iPhone 3G Day in Austin

So, I got up yesterday all excited about my new iPhone purchase. I had postponed upgrading my cell phone, just waiting for Apple’s new entry in the phone category, the better, faster iPhone 3G.  Decided to head to The Domain’s Apple Store, because I thought that would be the premiere Apple location. I knew it would be busy, but I wanted to experience an Apple release with Apple people.  I’d never done it before, rushed out to buy something on the first day.   I rarely go to movies on opening weekend (OK, I did see Sex and the City when it opened), and I steer clear of the malls during Christmas season as much as possible.  So, it’s not like I relish this stuff.  I knew going in, though, that there might be long lines, and patience would be in order. I just had no idea how much.

I stopped for coffee at Starbuck’s at 45th and Lamar.  The Apple Store there had a line of about 40 people in it.  I thought for a second that I should try my luck there. But, I was determined to be at an Apple Store this day.  So, I basically set aside the whole day, save a hair appt at 5:45pm that I decided to make at the last minute.  Surely I would be done with my iPhone quest by late afternoon early evening.

Anyway, you heard the news stories.  There were long lines, yes.  But, the process required in-store activation.  It was supposed to take 10-15 minutes per customer.  I probably had 200 people in front of me.  We moved along at a fair clip from 8am when the store opened until 10am . Then things seemed to slowwwwwww down.  That’s when it was 8am on the West Coast, so apparently the process flaked when all U.S. time zones were firing. I was still standing outside.  We were all moved across the street to get us out of the sun, that had just begun to blaze down.

So, since the line was across the street out of the sun, several people walked up thinking they could go right in, no waiting.  Sorry, buddy.  Start heading toward Macy’s.

The way it worked, was that they took people into the store in groups of 5, 10, or 15.  At that point, the line weaved around the store, probably 80 people hanging out in the store at a time. There were 20 or so people helping customers at the front at the Genius Bar.

The Apple people were extremely nice and enthusiastic, and this, I think, explains why everyone stayed calm and happy ALL DAY.  I waited for 8 hours. Got in line a little before 8am, finally met my Apple rep at the front with my new iPhone a little before 4pm.  By that point, the activation was only taking 10 minutes.  It was a very smooth process. They used a little handheld for signing you up and starting activation, then they took you over to another person who synced with iTunes to finish the process.  When I left, there were easily 300 people in line behind me still waiting for their new iPhone. The line had moved back across the street because the sun was now glaring from the West.  It will be interesting to hear how many they sold on Day One.

There were tons of Apple employees walking around in either blue or orange shirts.  They passed out water, answered everyone’s questions, basically hung out with people in the line.  They even gave everyone a ticket for a free coffee at Starbucks, later a Sweet Leaf van showed up and passed out iced tea. The guy who took my order at 4pm said he came to work at 6:30am, and was just as courteous and efficient as he could be. His name was Ali, and boy, was I happy to finally meet him.

I was amazed throughout the day at the level of calm and good spirits that everyone maintained.  People chatted and made friends with those around them in line.  People from the outside world brought food or came to visit those of us in the line. Once you were in the store, the line snaked through all the Apple toys (computers and iPods), so there was lots to keep you busy going from station to station.  I checked my email accounts (all of them, over and over again), logged on to Facebook, MySpace, used Twitter via the Web once my old cell phone’s battery started running low, checked news accounts of what was actually going on. I took pictures, even one with an iSight camera on one of the iMacs so I could post to the blog. Called and texted friends (including my friend at Apple in Cupertino, giving him a hard time).  Checked on my students’ projects.  So, it wasn’t a completely unproductive day.

I know Apple will fix this.  But, I appreciate experiencing Apple’s attention to detail in handling these situations.  And, I have my new toy!  If someone had told me going in that it was going to take 8 hours to get it on the first day, there’s no way I would have made the attempt.  But, in retrospect, I’m glad I did.

Here’s a news story from San Jose Mercury-News about how the iPhone 3G release went in San Francisco.

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