Free coffee, plenty of publicity for iPad line waiters

The iPad launch is less frenzied than the launch of the iPhone, but people show up to participate in the experience and sometimes to revel in the media glow that Apple products bring.

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Crowds wait for the doors of the Apple Store in downtown San Francisco to open Saturday morning. James Martin/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--The iPad looks to be a well-received device, if the lines at Apple stores on Saturday are any indication. Hundreds lined up in New York City and San Francisco stores early Saturday morning.

But unlike in the case of past Apple launch events for the iPhone, it wasn't quite the frenzy we're used to. Although there were video cameras galore, reporters aplenty, and a palpable buzz, the launch didn't generate the near-hysteria that surrounded the first iPhone, or even the iPhone 3G. It was, however, clear that many people who choose to stand in line have done this before.

You can tell by the way they pose with the iPad upon exiting the store, wear slogans on their shirts that promote their game company or their friend's new app, or linger after they emerge from the store for interviews, which plenty of outlets--CNET included!--were happy to oblige. There is now, it seems, such a thing as a veteran Apple line waiter.

That doesn't mean they're not enthusiastic or excited about the iPad, quite the opposite. But those who stood in line Saturday morning didn't have to do that: Apple introduced the option last month to have the iPad shipped directly to your home starting Saturday--for free. So the people who showed up did so because "FedEx is for the weak," as one man joked, or because they have fun standing in line with fellow Apple fans, or because they know they can get on camera--or mentioned in a blog.

There are now the usual suspects who come out for high-profile Apple product launches, which stretch back to the original iPhone in June 2007. Greg Packer , who camped out for four days in front of the New York City Fifth Avenue Apple Store for the iPad is a well-known "line sitter," who spends time appearing first at public events in hopes he will be interviewed.

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Robert Scoble emerges from the Apple Store in Palo Alto, Calif., with iPad in hand. He waited in line overnight to be first. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Among those who queued up at the Palo Alto Apple Store was technology blogger Robert Scoble. Scoble camped out overnight to ensure he was the first to walk in and out of the store with an iPad in hand, waiting almost 24 hours. He's also a veteran of iPhone launches past. In return for his patience, Scoble was rewarded with interviews from a slew of media outlets and featured in the all-important "first person walking out of the store with an iPad" shot that will no doubt be on the front of newspapers come Sunday morning--and here at CNET and other blogs on Saturday.

In San Francisco, Dale Larson, who's been at every iPhone launch wasn't first in line for a change and didn't bring a tent (his new fiancee put the kibosh on that). But he had a chair and was wearing a suit, same as in years past.

Emerging from the store early on clutching an iPad was sure to get the flashbulbs popping at you. Some enterprising young men came out, unboxed their iPads immediately and began doing demonstrations for the crowd of cameras.

Some bystanders watched in stunned amazement as a young blonde woman exited the San Francisco Apple Store on Stockton Street, started jumping up and down, dancing, and shouting, "I got my iPad! I got my iPad!" over and over. After 30 seconds she paused and said, "Sorry guys, that's all I got for you." Her name is Justine Ezarik--or iJustine--and she's no stranger to the cameras as a self-described video blogger and "Apple geek."

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The media attention of Apple launch events brings out the marketers who want publicity for their new applications. James Martin/CNET

Tracy Kahney brought her son, Lyle, dressed up in a homemade iPad costume. It's a repeat of a similar thing they did at the iPhone launch in San Francisco two years ago, she said.

That's not to say every line veteran is there for the attention. It's obvious there's a sense of fun and camaraderie in hanging out together while waiting and hoping to be one of the first people to play with such an anticipated device. People like Garrett Lenoir, who ducked away quietly, came for the experience. Lenoir has been in line for every iPhone and has attended every MacWorld since 1985. "Those are my geek credentials," he said.

Apple has also learned a thing or two about keeping fans waiting in line happy. The company has obviously embraced line waiters and works to make it an experience for those who bother to camp out to be first to buy. The retail store staff functioned like a well-oiled machine at the San Francisco store. Blue-shirted employees distributed coffee, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and water bottles to customers in line. Each person entering the store was greeted personally with a handshake and introduction and escorted inside. Upon leaving with their new Apple device, each customer got a round of applause from a receiving line of yet more blue-clad employees. When it became clear that those who hadn't made a reservation might not walk away with a device Saturday, employees made sure to tell those waiting in line what their chances were.

Of course, this was the first time in line at an Apple event for some people. Matt Galligan, CEO of SimpleGeo, an online database of geolocation data that powers several iPhone applications, just couldn't wait. He had preordered the 3G version, which doesn't come out for a few weeks, but wanted one sooner than that.

"I really, really want the iPad," he said. "So I'll get this one and give it to my brother when the 3G version arrives."

And the payoff for showing up to the event isn't just 15 seconds of fame and the bragging rights of becoming the first to own a new gadget. One young man left the San Francisco store with an iPad slung over his shoulder and greeted a friend waiting for him outside with a huge grin: "I just met Jonny Ive! Yessssss."

 

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