Live! From the Fifth Ave. iPhone line

July 11, 2008, 9:56 AM UTC

I bought an iPhone for myself on Friday. This was a live blog to chronicle the event, posted in reverse order with the most recent items on top.

11:47 a.m. The iPhone just beeped. I’m in. Entered my e-mail address and the sync is in progress. That ends this blog.

POSTSCRIPT from Brooklyn: I counted roughly 230 people in line as I left the Apple Store, none of whom were among the 150 who were queued up at 5:00 a.m. (a woman coming in as I left said she’d been waiting since 7:30). I put the total count at somewhere between 380 and 500. It was a friendly, patient crowd — the usual New York mix of ages and colors — although by the time I left the people at the end were wondering how long they would stick with it if it kept moving so slowly.

Meanwhile, I still don’t have a working iPhone. The endless barber shop in iTunes has been replaced with an error message: good old unknown error (-9838). I gather from comments below and from reports here and here that Apple’s activation servers have crashed. Last year the server problems were on AT&T’s end.

10:00 a.m. On the advice of Nicki, a savvy Apple rep who seems to know what she’s talking about, I’m headed home. I can do this as well from the comfort of my leafy backyard as I can standing here.

9:38 a.m. iPhone out and plugged in. The screen is telling me to plug it in, even though it already is. But the device shows up in iTunes and I’m getting the “accessing iTunes” barber pole. I’m told by the nearest Apple rep that it’s going to be a long wait — as much as 20 minutes. Apparently a lot of people are trying to do this at the same time. Not clear if the delay is Apple’s or AT&T’s.

9:31 a.m. Authorization successful. $215.67. I sign again. Give my zip code for the fourth or fifth time. Transaction competed.

9:29 a.m. I sign the EasyPay PC for the second time. When we’re done here, I’m supposed to find an orange T-shirt for “personalization.”

9:20 a.m. Back to the Genius Bar — next to Daniel as it turns out. Since the first phone was partially activated, they have to start again with a new one.

9:18 a.m. A breakthrough! Michael reports that the long wait was due to the first AT&T operative misspelling my name (an easy mistake), which created a conflict with my social security number. I’m being sent back to the line (but at the front, not the back).

9:10 a.m. After a long wait, Michael has reached someone at AT&T named Jeffrey. They want my Social Security number again. For the fourth time. Did I mention that I’m trying to do the simplest possible purchase: a new account, one line?

9:05 a.m. Update from Daniel’s crew. His transaction is taking as long as mine. Apparently he’s trying to buy eight iPhones at once. I  wonder where the money is coming from…

9:00 a.m. It’s been a full hour now. AT&T has been doing a credit check for the past 15 minutes. These Apple people — mine is named Michael — have the patience of saints. I’m happy to have power and Wi-Fi.

8:44 a.m. We’ve had to get AT&T on the line, which means spelling out names and numbers, one character at a time, over and over. Katie Cotton, Steve Jobs’ personal PR maven, stops by to commiserate.

8:24 a.m. I’m a problem case. They’ve moved me to a separate table for special handling.

8:14 a.m. Daniel shows up. The box of apples was the last straw, but he’d pushed the security guys to the edge. He finally had to get escorted in by the NYPD. They’re a little friendlier than whomever Apple hired to do security. He’s trying to buy three phones, one for himself, one for John McCain and one for Barack Obama. We’ll have to see how that worked out.

8:11 a.m. My credit card isn’t swiping. They’re taking my information manually. Other people seem to be moving through at the rate of one every 10 minutes.

8:09 a.m. The EasyPay is having “network problems.” Someone gets another unit. Still waiting.

8:06 a.m. The roar from the Apple staff shouting and clapping is disorienting as we walk down the big circular staircase. (See video here.) We’re directed to the long table that usually houses the genius bar. I hand over my credit card and photo ID. A staffer pulls out a black box with an 8GB iPhone 3G and begins working with his EasyPay Pocket PC. It’s the start of what turns out to be a long, difficult process.

8:00 a.m. An unpleasant incident just as the doors open. Daniel Bowman Simon, organizer of TheWhoFarm group that has been here for a week, rushes to the door with a laptop, an Amerian flag and a box of apples. He’s grabbed by a security guard, who wrestles with him and then drags him off toward 58th Street. Everybody — the press, the Apple staff, the WhoFarmers, the people at the front of the line — is a little stunned. But the doors are open and, hesitantly at first, we trudge in.

7:45 a.m. Running low on battery. May have to pick this up after the event.

7:40 a.m. Getting closer. TV cameras everywhere you turn. CBS Early Show shows up with a team of five or six to get a shot of Greg Price, the talent, walking through the crowd. TheWhoFarm is trying — so far in vain — to pull together a press conference to publicize their online petition to turn the White House lawn into an organic farm. Harry Smith from CBS shows up in heavy pancake make up flashing a white iPhone 3G, 25 minutes before the doors open.

