Technologizer

Five Years Ago Today, the iPhone Went On Sale

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Harry McCracken

Photos I took when I bought the first iPhone on June 29, 2007

Apple’s much-anticipated iPhone, which goes on sale in the US today, will struggle to break into the mainstream because of a lack of a 3G connection and low demand for converged devices, according to research.

International research conducted by media agency Universal McCann has concluded that Apple’s goal of selling 10m iPhones by the end of 2008 is too ambitious.

[snip]

Report author Tom Smith, Universal McCann’s research manager for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, said the trend for multiple devices were a serious barrier for converged devices because users would not be motivated to replace their existing gadgets.

“The simple truth: convergence is a compromise driven by financial limitations, not aspiration. In the markets where multiple devices are affordable, the vast majority would prefer that to one device fits all,” Mr Smith added.

I quote from “iPhone Set to Struggle,” by the Guardian‘s Jemima Kiss. I first read the story on the day it was published, June 29, 2007. It was around 7:30am, and I was sitting crosslegged on the sidewalk outside San Francisco’s Stonestown Galleria mall, where I was already in line to buy the first iPhone, which wouldn’t go on sale until more than ten hours later.

It had been almost six months since Steve Jobs announced the phone at Macworld Expo, and the giddy anticipation had been building ever since.

Today, long lines outside Apple Stores for new iPhones and iPads are almost mundane: It’s bigger news when the lines aren’t all that lengthy. But in 2007, iPhone madness was something the world hadn’t experienced before; it made the Nintendo Wii’s frantic reception look like ennui.

iPhone boy

Harry McCracken

(Did any Apple product before the first iPhone inspire large numbers of people to take the day off from work and spend it in a queue outside a store? Judging from the quick research I just did, serious lines for iPods weren’t unknown. But neither did they make the front page of every major newspaper in the country.)

While I had memories of Original iPhone Day, they weren’t all that specific–and over the years, they got intermingled with similar memories from launch days for other iPhones, as well as iPads. Fortunately, I documented the whole weird experience in a series of blog posts for PC World, my employer at the time. (I was buying the phone on behalf of the publication, for research purposes–I held out and didn’t get one for myself until the iPhone 3G shipped a year later.) My posts are no longer available on PCWorld.com, but they live on at the Internet Archive.

Revisiting them was fun. I’d forgotten that I actually waited in two iPhone lines: I started the morning at the Stonestown outpost near my home but switched off with other PC World employees and went to the far longer, zanier queue at the flagship Apple Store in San Francisco, where the atomosphere was part block party, part circus.

Here’s a PC World video from that day documenting the scene:

I didn’t recall that I won a commemorative T-shirt by being the only one in line who knew Steve Jobs’ birthday. (I looked it up on my ThinkPad.) Nor did I remember being struck by the fact that many of the people who were buying iPhones were paying for them with wads of $100 bills.

I did remember the otherwordly experience of climbing the glass staircase at the Apple Store while throngs of store employees cheered us as if we’d just finished a marathon–which, in a way, I guess we had. It’s one of the strangest things that’s ever happened to me as a technology journalist, and it’s only more bizarre in retrospect.

We PC Worlders began our iPhone Day at 6am. We acquired our phones–I don’t remember how many we bought, but it was something like half a dozen or more–in the early evening. Then we skittered back to the office to produce an instant review and shoot some video. (Having so many phones on hand let us work on the review and other projects concurrently, speeding the process.)

By the time the last of us finished up, we’d worked a 24-hour news cycle and were a tad punchy. I drove home and slept for a few hours. When I woke up and hit the web, this video which we’d produced, starring my colleague Eric Butterfield, was already everywhere:

Oh, and Universal McCann’s declaration of the “simple truth” that people didn’t want multipurpose devices such as the iPhone, and Apple’s goal of selling ten million by the end of 2008 was therefore unrealistic? This may shock you, but it was Universal McCann whose expectations were out of whack.

By the time 2008 ended, Apple had sold 13 million iPhones. It’s sold more than an additional 200 million since then. The phone and its competitors–which, let’s be honest, are mostly imitators–have had a dramatic impact on the market for standalone gadgets such as MP3 players, GPS navigators and even digital cameras. Once people could buy good converged gizmos, they did, in droves.

These days, I’m just as happy to buy my iPhones without any hoopla; as we PC World staffers discovered back in 2007, the lines dissipate quicker than you’d think. By the end of the first day, you can saunter in and pick up a phone with hardly any wait at all. But I’m glad I was there to witness the initial hysteria.

And you know something? The folks who went cuckoo over that first iPhone, sight unseen, came far closer to correctly assessing its signficance than the experts who confidently explained why it would flop.

MORE: Read TIME’s original iPhone review

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