Back in the day, we waited in line to buy the iPhone, and we liked it. When the second iPhone was released – the iPhone 3G – I had the luck of living in New Jersey and working in New York City, which allowed me to experience the iPhone launch in literally the most New Jersey way possible. Bon Jovi was involved.
For the very first iPhone launch in 2007, I waited in line at the Apple Store in the Mall at Short Hills, New Jersey. It’s a classy establishment, and that made for a rather unfriendly iPhone wait. We were not allowed to set up chairs inside, so we all bought pillows from Pottery Barn and sat on the floor. One lady brought her new puppy. It was a good time, but I’m glad that iPhone launches have modernized.
For the launch of the iPhone 3G, I decided to wait at the kinder Apple Store at the Rockaway Commons Mall in Rockaway, NJ. There are many malls in New Jersey, so I had plenty of options to choose from. The store was opening around 8am, so I decided to get there at 5am.
This was the second iPhone launch, and there had been very long lines for the first one. The very first Apple iPhone in 2007 went on sale at 6pm in the evening, so we waited all through the day. The second iPhone, the iPhone 3G in 2008, went on sale in the morning, and I thought that by then Apple would finally catch up to its demand predictions and this would be an easier iPhone launch with a much shorter wait time. I was partly mistaken.
There was already a line before dawn
When I pulled up at 5am, ahead of the morning sun, a line had already formed, but it wasn’t too crowded. There were probably 30 people ahead of me. That wasn’t too many, so I wasn’t worried about getting a device that day. People were set up in lawn chairs, I sat down on the grass; somebody even had a cooler and was passing out cold cans. It was a very festive, dark morning in northern New Jersey.
We waited. The line was friendly, but everybody stared at their phones, of course. After an hour, at 6am somebody important-looking started coming down the line and handing out numbers on a slip of paper. It did not look very official, and nobody was dressed in Apple-branded clothing, but it was still pre-dawn – before the mall and store opened.
I felt hopeful. My number was in the low thirties. Nobody in the line was being turned away. It looked like we would all be getting our iPhone that day.
Not long after the ‘numbers’, a white van pulled up to the line with a radio logo on the side. It was 95.5, WPLJ radio. I knew the station, which played rock and roll that I liked. I thought it was funny – an iPhone launch attracting enough attention for a local radio station.
I was both working that morning and attending the line as a smartphone enthusiast. I would have been there either way. It just happened that I had a boss who was thrilled I was there, so no need to take the day off of work.
Wait, I'm in line for what?!
The folks from the WPLJ radio van started talking to the people near the front of the line. I wouldn’t want to talk on the radio, I thought. I don’t want to be seen as that much of an enthusiast. I’m trying to remain unbiased here. After all, I was going to take this phone and start reviewing it as soon as I took it out of the box.
Wait a minute. The people at the front of the line left. They shook hands with the radio people and they left. Then the next people talked to WPLJ radio, shook hands, and did the same: they walked to their cars and drove away. They did not have an iPhone. Why didn’t they have an iPhone?
“What’s going on?” I asked the woman in front of me. She was already standing, folding her camping chair, and preparing to leave. The Apple Store wouldn’t even be open for another hour.
“Oh, don’t worry, we’re all good. They have plenty of tickets,” she said.
“Tickets?! What about the iPhone!?” I shot back.
“iPhone?! What iPhone?” She answered.
I didn’t even ask about the tickets. I was too panicked. I needed an iPhone that day for review, and I was apparently in the wrong line. That meant somewhere else, somewhere close, there was an iPhone line, and it may be getting longer by the moment, and I was not in it.
I thought about bolting for the mall to find the line as quickly as possible, but instead I waited. I wanted to see what they were giving away.
We're halfway there, take my hand...
That morning, instead of waiting in line for the iPhone 3G, I got in line for free tickets to see Bon Jovi in Central Park. For some reason, the radio station chose to give the tickets away at the mall, and asked folks to meet at the entrance that happened to be closest to the Apple Store.
I took my tickets and went inside. Shortly after I found the line for the iPhone 3GS. It was inside the mall, and people had chairs set up. It was, coincidentally, almost the exact same length as the line I had just left. I got in line and waited an hour, then bought a white iPhone 3GS. Crisis averted.
I’d love to tell you about the concert, but the sad truth is that I didn’t go; I was busy, working that night – you guessed it – writing my iPhone review. I wanted to get it done by the end of the next day, and I couldn’t justify the trip into the city, even if it would have made a fertile testing ground for the iPhone’s 2MP camera. It would have only been still images, though, because that iPhone could not even shoot video!
I offered my tickets to a cousin, and he couldn’t go either, so I kept them as a souvenir. The iPhone got traded in a year later for the next big thing, and I’ve still not seen Bon Jovi.
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Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.
Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.