The long awaited day finally arrived on Friday, July 11th. The second generation iPhone (iPhone 2.0 or iPhone 3G depending on who is talking about it) went on sale at 8 AM.
I had planned to go to an Apple store instead of an AT&T store for several reasons. Not the least of which was the lack of knowledgeable sales people at the AT&T stores that I had visited in the past.
Another reason was that I had a former employee and friend working at one of the two local Apple stores, and I figured that if I ran into any difficulty with an untrained salesperson that she could step in.
The final reason is that on Thursday the 11th I received an email from our corporate IT manager that contained a link to a forum post that stated that the iPhone 2.0 beta software was not compatible with an Exchange server that used a self generated certificate. My company uses a self generated certificate in our Exchange environment, so I was half expecting that I would not be able to purchase the phone, since Exchange interoperability with the iPhone was an absolute necessity for me.
Lack of communication with the Exchange server would have been a deal breaker. I felt that I would have a better chance of making it all work at an Apple store than at an AT&T store.
Since my friend said to me “Come at 10 AM because the lines will be down by then and we will have enough phones” I did not plan on arriving too early. But, since I was up anyway, I left for the store around 7:30 and arrived at 8:00 AM.
What I found at the Stoneridge Mall astonished me! There were already around 300 people in line! Since the Apple store is in a mall, the line snaked from the store, down a line of stores then made a right turn into another corridor then snaked around that corridor and then back up to the original corridor, turned right again and went on for another 30 yards!
I found the end of the line and took my place. Pretty soon a young man came by handing out brochures and blue tickets like you might use for a raffle. He didn’t have a coherent explanation as to their purpose. I later learned that it was Apple’s way of determining how many people were in line.
Another Apple employee came by and told us that there were over 300 people in line and that once we got into the store that it would take about 30 minutes to make the purchase and complete the activation process. The guy behind me in line did some quick calculations with me and we determined that we were looking at about a 5 hour wait! Word of that passed back and forth through the immediate people around us and a few people decided that they could really wait a few days and so they left. The rest of us settled into the wait. Those that had books opened them up, some read the paper and others listened to their iPods.
Several hours into the wait, I was around the first corner and was greeted by Apple employees serving Starbucks coffee from a rolling cart…the first of several kindnesses performed by them for the people in line. Later they came around with bottled water for everyone.
Of course once you start giving people liquids, nature takes it’s toll and pretty soon we were making pacts with each other to save places in line as we one by one ran off to explore the Mall to find the necessary relief! This opened everyone up to conversation and pretty soon I discovered that the guy in front of me was opening several businesses related to renewable energy, and the guy in front of him worked for the Department of Energy. The guy behind me was a free lance designer and the guy behind him was a former Navy Chaplain and current minister of a local Protestant church!
We spent the next 3 and half hours talking about everything that you can imagine, my book got put back into my pack and I enthusiastically joined in the conversation.
At about the 3 hour mark I received a text message from my friend who was working inside the store telling me that Apples registration servers and their iTunes servers were down. I later discovered that they were up and down like an express elevator all morning and into the afternoon!
I read a blog post from a friend in Denver who told us how he was trying to upgrade the software on his 1st generation iPhone only to have the process stall part way through. Unfortunately for him, the process of upgrading required that the phone be “wiped” clean before the new software could be installed, and the process stalled for him just after the “wipe”. He spoke with Apple support who informed him that even though his phone was now essentially a brick or expensive paper weight that when the servers came back up that his phone would work again.
Shortly after that I received an email from a colleague in Berkeley, California, who shared a similar experience. He too now had an iPhone brick!
Needless to say, these events were causing me to rethink the whole idea of getting a phone on opening day! But, since I was now close enough to almost see the Apple store, I decided to stick it out.
I finally stood at the threshold of the store at 1:30 PM, 5 hours and 30 minutes after I got in line! I was so excited to be there that I didn’t have the presence of mind to snap a picture, but all I could see were people everywhere! Half wore the blue or orange tee shirts of Apple employees…the other half were people like me and my fellow line mates. But, not too many of them were smiling, and truth be told, we only saw a few people leaving the store with smiles, and fewer yet who were actually talking on their new phones as they left the store. We were wondering what that could be about as we waited our turn to be assigned to a blue shirted Apple employee.
Finally my turn arrived, and the reality of what I had come for was in front of me…did I want an 8 gig or a 16 gig phone? I wanted the 16 gig phone. Then did I want a white one or a black one? I wanted a white one until I actually saw one, then I decided that black was better for me. Then the credit card comes out and the process began. I wanted a cool number but what I got was anything but cool. I was told not to worry, I could always go to AT&T later and have them change numbers for me for $25.00. I was starting to see why there were so few smiles!
Soon we had to choose voice and data plans. I discovered that there was no choice on the data side of things, that you had to take an unlimited plan. And, it seemed that it made sense to opt for the unlimited voice plan as well. I had studied my current cell phone bills and realized that with my usage patterns that the AT&T unlimited plan made the most sense.
Then it was time to choose my text message plan! I opted for the $5.00 a month, 200 text message plan. Pretty soon I was at the point where I had agreed to a 2 year contract at $135.00 a month. Add to that the cost of the phone, activation fee, carrying case and a 2 pack of screen protectors and I was out over $400.00, and I hadn’t even made a call yet! Now I KNEW why I wasn’t seeing any smiles!!!
We finally got to the part where I was given the phone and was about to be shown the door when I told my sales person that I wanted to make sure that the phone was truly activated and that I also wanted to try connecting to my Exchange server. He then shared with me that he had not had one phone successfully activated all day! (In fairness, I do not know when he came on duty, nor how many phones that he had sold). I was soon assuaged of any fears that I had because right after I entered all of the required information to connect to the Exchange server. It just worked! I had my mail, my contacts and my calendar on the iPhone literally within minutes of pressing the final on screen button. We high fived each other when it all worked as I became his first customer with an activated and working phone.
Since I had my Windows Mobile 6 phone with me, I entered an appointment into the Calendar on that phone and watched with great happiness as the appointment showed up on the iPhone almost instantaneously. Obviously whatever glitches that there were in the beta software had been cleared up.
So, I broke the mold and smiled on my way out the door as I telephoned my wife to tell her that I had joined the iPhone parade! It had only taken 6 hours and ten minutes from the time that I arrived at the Stoneridge Mall until I was walking out into the parking lot…I have never waited for 6 hours to spend over $400.00 dollars on anything in my life before and I hope that I never get so caught up in the hype again.
So, as I write this, I have owned the phone for almost 48 hours and it truly is a fine device. I have learned quite a bit about it in the intervening hours and will share some of that with you in future posts. Do you have an iPhone opening day story to share? If so, please leave a comment.