In 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, I lined up, like thousands of others, in the wee hours of the morning to purchase an Apple iPhone. Each year's story is somewhat similar: Get up early, go to Apple store, wait in line for hours, buy phone, go home.
In 2007, the iPhone went on sale at 6PM local time. I was home with the new device by 7:30. I had waited in line for several hours before the Apple store opened. I would say that there were no more than about 50 people clamoring for the device that year on launch day. With the first iPhone, the phone was purchased in the store, and then taken home to be activated via iTunes on your PC. I didn't have any problems activating my first iPhone, but some people did.
In 2008, the iPhone went on sale at 8AM local time. This was the year AT&T had terrible, terrible activation problems. iPhones were being activated in the stores for the first few hours devices were for sale, but eventually, Apple stores gave up and sent people home with unactivated phones. Once I got home--at 1PM--I spent about three more hours trying to activate the phone. Others had it far worse than me, waiting all weekend to get their iPhones activated. That year kind of sucked.
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In 2009, the process was much improved. I got in line around 6:30AM at my local mall, and, since I didn't really have a good spot in line, I didn't walk out with the iPhone 3GS until about 11:15. I would have waited less had I gotten up earlier, I suppose. Activating was not a problem.
In 2010, Apple allowed people to preorder their iPhones for in-store pickup. They also let people select launch day delivery. I opted for the former. I was in line by 5AM, but I was standing at least 100 people from the front door. For the first several hours, I worried.
Eventually, Apple employees came out and segregated the line into two queues: those who had preordered, and those who hadn't. I was suddenly only about 12 people from the front door. The number of people who hadn't preordered the device was mind-boggling, they easily made up 80% of the people looking to upgrade to the new device. Keep in mind, this was the year that AT&T dropped the mandatory smartphone plans from $30 per month down to $15 and $25 per month. This had a huge impact on the number of people looking to get an iPhone. The fine folks at the Apple store activated my phone before I left. I was home by about 9:45AM.
This year, I decided to do it a little differently. I knew I was returning from a business trip late the night of October 13, with the iPhone 4S going on sale at 8AM the next morning. I knew I'd be tired, and I knew I didn't want to get up early and deal with crowds after being away from home for five days. I preordered the iPhone 4S (black, 32GB) and opted for first-day delivery.
I've worked from home for five years. The UPS driver assigned to my neighborhood is as regular as a German cuckcoo clock. He shows up between 12:30 and 12:45 whenever there is a delivery for me. Only twice has he not arrived within that time frame: when the first iPad went on sale (he arrived at 2:30PM that day) and yesterday, when he showed up at 4:45PM--four hours later than normal.
I asked him if he'd been delivering a lot of the tiny little packages, which he handed to me. He said yes, he'd been delivering them all day. In fact, his normal daily volume of packages was about double, he said, and quipped, "That thing sure is popular today." No doubt.
Of course, by this time, I knew there were problems activating the device, and that the activation servers were having trouble handling the load. Since it was about 5PM, I decided to set the iPhone 4S aside for later (though, of course I opened it up and played with it for a few moments.)
Fast forward to 9PM (eastern), when my kids were in bed and I had some time to devote to the iPhone 4S.