Media, marketing opportunists flood Fifth Avenue iPhone line

Camera crews clog the sidewalks and marketers jump on the free advertising opportunities as the line outside Manhattan's glass-walled Apple store grows longer.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read
Battening down the hatches: as the sky grew darker, umbrellas sprang up like mushrooms. Caroline McCarthy/CNET Networks

Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go, I want my freaking iPhone. The line of people waiting for the iPhone at New York's Fifth Avenue store was, at last count, still fewer than 40 people long with 24 hours to go, and the sky was looking like a downpour might start any second. But that didn't stop camera crews (including comedian Mo Rocca, now a Daily Show-style reporter for AOL News), journalists, and photographers from clogging the sidewalk to get the scoop on the spectacle.

Plenty of them wanted to talk to first-in-liner Greg Packer, despite the fact that he's not actually an Apple fan; he simply likes to be the first in line for things and has been doing so at various New York book signings and product releases for years. The other people in line were somewhat ambivalent about Packer, some expressing mild disdain that he'd cheapen the fanfare for such a beloved brand, others saying stuff along the lines of "to each his own."

Journalist-comedian Mo Rocca interviews Greg Packer for AOL News Caroline McCarthy/CNET Networks

"He should pick up something different," said queuer number 7, whose name is Ben, in reference to Packer's bizarre hobby. And number 35 (or 37, depending on who was counting), named Pablo, said "It's bull****, honestly. Props to him if he has the time, patience, and wherewithal." But Pablo, an Apple devotee, was slightly miffed. "The fact that he's not an Apple fan does wrangle me a little bit."

Reporters weren't the only ones around--marketers wanted in on the action, too. The gaming company Imagination Games was handing out "Tetris cubes" to the line-sitters, telling them that if they solved it before the iPhone launch time, the company would cover the price of their phone. At least one person, Mark Conn (#10 in line), an Alabama-born system administrator who now lives in Manhattan, had already solved the puzzle but said he wasn't sure whether the free iPhone deal was legitimate.

One reason why the line was shorter than it might otherwise have been was that the crowd was largely a white-collar one, and many said they were reluctant to take more than one or two vacation days. Most of the people I spoke to--a graphic designer, a senior manager at a software consultancy, an accountant, even a blogger (Vincent Nguyen of Myiphone.com and Slashgear)--had professions that were straight out of the geek sector. "Technical, geeky kinds of people? Yeah, a large number, especially at the front," Mark Conn said when I asked him about the size of the nerd contingent in line for the iPhone.

I also spoke to Mr. Softee, or rather the guy driving the Mr. Softee ice cream truck parked on the corner (his name's Sal) and asked him whether the iPhone buzz has boosted business. "Somewhat, but not anything crazy," he said with a shrug.

Meanwhile, down in SoHo, my sources are telling me that there's a nasty rumor going around that Apple has paid people to wait in line in order to boost numbers and feed the hungry media monster. There has, thus far, been no justification for this rumor; in fact, it sounds more like a theory for explaining why lines have begun to form outside Apple stores whereas at last check there was no one outside any of the city's AT&T stores.