Yesterday, I headed to the eye doctor for an exam, and
because of the intensive and invasive nature of that experience, I’m usually no good for anything the rest of the day because I can’t really see anything, so I lower myself to eating snacks and caterwauling. As I withdrew from the Second Avenue office of my torture — eyes red and dilated and throbbing — I wondered what in the world I could do that would take little or no effort but still pack in some fun?  I decided to hop into a cab and head uptown to the flagship 24/7/365 Apple Store on Fifth Avenue and doggedly wait in line for a couple of new 3G iPhones.


I was on site by 10:16am and there was a small line forming outside the glorious Fifth Avenue Apple Store and I felt that, perhaps, I had arrived just early enough to be in and out in 30 minutes.

Boy, was I wrong.

Apple needs to become better at learning how to form and manage lines.  You don’t wait inside the Apple Store for your iPhone 3G.  You wait on the sidewalk in the heat and hot sun.  Apple employees drink water in front of you as you bake and sweat in the heat.

As I tried to figure out how to join the iPhone queue — there are no signs or people instructing you on where to go or what to do — I finally saw a couple of Apple store employees in garish orange and blue t-shirts — at&t colors… ugh! — at the front of the metal people barriers that were managing a growing, snaking, queue and the workers were turning away 80% of the people from getting a place in line because they did not live in the United States. 

If you passed the first Apple “Where Do You Live?” Sniff Test, you were given a small ticket — a laundry ticket, really — and that ticket had a date and a time on it that allowed you to come back later for more Apple Sniffing and line standing.

I was given a 1:00pm ticket for later in the day and told to “come back at 12:45pm” to get in line.  It was currently 10:29am.  I had to kill two hours before I could go back and stand in line.

Apple are extremely pleased with their new “Queue Policy” of giving you a ticket and turning you away and they will not hesitate to tell you how wonderful it is to not have to wait around and stand in line. 

I — not a good stander-in-liner — argue that having to wait around to get access to stand in a line in two hours is, actually, standing in line but you can do it in Central Park instead of on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. 

Your time may artificially be yours, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get an iPhone and there’s no reservation policy tied to a specific iPhone serial number that would just allow you to walk into the store at 1pm.  No.  You come back in two hours to stand in that long line on the sidewalk.

With stinging eyes and weary eyelids, I made my way onto a bench in Central Park and decided to do my best to be visually inspired by a great Garrison Keillor piece I read the week before about the summer pleasures of living in New York City:

July 23, 2008 | New York in July, hot and breezy, the smell of pizza
and coffee in the air, and on the subway one is surrounded by women in
light summer dresses, the bare shoulders of elegant young urban women
whose shoulders tell you they never toted barges or lifted bales, never
laid eyes on a barge or a bale except for someone barging into their
office and giving them a baleful look.

They are swanning along through
their 20s and I love to look at them while observing the No Staring
rule, five seconds max — but five seconds of a beautiful New York
woman burns an image on your retina that will see you through the
miseries of the city.

I am pleased to report my red retinas were sufficiently burned by my two-hour wait.  The swanning women were, indeed, graceful and incredibly beautiful.  I was also surprised to learn in my informal survey that 99.99% of the young women sliding along and speaking a foreign language in winsome shorts and ugly flip-flops — were dark-haired and black eyed.  There was nary a blonde — real or bottle — in the bunch.  It was then I pondered the Artificial Mechanization of American beauty until I realized I had to head back to the Apple store to stand in line.

Arriving back on the Apple Store scene at 12:30pm found two bursting queues.  There was the “real” Apple queue in metal people barricades and the growing 1pm line that formed in the eating area of the plaza outside the store.  One Apple Manager came outside and asked one of the blue and orange Apple workers, “What’s that second line?”  The furtive answer was, “It’s the 1pm line.”  The manager sighed and turned around and walked the other way.