7:05 a.m. Greg Packer, 44, the retired highway maintenance worker who had his 15 minutes of fame in 2007 when he headed the Fifth Ave. iPhone line, (his wait: 4 days, 13 hours) has showed up in a Bon Jovi shirt. He’s still using his original iPhone, which except for some visible wear on the edges seems none the worse for wear.

7:00 a.m. The barricades are up, creating a zig-zag on Fifth Ave., and the line has moved up to fill it.

6:50 a.m. Ron Johnson, Apple’s vice president for retail, shows up. He’s whisked into the store by PR, who explain that he’s on a tight schedule and doesn’t have time to chat.

6:45 a.m. Apple employees in blue and orange t-shirts have broken out a few boxes of Smart water, preparing to hydrate the crowd, should things get hot.

6:30 a.m. The barricades are being moved into place and hooked together. The line has shifted 50 feet closer to the entrance. Much confusion as word moves down the queue. A surly looking guy in a black shirt and jeans has fallen asleep around position 11 and will not be moved. “I’m not here to buy an iPhone,” he tells everyone who asks him to move. “I just want to sleep.”

6:15 a.m. Things are starting to heat up. A dozen big guys with blue Squad Security shirts have gathered menancingly outside the metal barriers. They are threatening to move TheWhoFarm people who have been camped out here for a week and have collected a week’s worth of detritus (chairs, blankets, boxes of apples, a solar collector). The press have started to move in as well. Four satellite trucks from the networks have parked on 58th Street, their masts looming 30 or 40 feet high. Camera men with sound guys tethered to them roam up and down the line, grabbing sound bites. Every once in a while someone drives by and shouts an insult, like “get a life!”

6:09 a.m. Meet a pair of French graphic designers from Marseille who have been hanging out near the front of the line hoping to pick up a second-hand iPhone or two on the cheap. Very cheap. Clement Niviere, 20, in tight red pants, wears a hand-lettered sign on his chest that reads: “I could trade my red pants with your old iPhone (really.)” His copain, Jonas Lebesgue, also 20, wears a sign that reads “KEEP your new one, GIVE the old one.” Have they had any takers? “For the moment, no,” says Clement.

5:30 a.m. The Apple employees in front confirm what I’ve been hearing: that there were more people earlier in the night but they left when they were told they had to sign a two-year contract with AT&T in order to buy an iPhone 3G today. “We’ve been going through every couple of hours,” one tells me. “A few people left every time.”

5:18 a.m. I’m at Madison and 58th, a block away from the store, talking to the guy who’s currently the last man in line, No. 150. His name is Jason and he’d prefer to leave his last name out of it. He’s 26, from Kennebunk, ME, and he moved to New York City a few months ago to take a job at Lehman Bros., the big investment bank. In his pocket he’s carrying his first iPhone, which he bought on June 30, 2007, the day after the phones first went on sale. He’ll buy a new one today and sell his old one on Craigslist.

5:10 a.m. The Apple (AAPL) store shines like ship in the dark as I approach from the Plaza Hotel subway stop. The doors are blocked off (no bathrooms or free Wi-Fi!) and blue-shirted employees stand guard at the entrance. There are people queued up behind TheWhoFarm, but I can’t see how many.

4:45 a.m. Thinking about the report in the Wall St. Journal that the Justice Dept. has decided not to press criminal charges against Apple in the options backdating case and wondering why it came out yesterday. Nobody from the D.O.J. spoke on the record. Steve Jobs wasn’t quoted and neither was his lawyer. The source seemed to be the lawyers for Nancy Heinen and Fred Anderson, the two Apple execs who were thrown under the bus, to use the late Fake Steve Jobs’ expression. She’s off the hook now, free and clear. She must be happy she decided to fight the S.E.C. He’s probably asking himself why he caved. And mourning the $150,000 fine and $3.5 million in gains he coughed up to settle the charges.

4:30 a.m. Made a cup and drank it fast, out the door by quarter past. Caught the N train at Union St. in Brooklyn. Car full of sleeping construction workers. No sign that anyone is headed where I am. It’s not like going to a ballgame in a subway full of Yankee caps.

iPhone logic board

3:00 a.m. Up early to shower and stuff. Clearing out my e-mail. Happy to see that the flood of messages from PR firms hawking iPhone apps has slowed to a trickle and we’re back the usual krill I swim through every morning, hoping for enough protein to make it through the day. The Times is talking about rescuing Fannie Mae. Salon says Jesse Helms is not dead. A dying Thai hieress wants my help transferring $12 million to the U.S. Here’s something interesting: iFixIt has sent me a better picture of the iPhone 3G logic board. THAT I can use.