time, and the purchase experience was good (except they couldn’t port my existing T-Mobile number to AT&T, and I love the phone, which I will be exploring for weeks to come.
- The length of the line at the Palo Alto store remained constant all day. Probably never fewer than 200 people waiting.
- The next day (Saturday), in San Francisco, I passed by the Apple Store and the line there was equally long – the better part of a city block, and probably 400 people waiting. Same for Sunday. So this is a really popular product roll-out. And I’ll have more to say about how good or bad this device is, later on. It does have its pros and cons.