It looked like Apple were allowing 7-10 people in the store at a time and around 50 people were still standing in the “Noon Queue” waiting to get in and it was taking 20-30 minutes to send in the next bunch of buyers.  I was glad I got there at 12:30pm instead of 12:45pm because I was one of the first ten in line for the 1pm queue.

At 1:10pm, the 1pm queue were allowed to snake around the metal people barriers and join the official iPhone queue with the remaining Nooners.  Each of us were warned by the waiting Nooners to not trip over the metal barricades as we picked our way in line and most of us, including me, did trip over the metal legs piercing the empty space where you are expected to walk.

Then the second Apple Sniffing began as a grinning Apple worker wended his way down the line asking each of us if we were United States citizens — the TSA could take lessons in how to do a successful immigration interview just by smiling and nodding like our Apple interrogator — and if you were a citizen, then you were asked a laundry list of other questions all designed to get your out of the queue and shorten the line.  If you weren’t the primary account holder, you were out.  If you didn’t have your social security number or photo ID you were out.  If you were trying to transport your phone number from another carrier to at&t, you were pretty much expected to the honorable thing and drop out because it would take forever to process you… even though you didn’t have to leave if you were stubborn about it…

At 1:28pm the first of the 1pm line were allowed to enter the Apple store to stand in yet another line!  You handed over your laundry ticket reservation to a sullen and unhappy looking black-shirted Apple security worker who gave everyone the evil eye as if we were illegal immigrants looking to steal American iPhones.

Here’s a beautiful image of the interior of the Fifth Avenue Apple Store.  The iPhone queue was located way over there by the blue LCD screens in the wall and the place was packed — PACKED! — with workers and buyers and it was loud with music blaring from iPod docking devices.  You couldn’t hear anything.  You could barely move.  It was the absolute definition of a Mad House.  Not my scene at all, but Apple forced me there and it makes you a little bitter to be pushed around three queues just to buy a cellphone.

I noticed a strange and necessarily silent — because it was so loud in there — “Apple Hand Welcoming” that was used on people at the front of the iPhone queue.  An Apple worker — all of them wore the ugly blue at&t-colored t-shirts — would glide over to you with an extended hand offered to you with their palm facing up.  I guess you were supposed to take their hand as if accepting an offer to dance and then waltz around the chaotic room to buy and activate your iPhone.  The “upwardly extended hand” was sligthly creepy and, frankly, extremely fey.

When my turn came at the top of the queue 20 minutes later, I was glad to be greeted by Jon — the guy who gave me my 1pm laundry ticket outside the store earlier in the morning — and he offered me a manly handshake instead of a silent, palmy, offer to dance with him.  I’m sure I looked a bit odd wearing my sunglasses indoors and then reading glasses over my sunglasses — that’s the only way I can see anything with my eyes dilated — but Jon said nothing untoward and treated me just like a normal-eyed person.

Jon was fast and efficient.  I bought a 16GB Black phone and another in White.  We added AppleCare to both phones and bought some accessories.  The Activation process was silly, and much easier a year ago, when we were allowed to do it on our own at home.

Jon offered me the opportunity to “break the seal” on my iPhone box.  I declined.   He then offered me the chance to take the iPhone out of the box, fondle it a little and then hand it over to him for Activation.  I could see Jon had been strictly trained to preserve the “open box” experience that Apple is famous for — and while I appreciated his effort — I felt it was wasting even more of my time, and I told him to just do everything for me because it would save us both time.  He smiled at me and said, “You’re probably right.” 

With Jon released to full-on automatic, he had both iPhones activated, test called, and test text messaged in under three minutes.

We both agreed the White phone looks better in person than in pictures.  Jon told me a story about July 11 — the first day thee 3G iPhones went on sale — and how some men that had stood in a seven hour line refused to buy the White iPhone even though they were the only phones left in stock. 

I guess the White iPhone is for females and the Black is for men — in the minds of some misbegotten men — but news breaking this morning that the White iPhones are cracking may ultimately prove to be more a question of mettle than of aesthetics.

Jon finished my registration and activation and I was grateful to have his speed and experience on my side. 

