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The enthusiast's iPhone 4 campout experience

by on25 June 2010

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An aggressive mob rush to the front of the store

Getting an iPhone 4 during Apple’s grand launch event this year was anything but easy for the patient campers who waited overnight to grab the fruit-themed toymaker’s latest smartphone iteration. It was a brave battle against human nature for any lonesome soul who wished to combat the forces of several thousands of materialistic fanboys who lined the streets to anticipate the new device.

Nevertheless, as the audacious and adept launch-day line sitters that we are, we personally spent a good 16 hours of a very long 30-hour day camping out for the iPhone 4 in hopes of procuring a spot at the top of the “Reserved Customers” line. Last Tuesday, when Apple’s reservation system went online at 1:00am PST, we were among the very first smartphone enthusiasts to pre-order the new device before exactly 1:01am and received a confirmation email stating that the iPhone 4 would be ready for pick-up at our local Apple Store on June 24th.

After a full week and a half filled with hardware anticipation, launch-day supply chain rumors and analyst predictions, the day has finally come and gone, but the great burdens of its success story have yet to be told. In the metropolitan suburbia of Orange County, Southern California, this is how it went down.

On Wednesday, June 23 at 8:00pm, we loaded our wallets with cash, loaded the car with lawn chairs, water bottles and some other unnamed drinks, and headed over to southeast Los Angeles County after hearing rumors of a special event launch line for the iPhone 4. Apparently, press got out that Apple was opening a brand new store at the Los Cerritos Shopping Center in Cerritos, California to coincide with the iPhone 4 launch, which we wrote about here. Several city residents in the area informed us that the mall security guards were going to allow an unofficial line to start forming at 10:00pm. So we decided to try our luck and drove over there with some friends to determine the status of the situation.

Yet, what we forgot to realize in the process was how persistent Los Angeles residents can be during product launch events like Black Friday or the release of a new iPhone. The line was well over 200 people long by the time we arrived, and it appeared that a group of individuals had formed a “pre-unofficial” launch-day line in order to get into the “official” unofficial line at 10pm as designated by the mall’s security officers.

It was time to forget Plan B and redirect our goals on proceeding with Plan A, which had been determined to be the Apple Store at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California. Over the past few years, we have had incredible experience at this shopping center and were privileged enough to be first in line for both the iPhone 3G on July 11, 2008 and the iPhone 3GS on June 19, 2009. Without further hesitation, we decided to try for a third year in a row at the top spot in line, or at least within the first ten people to walk into the store. It seemed like a reasonable goal to utilize the best of our enthusiast abilities, and we proceeded to head over to the mall around 9:30pm.

When we arrived, the West Parking Lot structure in front of the glass entrance doors was entirely empty as suspected. A security guard quickly approached us and kindly explained the campout situation for this year’s event. 1) No one was allowed on the premises of the mall until designated by the security guards on duty. 2) The official lineup would begin at 5:00am. 3) There would be two lines in front of two separate mall doors – one for “Reserved Customers” and the other for “Walk-In Customers.”

After having a brief chat with the mall security officer, we decided to get some late-night breakfast at IHOP with a few fellow campers. The food break was definitely an opportunity to think about strategic lineup plans, and we discussed the possibilities of hiding in the bushes behind the parking lot structure and lining up several minutes before 5:00am just to be ensured a spot. However, after browsing around on the MacRumors forums and listening to what prospective campers were saying about their arrival times, we decided against that plan and instead opted to try and form an unofficial line outside of the mall’s premises until the green light was given to lineup.

Much to our dismay, when we arrived back at South Coast Plaza around 10:30pm, there was already a group of approximately 15 campers lined up directly outside of the West Parking Lot structure on the right hand sidewalk. To put icing on the cake, this line was complete with a security guard positioned twenty feet in front of them who had lined up orange cones across the vehicle entrance zone. After kicking ourselves a few times, we proceeded to find a parking spot nearby and walked over to where the line had formed, but remained cautious about the nature of the situation. We approached the security guard on duty and inquired about the state of the line and the previous security guard’s claims that official lines were not permitted to form until 5:00am. The security guard explained that these campers had formed an unofficial line, and that there would be no particular order as to who would receive priority once the official lines began.

