By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
November 2, 2012

FORTUNE — Turns out, if you were willing to catch the 5:30 a.m. shuttle bus from Brooklyn, the ride into Manhattan went pretty smoothly Friday morning.

Doors were originally scheduled to open at 8 a.m., but out of concern that some employees wouldn’t make it to the store on time, Apple (AAPL) pushed the launch time pushed back to 10 a.m.

I’m not sure the schedule change was properly conveyed to the customers queuing up in the dark. Because as of 6:45 a.m., with more than three hours to go, I counted 320 people in a line that started inside barricades in the F.A.O. Schwarz plaza and snaked halfway down 58th Street. Everybody I spoke to was waiting for the iPad mini.

UPDATE at 9:56 a.m.: 801 in line.

As late comers dashed toward the end of the queue, Apple staffers inside the cube could be seen wiring up tables of iPad minis.

The media presence was considerably smaller than previous iPhone and iPad launches: Only Bloomberg bothered to send a satellite truck, although at 8 a.m. I counted a half-dozen camera crews.

The first two guys to arrive — Luis Lorenzo, 42, from Queens and Jean Bacquez, 23, of Manhattan — made the mistake of taking a breakfast break. They had come at 6 a.m. Thursday and braved near-freezing temperatures overnight, but when they returned Apple sent them packing to the back of the line.

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