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Just a Peek

Seven Days (and Counting) Trying to Get an iPhone

I don’t have an iPhone, any iPhone, and this is my story.

On Friday, July 11, 2008 I woke earlier than normal. I thought there might be a few die-hard gadget lovers camped out in front of the local AT&T Store hell bent on being the first in their respective neighborhoods, hangouts, or geeky clubs to own an iPhone 3G. I figured I’d go out and interview a few of these guys (they are almost always guys), take a few photos, write up a story and be done with iPhone 3G coverage.

I wanted an iPhone 3G of course, and under other circumstances I’d likely be camped out there like the gadget loving geek I am. Experienced gain at the launch of iPhone 1.0, however, suggested that if I waited a bit, a day at most, the die hard gadget lovers would have all been serviced and I could leisurely stroll into any AT&T Store, or either of the two Apple Stores that serve the greater Orlando area, any time I wanted, lay down my credit card, and pick up an iPhone 3G.

After all, the lines dissipated fairly quickly after the initial rush on the first iPhone. People simply walked into an Apple or AT&T store, bought a phone, then went home to activate it. There were a few glitches, but for the most part it was easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.

I was sure that Apple had plenty of iPhones in stock as well. I figured they would sell several hundred thousand, maybe even a bit more than a million phones over the weekend, but I figured that they would have anticipated the demand and had at least 2 or 3 million standing by in warehouses.

What I hadn’t counted on was that AT&T (or Apple), for whatever reason, would insist that new iPhones go through the same activation process as other run-of-the-mill phones, which even in the best of times is a slow process.

Lines outside of Apple Stores and AT&T shops inched along all day, but I was still confident that, after this initial slow-rush, I’d be able to get my phone as easy as buying a loaf of bread. (Stale, moldy bread after going through the activation process, but that’s another story.)

By 3 PM on Friday AT&T stores were reporting that they were out of phones. The guy in the AT&T Store suggested that I order a phone through them. It would take 7 to 10 days, but, as he put it, "it’s the easiest way to get an iPhone."

I considered it, but then I did the math: It was taking about 3 hours to wait in line and get a phone at the Apple Store. It would take 2 weeks to get a phone from AT&T. While waiting 3 hours in a line is never fun I couldn’t see how a two week wait was easier.

However, I was getting concerned that even the Apple Stores would run out. How could I face my friends Monday morning with my old RAZR still in my pocket?

Having then dined on my pride, sauteed lightly in envy and served with a heaping helping of humble pie, with a credit card turning my wallet into a smoking cinder, I drove the 20 something miles to the Apple Store at the Mall at Millennia.

I arrived at 6:20 PM and was heartened to see that there was only about 50 people in line. My palms started sweating in anticipation of holding my very own iPhone 3G. I imagined how my friends would look on with envy while I chatted and replied to e-mail and check my calendar all at the same time (or close to it).

As I got closer to the line outside the Apple Store, however, I noticed that there was no way to get to the end of the line without crossing those line-defining things they set up to form the shape of the queue, and I noticed an Apple employee standing guard at the place where the end of the line should have been. I walked up and asked what was up with the line. "This gentleman here is the last iPhone customer for the night," she said pointing to a thirty something man who smile at me sympathetically. "It’s taking longer than we’d like to activate iPhones and we have to limit the line so that we can close on time."

"But...but..but..." I stammered, but she knew what I was trying to say.

"Sorry, but we can’t let you in the line, it wouldn’t be fair."

A mall security guy materialized behind me and glared as if daring me to add another ’but’ to my malformed sentenced. I ignored him. "Do you know if you’re close to running out of iPhones," I asked.

"No," she said confidently. "We have plenty, it’s just taking longer to sell them."

"So, if I come back tomorrow..."

"You should be able to get an iPhone, but remember, tomorrow is Sunday and we close at 6PM. So get here early."

I thanked the nice Apple Store clerk, sneered at the mall guard, and made my way to my car content in the knowledge that in 24 hours I would have my iPhone.

As I drove home, however I kept feeling like I was forgetting something. When I glanced over at me camera bag on the passenger floor it came to me like a hammer to a nail head.

When I’m not waxing poetic for The Mac Observer or working the job that actually pays the bills I can usually be found with camera in hand. I love photography and recently I started selling some of my more artistic efforts at a local open market on Sundays. The market opens at 10AM and closes at 4PM. There was no way for me to get to the Apple Store early. I sighed and decided that since the store had plenty of iPhones I would likely be able to pick one up on Monday.

Of course there are times when the Gadget Gods smile down on the faithful: a fairly nasty storm came through around 2PM on Sunday and shut the market down early. I was soaked and I lost a framed print to water damage, but I didn’t care. I was going to make it to the Apple Store early enough to get an iPhone.

Again I made my way to the mall, and again I found the line closed and the very same Apple Store salesperson guarding the end.

"You’ve got to be kidding me, " I said as I came up to her. "It’s only 3:30!"

"Yeah, and it’ll take till 7 tonight to get through the people already in line."

I stood there frustrated, shivering in damp shorts, and iPhone-less still.

A mall security guard, this time a woman, strolled up to offer the Apple salesclerk moral, if not physical, support. I glared at her and she blanched, thinking I was about to go postal among the carrot-nibbling, ultra-thin, well-dressed mall patrons, but I was cool.

I smiled wanly at the salesclerk and she smiled brightly back and offered, "You might try later in the week."

Shivering now more from damp clothes and air-conditioning then from frustration, I trudged back to my car and drove home. No iPhone, credit card still hot enough to power a nuclear sub, I ate dinner while staring at my ancient ( in gadget years) RAZR. It seems that the Gadget Gods weren’t smiling benignly on me, they were instead snickering menacingly at me. I was still defiant. I would have an iPhone regardless of godly tinkering.

On Monday I checked back with the local AT&T Store just on the off-chance that I might luck up and find an iPhone they forgot they had, but that was in vane.

My friends all ask me me where is my iPhone. "Where’s yours," I demand knowing that none of them would get one any time soon.

One guy said sarcastically, "I’m waiting till they iron out cut-and-paste."

Another replies that he won’t subscribe to the Apple hegemony. "When I can buy my applications and music anywhere and play it on the iPhone, that’s when I’ll buy one."

Yeah, yeah. Sure, sure. I know that as soon as I get mine these guys will be on it like a fat kid on a cupcake. I just need to get one.

I checked again at the Apple Store on Tuesday. The store in Florida Mall said they were sold out.

I then became depressed. I lambasted myself for not getting in line on Friday like a good little geek.

As the week rolled on, my depression eased. I started thinking that my original plan may have been a good idea after all. Maybe after a week of getting the other folks out of the way I could now walk into an Apple Store and buy my phone.

It’s Friday now and I won’t be able to get to the mall until after 4. If there’s a line that I can get in I’ll get in it. If I have to come back on Saturday I will.

Maybe that AT&T guy was right. Maybe.

We’ll see.

Vern Seward is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He’s been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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