Waiting lines for the new iPhone 3G-S model have formed around the world, including three persons under Apple-supplied umbreallas in a continuous rain at the Fifth Avenue (NYC) store. When I’ve arrived at the Palo Alto (N. Calif.) store at 6 p.m., there were just two persons in line–Taylor arrived first a 3 p.m. on Wednesday, but the second person in line arrived only on Thursday afternoon. At the same time, there was no waiting line at the Burlingame store, or even at the large San Francisco store. From news accounts and attendees, it appears that there were very small waiting lines in the San Francisco region, and that they only started growing about 5 a.m. But despite the early size of the lines, the crowds were enthusiastic, and the buying experience was vastly superior to the introduction of the iPhone 3G, which took upwards of 30 minutes for early buyers to purchase and activate because of computer system glitches.
Watch my video report on the entire overnight waiting line.
When I arrived at 6:30 p.m., a sign vendor had just removed the old iPhone 3G-S lettering off the right-side display window, and was putting up the new interior signage. The right window consists of a scrim with black lettering that had to be hand attached from a long roll of paper–it was a long, careful process of moving the adhesive letters from the paper backing to the scrim.
The side window display was even more troublesome, since it has extremely limited access. In this case, the graphic was printed on fabric, attachable using Velcro. It took almost 90 minutes for the crew to take down the old graphic, and carefully install the new one–twice–to insure it was centered and smooth. By any measure, the installation confirmed Apple’s continued demand for perfection.
The Palo Alto line formed very slowly with temperatures in the upper 50s under clear skies. The sidewalks were crowded with passersby from scores of nearby restaurants, but about 11 p.m. it became quiet. By then, there were just 10 persons in line, and a handful more joined the line through 5 a.m., when more arrived, one-by-one.
Taylor had rigged a power connection from the city’s tree lighting system, using a ladder provided by the Apple store. However, the lights didn’t come on until after sunset, or about 9 p.m. By then, Taylor had assembled his TV tuner dongle for his laptop, and began watching CSI. However, by about 11 p.m., his 33-hour stay in front of the store caught up with him, and he fell asleep for about four hours.
The Michael’s Gelato store across the street must have been paying the guitarist by the hour, because even after other restaurants closed, he was playing loud music until past midnight. Finally, after the last employees started dancing, the music stopped and the entire downtown was quiet.
Overnight about eight employees worked to take down the existing iPhone displays, and install the new models. That meant removing all the standards, placards, acrylics, USB and alarm connections. Working from sheafs of instructions, the employees then began the tedious process laying out the location of each iPhone stand using a tape measure and masking tape.
Next, new acrylic blocks were unboxed and unwrapped, iPhones were unboxed and connected to a 13-inch laptop, five or six at a time. The laptops were running iTunes, and a synch was then performed to install all the demonstration applications and settings.
New wall graphics on the right side of the store were installed. New table posters were set up. In all, about 45 new iPhone display models were placed and configured. By 1 a.m. several employees left, leaving about four to work overnight. There was no black curtain over the windows at the store, which last year prevented any view of the new product preparation and set-up.
I was told that a Fed-Ex truck delivered pallets of iPhones earlier on Thursday.
During the night, I saw employees moving pallets of iPhones into the store from an off-site storage area. Later, I saw boxes of iPhones being wheeled into the store on carts, and over to the Genius Bar. I counted two carts of 30 boxes, each with 10 iPhones, giving a count of at least 600 handsets for purchase by customers.
By 4 a.m. a single window cleaner arrived to completely erase the remnants of the old, right window display lettering that announced the iPhone 3G-S.
Tech analyst Larry Magid showed up about 6 a.m. to report on the event, and a lone videographer was there to record the crowd. KCBS radio news reporter Mike Colgan arrived to interview Taylor live for the 6 a.m. broadcast.
By the 7 a.m. opening time, there were 110 persons in line–nowhere near the crowds of the previous two iPhone debuts. The single long line was routed into two lines: one for persons who had pre-registered on-line, and those who had done no pre-arrival work.
At San Francisco store employees made the rounds with a cart of coffee before the opening. However, despite deliveries of bottled water overnight, nothing was handed out to the waiting line.
At 7 a.m., with little fanfare but great enthusiasm, the pre-registered line was waved inside. Within three minutes, the first of the walk-in buyers were also allowed inside.
In both cases, each buyer was met by an Apple employee, given a handshake and name introduction, and ushered to the line that formed at the Genius Bar, where the supply of iPhones was stacked on the rear shelf. Once the iPhone was in-hand, buyers were guided to a quiet area to finalize the purchase using the handheld computers and (usually) a credit card.
Those who had not pre-registered were first taken to a display computer, and asked to enter brief information about their iPhone telephone number (if existing customer), ZipCode and Social Security number. Existing customers confirmed their AT&T service plan, and new customers were asked to choose voice and data plans. After that, the purchase process with the handheld computer was the same.
Finally, the buyers was taken to the Creative bar at the back of the store, where 12-15 laptops were set up with iTunes running. Connecting the new iPhone linked the handset to the AT&T system to activate the telephone portion of the device.
The Apple employee then said “Congratulations!” to each buyer, and left to meet another buyer at the front door. An employee behind the Creative bar continued to help the buyer, and suggested they make a call to verify phone service–and presumably tell the person who answered, “Hey! I just bought the new iPhone!”
It took me about 15 minutes total to complete the total purchase experience. When I finally left the store, there was a curious crowd in front taking photos, and the two lines snaking around the corner of the store. I counted about 80 persons in line by 7:32 a.m. when I left for home.
Overall, the shorter lines and streamlined purchase-registration process made buying this year’s iPhone much more efficient and enjoyable. The line at Palo Alto–and reportedly at other stores–were evenly split between pre-registered and walk-ins.
Meanwhile, over at Best Buy, they were trying to sell the older iPhone 3G, but without any display models.