CERRITOS, CALIF. — The faithful began lining up earlier this week, according to some overheard chatter, but whether you arrived 24 hours before or right when the doors opened today, you still walked out of Apple Inc.’s newest store with an iPhone 4.
The overall wait-to-iPhone ratio skewed many hours longer for those who unfolded camping chairs, unfurled blankets and blew up air mattresses anytime before sundown last night, but such is the price that will be paid to be a super early-adopter. The crowd went wild, as is traditionally the case, when the first customers came out of the doors with their new iPhone 4s in hand. The extra stamina and willpower also afforded them less time in the baking morning sun, but they also slept overnight in a mall parking lot.
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Colleen Brola arrived with her sister, Kerry Flores, at 10:30 p.m. last night. Even though the pair are in a club called “iPhone Users of Long Beach,” which meets to discuss apps and anything else iPhone, this was their first time lining up for the device.
They knew well enough to bring the necessities: plenty of bottled water and warm clothes. Still, Brola admits they hit a breaking point of sorts around 2 a.m., when they had to take take turns retreating to their car in the parking lot for warmth. They eventually left the mall with their new iPhones about 12 hours after they first arrived.
“We have never done this before and weren’t sure what to expect — it was a trip!” Brola told me.
With a grand opening staff count around 80 employees, Apple’s newest store essentially sold iPhones at a rate of about 50 per hour. I arrived at 4 a.m. today and jumped in a line of at least 350 people that stretched and broke apart around multiple corners. I left the store with an activated iPhone 4 in hand nearly 10 hours later, or 7 hours after the store opened.
Part of the delay was due to the grand opening and Apple’s policy of allowing non-iPhone customers priority access to the store and select representatives who could otherwise be fulfilling iPhone purchases. Another delay (ironically) came in the form of Apple’s noteworthy commitment to customer support. Some customers went in, bought their iPhone and left. Others took up the opportunity to have a store rep walk them through the entire setup of their phone — contacts, calendars, how-to demonstrations, email setup and more. You can imagine which ate up more time.
As I reported earlier at the scene, one of the most unique and lasting impressions I am always left with after waiting in line for an iPhone on launch day is the mix of the crowd that gets attracted to such an event.
These are not your typical early adopters. I waited in line near preteens who dragged their moms (and their credit cards, I presume) along, business executives, retirees well into their golden years and everyone in between. Scruffy, clean, rich or poor, hardly any group was left unrepresented.
To their credit, while Apple employees may not have always been forthcoming about remaining wait times and the like, the hospitality extended to the huge crowd won’t soon be forgotten by many who were there today. Bottled water, coffee, cookies and free t-shirts (a grand-opening perk) were all on hand.
One employee I spoke with said all of the staff underwent a couple weeks of training before they even stepped foot into the new store. It showed. Because, while although the process took what felt like an eternity, every employee seemed to be genuinely engaging with the crowd. So much so that at times it felt like every employee was recruited from a theater troupe.
Perhaps that explains why so many choose to take their business to Apple before AT&T Mobility or one of the other retailers in the channel on launch day. Or maybe it just comes down to that sense of cool.
“I just feel cooler buying it at an Apple Store,” a woman in line told her friends early into the morning. “I know it sounds so stupid, but…”