It was late Thursday evening and I decided to take a drive to my local AT&T store. I had read reports of lines forming at Apple and AT&T stores across the country and was curious to see if my relatively small city had enough interested inhabitants to start lining up the day before release. There wasn’t a single person in front of the store.
That wasn’t too surprising to me. I was the only person in my social circle with a deep interest in technology and I was almost certainly the only person in my small community college that brought a MacBook to class each day. But even with my immense enthusiasm about Apple, I was still unsure about purchasing an iPhone. I was nineteen at the time and the thought of spending five or six hundred dollars on anything was a little scary. But I knew this device was something special.
I owned an iPod nano, a fifth-generation iPod, and a MacBook. They were the only Apple devices in my possession, but if the iPhone’s fit and finish was anything close to those, it was going to be a hit.
On my way back home from the AT&T store, I called my mother on speaker phone with my Motorola RAZR. That little flip phone was all the rage in the mid-2000s and, being the tech-enthusiast that I was, I had racked up ridiculous data charges using Opera Mini to read my favorite weblogs in between classes at school. When my mom answered the phone, I unleashed all of my nearly-incoherent thoughts about the iPhone — what it did, what it didn’t do, how I could combine my RAZR and iPod’s functionality into a single device, and the pricing of each model.
I was looking for advice about purchasing one. I was a frugal young adult and had the money to buy one myself, but it was the second largest purchase I had ever made — behind my MacBook — and I didn’t want to jump into this purchase without giving it, what many would consider, far too much thought. After I unloaded all of the various thoughts that had been building up in my brain about the device, she calmly replied with something to the effect of: “You and I both know you’re going to buy it. Just buy it.”
My mind was made up. I was going to head home, get some sleep, and arrive at the AT&T store around noon. With any luck, the line wouldn’t be too long and I’d be able to walk out of the store with an iPhone that day.
I drove into AT&T’s parking lot at about 11:30 the next morning. There were ten people in line at the time and the word around the rumor mill was that the iPhone would be in limited supply at launch, but no one had any hard numbers about exactly how many phones each store would have. I just hoped my eleventh place in line was good enough to secure one.
The iPhone launch was different than any other cell phone release had been. Not just because of the monumental hype surrounding it, Apple and AT&T had this wacky plan of closing all of their retail locations at 5PM and reopening an hour later. This would give sales associates an opportunity to reset the sales floor with demo units and signage for the iPhone launch.
While waiting in line, I met people from all walks of life — a brain surgeon, a college student, an intern at Corning Glass, and a handful of others. There was a camaraderie amongst us. We were all there because of a common interest in technology. But, of the first dozen people in line, the intern from Corning Glass was sort-of the center of attention.
The guy seemed to have the inside scoop about the glass Apple was using in this new device — a glass that Corning had developed years prior, but until the iPhone, never had a good application for. After sharing his story, he ran to his car to retrieve a MacBook Pro — he planning on watching a movie or two to kill some time before the iPhone sales began.
When he returned, he pulled a small sheet of glass from his pocket. He claimed it was one of the prototype cuts that Corning made in their headquarters’ lab in preparation of the iPhone’s manufacturing several months prior. He passed it around the line, letting everyone get an idea for how the device we were planning to purchase would feel in our hands. It had cutouts for the earpiece speaker and home button.
It’s hard to tell if his story was true, I was never able to compare his glass panel to a fully-assembled iPhone. But it sure seemed legitimate to me. Especially given my close proximity to Corning Glass’ headquarters — about a thirty minute drive from my house.
Once the AT&T employees locked the doors for the sales floor reset, the anticipation was at a fever pitch. The line was growing rapidly — there were only about fifteen of us for most of the day, but by the time the employees started letting customers inside, there was about sixty. The AT&T employees informed us that there would only be a handful of customers allowed in the store at a time, when a customer left, another would be let in.
When I was finally let into the store, I was told that there were demo units available if I wanted to try it before I made my purchase. What a silly suggestion. I waited in line seven hours to purchase a cell phone, there isn’t a demo unit in the world that was going to change my mind. I walked up to the counter and asked for an 8GB model. I plunked down my $647 and was handed the most gorgeous product package I had ever seen.
I was the third person to walk out of the store with an iPhone and I couldn’t wait to get home and activate it with iTunes. That’s right, you had to connect your iPhone to your computer and activate it with iTunes before you could use it. Once I went through the activation process and synced all of my data, I felt like I was holding something that a time traveler had brought with them from the future. It was the most dense piece of technology I had ever seen — a little computer that I could hold in my hand and fit in my pocket.
The iPhone changed everything. In more ways than we even know. There are entire industries that haven’t fully adjusted to this new normal — a world where everyone has an internet connected computer in their pocket. But I couldn’t be happier that I’ve been able to see it all unfold over these last ten years — as one of the first owners of the most important consumer product of our generation.