I was conflicted as I set my alarm clock for 3:00 am on Thursday night.
Was waking up that early really necessary?
Or could I sleep another hour?
Then I started recalling the stories of constrained iPhone 5s models, especially in gold. As I lay in bed thinking about it, I considered skipping sleep altogether and just going immediately to the Apple Store on Thursday night. In the end, fatigue prevailed and I decided to get some sleep and wake up at 3:00 am as planned.
Turns out that going to sleep was the better choice.
Almost as soon as I drifted off to sleep (or so it felt) my alarm was going off at 3:00 am. Luckily it was one of those smooth new tones that Apple includes with iOS 7, so it wasn't too jarring. I begrudgingly packed up my MacBook Air, iPad, a couple of phones, batteries, warm clothes and a folding chair.
I arrived at my local Apple Store (in Atlantic City, NJ) at around 4:30 am (ET) this morning and there were already 27 people waiting in line on the boardwalk outside the The Pier at Caesars, a large shopping mall that extends out into the atlantic ocean. It's a unique retail location and quite beautiful when compared to most shopping malls. Luckily the wind wasn't blowing too hard off the ocean, so the temperature was tolerable. It was 51 degrees (F) out with a beautiful full moon.
About two hours later, at 6:30 am as the sun was rising, several retail staffers came out to brief the people waiting in line on how things were going to work. First, the bad news. There were no gold iPhone 5s', on any carrier and there were no carrier-unlocked iPhone 5s'. We could purchase a "full-price" iPhone 5s on AT&T, Verizon or Sprint -- without a contract -- but it would still be locked to that carrier. The iPhone 5c was available either subsidized or contract-free and carrier-unlocked with a T-Mobile SIM. She also told us that there was a limit of two iPhones per trip through the line, and a limit of ten in your lifetime.
The blue-shirted Apple staffers then came through the line and gave each person a square card and affixed a sticker to the card representing the iPhone that they wanted to purchase. They carried a binder for each mobile phone carrier with stickers for all of the iPhones that they had in stock and doled them out patiently and methodically. Once you had a stickered card, you were guaranteed that model phone. In an interesting twist, they gave us until closing time today (9 pm) to pick up our iPhone(s) with said sticker/card combination. We no longer had to wait in line and several people departed, presumably to come back later.
Then at just before 8:00 am they let everyone into the mall via the side entrance, 15 people initially, then five at a time. Once inside, it was reminiscent of the lines at Disney World where you go inside the building, just to find another line. All-in-all the whole sticker/card system was pretty orderly because once we got inside the actual store, there were no decisions to be made. From there things went relatively smoothly, if you call constant fire alarm drills and borderline chaos "smooth."
The first person in line was Mark Targett (below) from Tuckerton, NJ. He arrived at the A.C. store at around noon on Thursday. The second person in line was Mark's friend Scott Harris (also from Tuckerton), who arrived at around 2:30 pm on Thursday. The next people didn't start arriving until around 9:00 pm on Thursday evening according to the duo. When I arrived at 4:30 am on Friday morning Mark told me (via the store manager) that the store had no gold iPhones, but that it was a possibility that some could arrive in their morning shipment, due at 7:00. But that didn't happen.
Cases for both phones were more plentiful than the phones that they're designed for, with a slight run on green cases for the iPhone 5c. After getting into the store at around 9:00 am I was able to procure two phones (iPhone 5s/64/AT&T and iPhone 5c/16 unlocked) and was on my way home by 9:30 am. The only snags were the lack of gold and carrier unlocked iPhone 5s' -- there was an audible groan from the crowd when the woman from Apple made those announcements. Overall the vibe was good and people were pretty well-behaved. It didn't hurt that the weather cooperated and that there's a Starbucks just up the boardwalk.