iPhone mania crosses the line

Matthew JC. Powell
7 July, 2008
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You’ve probably read by now, from sources as reputable as the New York Times and AppleInsider, that there is at this very moment a queue of people on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, waiting outside the Apple Store there. Waiting for Friday the 11th of July — the day they can buy an iPhone. Or, more specifically, the day they can buy an iPhone 3G, since these folks have been able to buy a first-generation iPhone for like a year now. What possible right have those people got to be impatient?

Now, I’m not going to be the one to criticise anyone for sleeping out in the street waiting for some big event. Full disclosure: in late 1992 I slept at the Sydney Entertainment Centre for four nights waiting to buy tickets to the Paul McCartney “New World Tour”. I was fourth in the queue. The night before my university graduation I slept in the street for more tickets, leading to some extremely scruffy-looking graduation photos (I’m scruffy-looking on a good day, so you can imagine). At any rate, I long ago forfeited any moral superiority I may have had over people who sleep in the street for stuff.

But tickets to a concert are one thing. Being fourth in the queue I managed to get seats a little left of centre in the front row of the concert. People behind me in the queue didn’t have seats that good, and come the night of the concert I was closer to the Fab One than they were.

Even waiting for the opening of the Apple Store sort of makes sense. The place is, as I’ve discussed in another blog, sort of significant for the Apple faithful, and the moment that it first opened was one single moment that you can kind of understand wanting to be there for.

But for the iPhone? I don’t get it.

Yeah, it’s a nifty device. I get that. Yeah, there’s a certain cachet in having it before everyone else. I get that too.

But that cachet belongs to the insiders and connected folks who get their hands on it significantly before anyone else. Like days, or even weeks. Being the first person to own one doesn’t mean that much when the 1000th person to own one bought theirs seconds after you did. Even the people who owned one for weeks don’t get to strut so much once they’re on sale to everyone. It doesn’t matter anymore.

And the 1000th person to get one gets exactly the same device you got. Indeed, since it was lower in the box it was presumably packed and therefore most likely manufactured before the ones at the top of the box. If this were a limited-edition thing, you’d have a higher number than the guy who showed up an hour after opening to buy one.

But it’s not a limited-edition of course: Apple’s making eleventy bajillion of them. All pretty much the same. If the first one sold was going to be gold-plated or bejewelled or special in some way, maybe that would make sense. It’s not. Really, it’s not.

My favourite snippet from the various coverage of this mad queue in New York comes from AppleInsider:

“Also unlike last year, however, there exists more of a clear incentive to be first in line at the New York City flagship outlet. With customers required to activate iPhone in-store rather than simply walk out with their purchases, the time spent processing each customer is estimated to take at least 10 minutes — a process that will slow the line down considerably versus the original launch, in which many customers could buy their handsets and leave in just a fraction of the time.”

So according to AppleInsider, it’s logical to spend a week off work waiting in the street outside a shop, as long as it will save you ten minutes on the day. I’m sure there’s a flaw in that reasoning somewhere, if only I could put my finger on it …

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