Waiting in line for the iPhone 3GS, Why I Wished I stayed in Bed

It was supposed to be a dark and stormy night. In New York City, two-thirds of the Gillette triumvirate (Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter) got rained on and nearly out. Not only does Steve Jobs’ control a couple of the coolest companies on the planet, he must also control the weather. Instead of profuse precipitation spoiling his iPhone 3G S party, by the time the Apple store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan opened at 7 this morning, the sun had managed to carve out swaths in the overcast and rays of light illuminated the really early adopters waiting to buy the new iPhone 3G S.

But this year’s model did not attract the crowds or the excitement as the original two years ago or its 3G successor last year. By the time I stepped down the spiral staircase into the inner sanctum, there were only about 1,000 iPhone acolytes snaking around the metal barricades on the plaza in front of the iconic Apple cube. For most of the night, there were barely a third of this total.

Crowd Outside The Fifth Avenue Apple Store in Manhattan

Crowd Outside The Fifth Avenue Apple Store in Manhattan

Is the 3G S simply not enough of an upgrade over the 3G to attract the usual multitasking multitudes? Did the weather forecast literally dampen attending enthusiasm? Did lots of folks decide to avoid the human crush and have their 3G S home delivered? Have consumers smartened up and realized they could saunter over to an Apple or AT&T store at a more reasonable hour to get Apple’s latest and greatest? Maybe a combination of some or all of these kept the crowd down.

The small numbers didn’t mean lessened enthusiasm, though. As Spencer Tracy described Katherine Hepburn’s character in Pat & Mike, “Not much meat on her, but what’s there is cherce.”

iPhone vets/iPhone virgins

The reasons for folks braving the elements, the wait and the clock were as varied as the iPhone’s available apps.

Most folks were like me, trading in their old iPhone. Why? The video recorder. Almost everyone I spoke to couldn’t wait to start capturing the moments of their lives in iPhone’s glorious new VGA video. “I’m always just taking videos all around,” said Cindy Braun, an NYU student, who was trading in her beat-up iPhone Classic. “I like to document things I do and post ’em to my blog.”

Crowd Outside The Fifth Avenue Apple Store in Manhattan

Crowd Inside The Fifth Avenue Apple Store in Manhattan

But why queue up in the middle of the night instead of just waiting until the vampires, owls and downtown hipsters find their way home? “I guess the big reason is the hype,” Braun admitted. “I heard about what happened last year, and it’s cool to see so many people coming out to get their iPhones. Who wouldn’t want to be here on the first day and be the first?”

Would you like to see a list?

Dariel Lopez, a barber from Brooklyn, was near the front of the line waiting to trade in his 16 GB 3G. While the new video recording capability was high on his list of reasons to upgrade, that’s not why he was representing at 2 am. “I’m waiting for the TV cameras,” the ebullient Lopez gleefully admitted. “I figured if I’m up front, the TV reporters will want to talk to me.”

Lopez’ Brooklyn buddy, Kingsborough Community College student Larry Williams, had a more practical reason for arriving extra early. “Last year I was in line at the Soho store for seven hours,” Williams related. “But by the time I got inside they were sold out and they sent me here. This year I figured I’d just skip Soho and come here.”

Larry Williams and Dariel Lopez representing on the iPhone 3G S line.

Larry Williams and Dariel Lopez representing on the iPhone 3G S line.

Anthony Miller, who works in IT at the New York State Attorney General’s office was trading in his 16 GB 3G, also wanted to avoid his 2008 experience. “Last year I was around the block down 58th Street. I wanted to get it a little earlier this year.”
Not everyone in line was an iPhone veteran. Kerian Walker, a maintenance man at nearby Fordham University, was a Sprint subscriber porting his number from a Samsung Instinct, but the iPhone wasn’t his first choice.

“I was going to get the [Palm] Pre,” Walker explained, “but the [iPhone] beats the Pre price. The Pre is 200 bucks, but you only get 8 GB and the screen is way smaller. With the iPhone you get 16 GB for 200 bucks and a bigger screen, so I said, know what? I’m gonna switch.”

Walker hadn’t really played with an iPhone and was unaware of the 3G S’ main selling points. So I pontificated, which just made him more excited.

But he didn’t really need to be sold. Last Friday he got to work two hours early so his boss would let him come in a little later this morning. He was on-and-off his Instinct all morning, proudly letting friends and co-workers know where he was.

Dribs and drabs

For hours, the crowd was minimal. The first folks camped out at 7 a.m. Thursday morning, sitting through torrential rain most of the day, camped out under Apple logo’ed umbrellas. When I showed up at 2:30 am, there were maybe a couple of dozen people hanging about, some snoozing, others still in the initial throes of iPhone line excitement.

I sauntered off to McDonald’s for a way-after-midnight snack, and then wandered over to a 24-hour CVS to buy a folding beach chair to make the next few hours of waiting comfortable.

Turns out I didn’t need the chair. By the time I returned at around 4:30 am, the crowd had swelled to only a couple of hundred. By comparison, last year’s line had already queued up almost to Madison Avenue on East 58th Street, and by the time the store opened, people were lined up around the block, north on Madison then back east on 59th Street.