So in rebellion, we decided to form our own little line, but on the left hand sidewalk adjacent to them. Within a couple of seconds after sitting down, we looked across the street to our contemporaries and couldn’t help but observe the top three guys in line starting to convene against us. Although we’re not in the position to assume anything about individuals we don’t know, we wouldn’t doubt that at least one of them was carrying a knife. These wannabe thugs proceeded our way with marks of arrogance written all over their chests and words of ignorance when it came down to critical reasoning skills. To sum up the conversation, they basically told us to pack our bags and move ourselves to the back of their line because they were “AT&T business customers who obviously have priority over [us].” Of course, we simply remarked that there was no “official” line until 5:00am as explained by the security guards, and that we had reservation pre-orders to guarantee we would receive our devices that morning. After a few minutes of listening to our favorite expletives in the forms of immature comments, they eventually backed off and let our group keep the spots that we had created.

Fast-forwarding a few hours to 4:30am, the line had grown by at least two hundred and fifty individuals since we first arrived, many of whom didn’t seem to observe the two distinct lines that had already formed. Within ten minutes, a security officer shouted into a loudspeaker with a warning that we were not allowed to bring any chairs bags with us to the front of the mall for the official lineup that was soon to commence. As multitudes of people came piling into the premises and neither gave regard to the lines we had formed nor the orange cones on the ground, many of us enthusiasts decided to creep up on the security guards in order to assume our positions. Yes, this was going to be a sprint race to the front of the mall. In fact, it was going to be a massively parallel mob rush to the front of the mall’s doors that would eventually form two distinct lines for the two respective groups of customers.

Now, keep in mind - over the years we've become trained experts on this exact type of situation. If the PlayStation 3 launch at Best Buy on November 17, 2006 is anything to go by, the iPhone 4 launch at South Coast Plaza would be a walk in the park. Indeed, it was. Our group sprinted well ahead of the rest of this massive three hundred person mob, and we were successfully able to ground second, third and fourth positions in the front of the “Reserved Customers” line at the front of the mall entrance. Great success, right? Unfortunately, the climax didn't end there.

As it turns out, we may have been the very elite few to battle the forces of nature and achieve the grand victory spots right in front of the mall doors, but we were dishonorably informed otherwise. The security guard walked up to us and explained that we had to be positioned directly behind the sign that said “Reserved Customers” and not in front of the actual doors. So we tried to push back, and we tried to get the late campers behind us to push back so we could assert our positions at the front of the line. Unfortunately, the security guard relentlessly went into douchebag mode and threatened to kick us out of the mall if we didn’t leave the front of the line. We petitioned the notion for several seconds, staring him down directly in the eyes until somebody made a remark.

Unfortunately, his deliberate lack of regard for our achievement was undermined. Our small group got pushed back from the top spots in the reserve line down to the 40th spots in line. At this point, it seemed as if time couldn’t move any slower, and all hopes had been lost.

We waited in line for another two and a half hours before finally entering the Apple Store. The mall security officers were allowing ten reserved customers into the mall for every one walk-in customer. Of course, at this ridiculously slow rate of progress, the line was undoubtedly going to last until closing time (update: and it did; walk-in customers who were still in line during store closing were upgraded to “reserved” status for Friday, June 25th). During the lineup, we couldn’t help but notice a suspicious individual walking around who had already received an iPhone 4 on Wednesday and was simply present to brag about his new toy in front of thousands of demanding customers. He walked up and down the mall a few times in front of both sets of lines with an air about him that made him feel innocent of his actions. Upon closer investigation, we found that he was holding the device to his ear so that everyone could see it as he walked by, but he wasn’t actually having a conversation with anyone – oh, the comments we have for individuals like these.

During the final countdown before the 7:00am store opening, several mall employees walked around with breakfast carts and served breaded pastries to hungry customers, Starbucks coffees and bottles of water. We have reason to believe that all of these appetizers were made available courtesy of Apple, as they were also present during the iPhone 3G launch in 2008.

To sum up the event, our group eventually came home with brand new iPhone 4 32GB models in hand, and we are happy to report that we did not receive any units with yellow spots on the IPS-based displays due to rushed manufacturing. We also did some brief AT&T cellular reception tests in response to the scare over rapid signal degradation when holding the device left-handed, and thus far we are happy to report that the issue is relatively minor and has only occurred in two cases during our first testing day. In fact, we have reason to believe that Apple’s new dual-antenna architecture has significantly reduced the latency between our device and the GSM cellular towers which it connects to. Lasty, we have also noticed a huge upload speed increase over the iPhone 3GS, and we are more than excited to report that the GPS radio in the new device has almost impeccable accuracy when measured against its predecessor.

We will have a more thorough test bed of results over the weekend when we publish our review of the iPhone 4 along with our impressions of its competition. Stay tuned for more coming shortly.

Last modified on 25 June 2010
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{youtube}10jlmrtcCEY{/youtube} iPhone 4 Launch Day at Apple Store - South Coast Plaza

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