Skip to Content

Live from the (relatively sedate) iPhone 3GS launch

The new iPhone — awkwardly named 3G S (since shortened to 3GS, no space) — went on sale in New York at 7:00 a.m. EDT. This is my live blog of the event from the glass cube of Apple’s (AAPL) Fifth Avenue store, posted in reverse order with the most recent items on top.

8:00 Inside the store, the processing of new customers seems to be proceeding in an orderly fashion. There are scattered problems here and there, including reports of extended activation delays, but in general it’s a vast improvement over last July, when Apple’s servers crashed under the load. (Apple learned its lesson and put a couple days between the launch of iPhone 3.0 and the release of the 3GS.) Last year, after two hours trying and failing to get my then-new iPhone 3G activated in the store, I finally left and did it from home. This year I’m heading back to Brooklyn empty handed. I’m not going to buy a 3GS until I can get the full discount in December.

7:45: Wrapped up my interview with CNN International. A kindly Apple PR person has taken pity on me and let me behind the lines to get power, Apple Store Wi-Fi and access to a men’s room. The official estimate of the crowd when the doors opened, she tells me, is 300 people. [UPDATE: By the time someone talked to the
New York Times
, Apple’s count had grown to 400. Piper Jaffray team counted 350, and senior analyst Gene Munster now thinks his prediction that Apple would sell 500,000 units the first weekend might prove to be “conservative.” ]

7:18: The first customer to emerge with an iPhone 3GS is immediately surrounded by reporters, photographers and TV camera crews. I might have made a better picture, but it would have meant walking away from my MacBook.

7:02: The gates open, the crowd starts moving forward, our Jersey boys are at the head of the line. It’s a relatively orderly and civilized affair, for an iPhone launch. The employees in their blue and orange T-shirts showed great restraint, no running down the street like madmen, whooping and screaming. Just steady clapping as the customers march down the stairs in groups of 10 to pick up their iPhones. (I’ve posted a 76-second movie here.)

7:00 Crowd roaring. Whistles. Clapping.

6:55: Apple employees gathering under the big round staircase, getting ready to go crazy. From time to time small roars erupt from the crowd for no apparent reason. The TV crews are lined up to get the first people in line.

6:45: The crowd now fills 8 twists of the maze; I estimate it at about 220 people.

6:40: The tension has started to rise. I’m afraid I might get booted out of my perch near the corner of the cube, where I’m getting a weak Wi-Fi signal from inside the store.

6:38: Security guys have started to lay out the crowd control tape. I recognize the heavy who roughed up Daniel Bowman Simon, the environmental activist who was first in line for the iPhone 3G last July. I guess Apple was not unhappy with the job he did.

6:28: The clowns have started to show up. A guy in body-size iPhone costume and a cardboard sign urging people to recycle their iPhones; a pair of lovelies in lime-green Gazelle shirts; two guys offering to buy old 8GB iPhone 3G at $200 a pop. Lots of cameras, two TV trucks with masts and one with a satellite dish.

5:58: Two Apple employees in red shirts are manning the entrance to the barricade maze, sending newcomers to one line or the other, depending on whether they have a reservation. Apple seems to have anticipated a larger crowd than they are getting because the maze is clearly too big. Guys in black shirts are removing the extra ones, perhaps the reduce the impression that the turnout is small. Carlos, the Apple employee manning the front of the line, assures me that they have plenty of units in stock. I think he may be right.

5:53 There are two lines, reserved and nonreserved. I count 61 in the reserved, 48 in the other, for a total of 109. The last person in the reserved line, joining it with a little more than an hour to go before the doors open, is Saadiq Akal, 30, a financial analyst from Mill Basin, Brooklyn. He has an iPhone 3G, but he wanted to get the new model. Why did he come so early? “I wanted to get home and get some sleep.”

5:50: Sam Epstein, 18, from Montclair, N.J., is first in line. Two of his buddies have gone to find a bathroom. One of them — Keith Hobin, whom we interviewed Thursday — had to go home. Spending the night on the pavement, he said, wasn’t too bad. “I managed to get a couple hours sleep.”

5:49 Dawn at the Fifth Ave. glass cube. There’s a small crowd bunched together on the 58th St. side.

5:43: Approaching Fifth Ave. station. Wondering how the boys from New Jersey — whom we last saw huddled under big black umbrellas loaned to them by the Apple Store staff (see here) — fared overnight.

4:55: Waiting for the R train to Manhattan.

4:45: Out the door. Thursday’s rain has stopped. The sky is already lightening over Brooklyn.

4:30: File my first story of the day: “The iPhone 3GS stripped bare in Paris

3:40: Boot up. The New York Times online has stories about Democrats scrambling to scale back health care reform plans, the deepening confrontation in Iran and the Continental flight from Brussels that landed safely with a dead pilot in the cockpit. E-mail from Rapid Repair tells me they have posted the first iPhone 3GS teardown from Paris.

3:00: Alarm.