Touching the iPhone (but not getting one.)

I wasn’t planning to get an iPhone, at least not on the first day. I had concerns about the keyboard and the slow AT&T data network. Back in ’05 I bought a Motorola ROKR, the original iTunes phone, and man, it was a piece of junk.

Still, there’s an AT&T store a few blocks from my office in Waltham, so I swung over there today around 5:15 to see what was going on. The Waltham store is very inconveniently located in the armpit of an I-95 offramp, so I thought there was an outside chance the line would be small and I could pick one up. At the very least, there would be some entertaining geek-watching — though certainly not the brush with history that Robert Scoble got in Palo Alto.

When I got there the line consisted of about forty people and ten empty chairs. Families were camped out, dudes were playing their Nintendo DSs, older management types were reading books or fidgeting with Blackberrys. Those folding blue camp chairs were the popular choice, but a few employees from the Copy Cop in the strip were waiting in line in their office chairs. Over the next half hour the empty chair owners came back (wimps!) so I ended up about #50 in line.

The AT&T store employees were clearly overwhelmed — their instructions had just come in that morning, and they only closed for 90 minutes to prep the store and the systems. They were unwilling to immediately answer the question on everyone’s minds — how many do you have? — but they shared what they did know about the ordering and activation process, and about when they’d get more. (They had no idea.)

When 6pm rolled around, a security guard let people into the store three at a time. About ten minutes later the first guy came out with his orange AT&T bag, and the crowd cheered. The mood got a little darker when word got out that they only had 40 iPhones for the 70-75 people in line. That’s more than I expected; I had guessed 25. About half of those of us after the cutoff point gave up and went home.

One of the lucky purchasers tried to immediately flip his, rather than wait for eBay. A kid — looked about 17 — in a “Yale Model United Nations” T-shirt walked up the line asking $800, cash. I told him that wasn’t a large hourly rate for waiting in line all day, but he said he’d only been there since 2:30, keeping his friend company. He didn’t get much interest — most of the really desperate people left when the quantity was announced. Some of the people who just missed the cut seemed to consider it, but looked unable to get that much cash out of the ATM.

Eventually I got in the store and played with one of the live floor models. I hated the soft keyboard at first. My accuracy was terrible. There are no cursor keys, so if you catch a mistake after the fact you have to backspace and re-enter the whole thing. But after a few words I started to get the hang of it. The contact point is a bit further down the finger than you first expect. As you type, the letter you hit pops up on a flyout just above your fingertip, and it doesn’t commit until you lift off, so you can slide to the correct letter if you hit the wrong one initially.

It’s a very effective training method, and after a few minutes I was totally sold on the keyboard. Still, say goodbye to blind SMSing from the pocket during blind dates and carjackings.

The rumor among existing customers in the line was that AT&T had silently upgraded the speed of their EDGE network by a factor of 2 this week in preparation for the launch. The demos were connected to the store’s wifi, so I didn’t get a speed test. It’s disheartening that they aren’t supporting a 3G network, but my current phone is GPRS, so maybe I’ll just try to forget that EVDO even exists.

Since .Mac (Apple’s email/calendaring/sharing service) supposedly supports push-email with IMAP IDLE, there was speculation that the iPhone would as well. But in the email settings on the phone, the options for checking email were Manual/every 15 minutes/every 30/every hour. One setting for all accounts. That sucks. Maybe if an account supports some sort of push, it will autodetect that and ignore the global setting. Or maybe it will have to wait for a software update.

The YouTube feature is killer.

They were taking orders for non-binding store delivery, so I went ahead and placed one, figuring I might as well get in the queue. The Apple Store is quoting 2 to 4 weeks for delivery on their online orders. But what’s this? Apple Stores get new deliveries of the iPhone daily? Maybe I’ll go down to the Cambridge store tomorrow morning.

Explore posts in the same categories: iPhone, Technology

One Comment on “Touching the iPhone (but not getting one.)”

  1. […] to the irregularly scheduled programming. Wow, five posts in a row on the iPhone. I feel bad about pushing my relatively non-nerdy post about Led […]

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