Keys to Getting the First iPhone: Preparation, Luck, and Standing Your Ground

Apple store

(Cross post from

I didn’t bring my Kindle Paperwhite, but I do have Nicholson Baker’s new novel,Traveling Sprinkler, on my iPad mini Kindle app, so I won’t be lacking for something to read.  As was the case six years ago at the first iPhone launch, I find myself first in line at the Cambridgeside (MA) Galleria Mall Apple Store. Sweet!

Behind me in line are about 40 others waiting to buy an iPhone 5C or 5S. With only two and a half hours to go till the doors open at 8 a.m., that’s a muted buying frenzy compared with the scene on June 29, 2007, here at the same store. As I remember it, I arrived at the mall at about 3 a.m. and the doors didn’t open till sometime the following afternoon. I brought a chaise longue and was greeted with a regal welcome from the Apple staffers when the metal gate finally rose to let us in.

It helps to be a veteran of Apple product launches.

I visited the store yesterday for an Apple One to One appointment and a visit with a couple of mall cops. The cops said the mall opens at 4:30 a.m., including the underground parking garage, and they said no line would be allowed to form at the pedestrian entrances of the mall. “You can wait across the street in the park,” one told me. That didn’t sound like a good plan, so I slept till 4 am and enjoyed a traffic-free cruise down Memorial Drive to the mall, arriving just before 4:30 when the gate to the garage was still closed.

I could see a group of people waiting at the pedestrian entrance, and I briefly considered parking on the street and joining them. I’m glad I didn’t.

A mall cop on a Segway arrived to open the garage gate, and he whistled me down the ramp a minute later. I parked close to the escalator, scampered up the steps before they started moving, and soon found myself all alone in front of the big, white illuminated Apple logos. By the time  I had positioned myself first in the nonexistent line next to the orange marker ribbon and stanchions, the group from the pedestrian door was headed my way, looking none too happy to see me.

A woman in the lead announced that she was first in line, because she was first on a list of names she clutched that had been prepared by a mall cop at the walk-in entrance. Some of those on that list had arrived well before midnight and had been waiting all night for the doors to open. I felt their irritation, but I didn’t budge. It was clear that any sign of indecision would move me from Number One to Number thirty-something.

“It doesn’t matter who is on that list,” I told the woman. “It matters who got here first.” That logic was persuasive, and the people of the list lined up behind me, grumbling mostly in Chinese. It seemed to help when I assured them that we would all get iPhones today. “There will be lots of them,” I told Number Two.

Sitting in my folding chair here at the Apple Store, I just recorded the opening of today’s Kindle Chronicles episode, TKC 267 with Nancy Pearl, but Podcast Mountain is going to be a steeper climb than usual because of this absurdly early start. Once I get Darlene oriented to her new gold iPhone 5S, I’ll probably take a quick nap before starting the script and recording the show.

I actually considered not doing the launch this time. The thrill of these Apple events is pretty much gone, five generations from the electrifying arrival of the iPhone. But at my One to One appointment yesterday, one of the Apple staffers recognized me from the 2007 launch. “You’ll be here tomorrow, right?” she asked me, explaining to a recent hire, “he was first in line for the first iPhone.” Tickle my ego that expertly and I become helpless, so here I am.

As I woke up at 4 a.m., I thought this might be a good day for Amazon to send out invites to its expected press conference announcing the new Kindle Fire lineup. Steal some thunder, maybe. I hope they wait a couple of days. I need some sleep…

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