This morning at 5, there was no one waiting on 58th Street except some Apple employees and media representatives. At that point, Apple employees trimmed the herd, shooing those of us who’d made reservations into holding lines. We snaked up and down the metal barricades like we were playing Follow-the-Leader. By the time we’d gone back and forth, I ended up at exactly the same spot I’d started from.

With the smaller crowd – and smaller expectations – the circus atmosphere was also missing. Last year, every company with even a tertiary connection to high tech were handing out freebies and brochures to the captive audience. This year, only four companies hawked their wares: an online marketing company was distributing Izze Sparkling Apple beverage (get it? Apple?); an iPhone accessories Web site was giving away orange T-shirts – taking and posting a picture of yourself wearing the garment entered you in a contest to win $2,000 worth of iPhone accessories; a fellow dressed like an iPhone was prompting folks to recycle their old phones; and, a group from a ringtone company twirled their placards for the assembled TV and still cameras.

Recycle your iPhones

Recycle your iPhone Guy

Even the media frenzy was, well, less frenzied. At one point, I thought the media was going to out-number the customers. There were only a few TV trucks, and the phalanx of cameras capturing us as we entered the store was a third of the size of last year’s throng.

The more things change…

There may have been less hype and less hoopla, but the ever-enthusiastic Apple apostles didn’t act any less excited – we were met by the same creepy automaton applauding and whooping by Apple employees as we were the last two years – and were infinitely more efficient.

Inside, there seemed to be more iPhone helpers than actual customers, which was good for me and everyone else. I got into the store a little after 7 am and, by 7:15, I had my phone all activated and I was ready to go, literally and figuratively. Almost all the folks whose acquaintance I’d made in line also seemed stunned by the speed of their activations and were wandering aimlessly around the store wondering. Perhaps like me, they were pondering if the anticipation was worth the actual event.

Perhaps they now understand what Tom Petty was saying when he exclaimed that the waaaaaiiiiting is the hardest part.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Emerging Tech

Leafy greens are grown by machines at new, automated Silicon Valley farm

Farming hasn't changed too much for hundreds of years. Now a new startup called Iron Ox has opened its first automated hydroponics farm, producing a variety of leafy greens tended by machines.
Emerging Tech

Ekster 3.0 lets you ask, ‘Alexa, where did I leave my wallet?’

Ekster's newest smart wallet is its best yet. It's slimmer than ever, boasts a neat card-dispensing mechanism, and will even let you know where it is, thanks to smart speaker integration.
Movies & TV

Peter Dinklage gets cryptic about two 'Game of Thrones' characters' fates

With the eighth and final season looming, Game of Thrones fever has officially become a pandemic. Our list of all the relevant news and rumors will help make the wait more bearable -- if you don't mind spoilers.
Home Theater

I’ve seen the 8K TV future, and you should be excited. Here’s why

Samsung set the tech world on fire when it announced it would sell an 85-inch 8K TV in the U.S. along with several 8K screen sizes in Europe. Debates over the validity and value of such a high resolution have continued since, and we're here…
Mobile

Got gadgets galore? Keep them charged up with the 10 best USB-C cables

If you weren't already aware, USB-C is quickly becoming mainstream. That's why we've rounded up some of the better USB-C cables on the market, whether you're looking to charge or sync your smartphone.
Computing

How to protect your iCloud account

From Chinese hacking to identity theft, it's not surprising if you're a little worried about your iCloud data. Here's how to protect your iCloud account with a few simple security steps. It will only take a few minutes, and we'll walk you…
Mobile

Preapproval for iPhone Upgrade Program now available for iPhone XR

Apple took the wraps off of its new set of iPhones, including the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and the new iPhone XR. The iPhone XR is being offered as the "affordable" iPhone, and it's a little different than the more expensive models.
Computing

Which is best: The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme or the 15-inch MacBook Pro?

To try and help nail down the best 15-inch laptops in the world, we compared the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs. MacBook Pro 15 in a head to head that looked at their power, design, and portability.
Mobile

Google Pixel 3 vs. Apple iPhone XS: Does Google’s A.I. take down Apple?

The Google Pixel 3 is here, boasting top-tier specs like a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and 4GB of RAM, and some of the world's best artificial intelligence features on a phone. But can it take out the Apple iPhone XS?
Mobile

Hinge's new feature wants to know who you've gone out on dates with

With its new "We Met" feature, Hinge wants to learn how your dates are going with matches in its app. That way, it can inject the information into its algorithm to provide future recommendations that better suit its users' preferences.
Mobile

Which Verizon plan is best for you? We check out family, individual, and prepaid

Verizon offers lots of plans for individuals, your family, and folks who want prepaid service. Here is everything you need to know about Verizon's plans, from data packages and smartphones to Big Red's prepaid plans.
Mobile

Safeguard your new Apple smartphone with one of our favorite iPhone XS cases

If the iPhone XS is your next phone, then you’ll want to shop for some proper protection now. That glass sandwich design is all too easy to scratch or crack, so make sure you snag one of the best iPhone XS cases to keep it looking good.
Mobile

Here are our favorite wireless phone chargers for Android devices and iPhones

We checked out the best wireless phone chargers to make tangles and uncooperative ports a thing of the past. Whether you have an iPhone or Android, find out which wireless charging pads are worth buying, and how their features compare.
Gaming

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.