The 12-hour iPhone 4 wait game

So after my AT&T pre-order debacle, I decided to get my butt up early to jump in the line to try to acquire an iPhone 4. Let’s go through the day.

I woke up at 2:55 AM, five minutes before my alarm, jumped out of bed and got dressed. I gathered the items I would need. These items include my Zune, headphones, my iPhone 3GS and my Mophie Juice Pack Air, since I knew I would need the extra battery. One thing I didn’t bring, but should have, was my iPad; next time I definitely will bring my iPad. Surprisingly, it only took me about 15 minutes to get to the nearest Apple Store. On a normal day, it would take somewhere between 25 and 30 minutes to get there.

When I got there, they had two different lines, the reservation and the non-reservation line. The reservation line had about 25 people in it, while the non-reservation line had about 125 people ALREADY in line at 3:20AM. The first person was already in line at 2:30PM on June 23rd. Having been in the iPhone 3G line, I figured 125 walk-ins would ALL get iPhones.

So we began waiting… Around 6:30AM they started making everybody clump closer together. Those who had tents—yes, actual tents—packed them up and the line shrunk to about 1/2 the size, yet the same number of people.

The waiting game began. With the store opening at 7:00AM, I expected a 5-hour wait. Why five hours, you may ask? Well, I knew AT&T would have activation issues and it would take a while to get through both the reservation and non-reservation groups, with reservations going through faster than the walk-ins. We heard that there were about 900 reservations at this store alone. So, the group around me (there were about 8 of us) did become a bit worried about it, but not too much so.

So we waited and moved a bit, and waited and moved some more, and waited and waited. Once we were somewhat close to the Apple store, say maybe 25 people behind the first person, we had an Apple store employee come out and inform us that there were not enough phones for the walk-in group and they were going to start passing out ‘claim tickets’.

The ‘claim ticket’ system was a good one, except for one flaw. The flaw being that the only way to get a phone was to have somebody from the reservation line either change their mind or not qualify for a phone. This was the most excruciating part of the whole day. There was a stretch of time, probably two hours, when we didn’t move at all. We just sat and waited. Part of the hold up was due to AT&T’s activation servers being slow and Apple not just letting people take their phones once they had paid for them.

Around 11:00 AM, Apple started asking individuals if they wanted to be added to the ‘priority list’. The priority list, as explained by the Apple employees, was a store-specific list that would allow those who were in line to be emailed when a phone was available and ready for them to pickup in the store. Once emailed you would have 24 hours to pick up the phone. Just to be on the safe side, most of those in line did add themselves to the priority list.

Around 11:30 AM, we were close enough to the front of the line that we decided to wait it out. There was a group of three, of the original eight, who decided to bail because they didn’t think they would get a phone and they had other places to be and other things to do, like work.

Sometime between 11:00 AM and 12:30 PM Apple got something that everybody who was still standing in line was really hoping for: a shipment of iPhones. They received both 16GB and 32GB phones. We know it was between these times because we saw four different delivery trucks deliver items to the Apple store; we speculated but our suspicions were confirmed around 1:15 PM.

That’s when one of the Apple store employees came out with two thick stacks in his hand. They contained the oh-so-elusive ‘golden’ claim tickets. These weren’t small stacks either. The stacks must have been 50 of each 16GB and 32GB. By this time I was person number three in line, without a claim ticket. When the Apple employee came walking by, I asked for one 16GB (for my brother) and one 32GB (all mine). With my golden tickets in hand, next came the task of getting the pre-order cancelled that was placed through AT&T.


I tried calling the AT&T store to try and get a hold of somebody who could help me cancel the order. The first attempt got me nowhere. I waited for 10 minutes then tried again. Luckily someone picked up. I explained the situation, but he had an issue finding the pre-order. Once he found the pre-order, he had to do some checking to see if it had actually shipped. Fortunately it had yet to ship so he was able to cancel the order and reverse the upgrade on my line (which was the whole reason I was in the line instead of waiting at home). This did take about 15 minutes for them to complete. I, being skeptical, checked the Apple site to verify that I would be able to upgrade my phone. This made me excited to sit and get both phones.

So now it was just an excited waiting game, which seemed to go by quicker, despite the fact that by this time it had already been 10 hours of waiting. We all just waited. Once inside it was setup quite nicely. As you walk into the store, there is the new iPhone 4 table. You can stand and play with the iPhone, or as I and another did, disconnect the iPhone 4 from power and charge your own iPhone. After sitting in line so long, we managed to lose all of our power, which was scary considering I had my Mophie Juice Pack and my iPhone was fully charged when I left.

I finally did get to have an Apple employee assist me with retrieving my iPhones. It didn’t take long during checkout. I only had to sign my name like, six times. Three for each phone. Total for two phones: $534.11, which is STILL cheaper than what I paid for my original iPhone, which was $537.68, although, granted, it’s only $3.57 less; plus, my brother has since paid for his phone.

There are a couple of things I wish Apple would have changed. First off is the ability to have those purchasing a phone be able to activate it at home, instead of having to do it in the Apple store. The part that took the longest is the activation with AT&T, which didn’t fully complete until I popped out the SIM cards and put them back in.

There are some other things to note as well. Throughout the day Apple had been passing out snacks and water. During the lunch time Apple provided pizza for everybody in line, if they wanted it. This gesture is entirely nice of them and not needed. My guess is that they were prepared for the temperature to be high and the humidity to be extreme making it completely uncomfortable.

Overall it was a good day. Yes, waiting for just about 12 hours did suck, but in the end I did end up getting the phones I wanted. The weather worked well for those of us who were waiting in the Chicagoland area. The best part, actually, were the people who were camped out with me for those long 12 hours, except for that idiot who tried to scalp a claim ticket just because he could.

I'm into everything technology related, particularly anything Apple related. I enjoy programming and tend to lean towards server-based technologies over client-based. You can contact me on twitter, via e-mail, or follow me on friendfeed.