As I withdrew from the Fifth Avenue Apple Store at exactly 2:21pm — eyes redder but less dilated yet still throbbing — I wondered what in the world I could have done to make the four-hour wait for two iPhones more fun?  I
decided to think about it as I hopped into a cab and head downtown to the 33rd Street PATH train station to travel back to my Jersey home flush with 3G technology and the unshakable and undeniable sense that I had been juked and played by Apple.

My feeling from direct observation during the day was that Apple has plenty of iPhones in stock and that they’re pushing you into their stores to keep the buzz alive and to keep getting stories written about them in the media.  The iPhone 3G is the Wii of the cellular world — but to make that comparison ring through — you have to artificially “shorten” supply and build demand and excitement by trickling out product to eager hands.  

I didn’t find it more fun to wait four hours for an iPhone than seven hours — but Apple thinks they’re doing you a great favor in reducing your stand-in-line time.  Apple needs to understand waiting more than five minutes to buy a 3G iPhone is too long.

I just wanted to buy an iPhone 3G over the internet and have it delivered to my home so I could set it up at my convenience and in my own time — that’s where time-shifting and flex-scheduling spoil and defeat us and ultimately deflate the iPhone 3G waiting experience:  We have been taught to yearn less but expect more — and having the object of our desire falsely delay our work satisfaction stings more than it sings.

UPDATE:
Be sure to click on
WhiteAppleOfDeath.com.

16 Comments

  1. The Apple early-adopters won’t let Apple remain silent. They’ll press the matter.
    Yes, 3G isn’t as great as advertised on the iPhone. The 3G modem we have gets a better signal. I hope Apple can boost the sensitivity and robustness of their 3G implementation soon.

  2. Today would be the day to buy myself an iphone – being my birthday and all – but your story has made me rethink it! My blackberry I bought on your recommendation still works like a champ 🙂 I’m actually thinking of downgrading in NY because mail on the Kindle works so well! Tee hee.

  3. Hi Gordon!
    I would not hesitate to buy a 3G iPhone — I just wish the buying process were easier. I wonder if they’re in stock in your area? The 3G phones are much better than the first version. Go stand in line and get one birthday boy! SMILE!

  4. Hi David,
    Congrats for the new phones! Worth getting fried in the line!
    Gordon!
    Many happy returns of the day with all the new versions of all iPhones – always!!!

  5. Hi David!
    It’s amazing how you had to wait outside their stores for hours to get one! Even days after its release.
    The 3G iPhone is coming soon to India, and with two operators to boot!
    Gordon! Many happy returns of the day! Have a great one!

  6. Dananjay!
    It is a mess that we all have to stand outside to wait for those 3G phones — it’s good PR for Apple, though, isn’t it? “We stand in the sun and the rain to get a phone.”
    Some kids asked us all what we were doing standing in line and I told them, “Bob Dylan is giving a free concert inside the Apple Store.” I got no reaction. I think if they’d been older than 13 they would’ve stormed the gates to get inside! SMILE!
    You’re lucky to have two competing phone companies, Dananjay. Have they set any data price plans yet? The Canadian prices for iPhone 3G data were so outrageous, Apple basically cut off their supply of phones until they lowered the price for 24/7/365 data consumption.

  7. Yeah, Gordon, and they were snarky and rude and mocking — so it was sort of fun to play with them a bit and show how little they really know, understand and appreciate.

  8. David –
    Yes, that would seem to be the only explanation. a company selling 3G phones refuses to sell it over the internet!
    i guess they figure, long lines outside its stores throughout most of the day speak more than a “units sold” counter on its website.
    Not sure about the price plans. I don’t think they’ll talk about the plans until the product is actually available.

  9. Keep us updated on the 3G iPhone plans in India, Dananjay!
    There was no reason to go into a store to buy the iPhone 3G. Nothing happened there that I couldn’t have done myself at home with iTunes and by calling at&t. It was a parade of a waste of time.
    I do love the phone, though. SMILE!