Apple fiends still line up for iPhone launches. Good for them

Commentary: The iPhone 11 Pro got people lining up for days. It's unnecessary, but that's OK.

Daniel Van Boom Senior Writer
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
Expertise Cryptocurrency, Culture, International News
Daniel Van Boom
5 min read
Apple Begins Selling New iPhone 11 In Berlin

A line of people waiting for the iPhone 11 to go on sale in Berlin, Germany.

Carsten koall/Getty Images

It's a little embarrassing, actually. In my late teens and early 20s, I was Militant Anti Apple Guy. You know the type. Calls Mac users sheep, mocks people when they say they own an iPhone . I'm not proud of it, but I was that guy.

"Your new iPhone 5 only has a 4-inch screen," I scoffed at my friend Taylor one Friday in 2012. "My HTC's screen is almost an inch bigger, and it's six months old. And Androids give you so much more customization choice." 

Taylor was Enthusiastic Apple Guy. Owned a MacBook Pro , an iPad and an iPhone, had never used a Windows PC or Android. You know the type. He and I would have it out every Friday. We'd go to the pub with friends and eventually a contentious Apple-related comment would be made. Our friends would groan, talk among themselves and let us have our spat. 

"Why would you want a choice between bad apps when you can just use Apple's default good apps?" he would reply. "And you have to concede iPhone cameras are the best."

"Taylor," I would say, looking deep in his eyes, "I concede nothing." 

And on and on.

Watch this: iPhone 11: 3 phones, reviewed. Which do you choose?

I was reminded of these arguments Friday when I covered the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro retail launch in Sydney. When I arrived at around 8 a.m., there were around 100 people in line. In New York, around 600 people queued up near Apple's flagship Fifth Avenue store. Yep, people still do queue for hours, sometimes days, to get a phone they could just as easily order online. I got the chance to talk to a few such people.

One waited in line for five hours, from 3 a.m., during which he was accosted by drunk people who'd been out soaking in the Thursday Night Fever. Another person I spoke to regaled me with his 11-day campout to get the iPhone 8 back in 2017. Over in New York, not only had the first person in line been there since 6 p.m. the night before, he flew in from Las Vegas for the honor.

For hardcore Apple fans, queuing for hours (or days) has been a staple of every iPhone launch since 2007. Hundreds of people lined up in New York, London and a few other major cities for the very first iPhone. Before long, it became a worldwide phenomenon. September meant new iPhone, and new iPhone meant crowds outside Apple Stores. 

"It's an environment you don't see with any other phone launch," one person told me on Friday. If you're committed to Apple, you see this statement as proof of the company's brilliance. If you're against Apple, you see it as proof of the company's brainwash marketing. But either way, it's true.

This fact isn't taken well by many. I tweeted a video of Apple Store employees applauding in celebration as Sydney's first iPhone 11 owner walked outside the Store. This led to the somewhat unpleasant experience of going viral. I got about 2,500 replies to that tweet, a tidal wave of digital resentment. A lot of replies derided the cultish applause given by the Apple Store employees. Some made banal critiques of capitalism, the irony of tweeting such a thing from a smartphone eluding them. Many tweeters, though, mocked the new iPhone owner himself.

Which seems unfair.

Key to comprehending the aberrant behavior of these queuers is understanding they know they don't need to be there. Being tech enthusiasts, we can safely assume they are aware of online shopping's existence. Most people line up for tradition, having done so since the early iPhone years, for ritual or just for the experience. 


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Is it unnecessary and weird? A little, but whatever. People do unnecessary and weird things all the time if they're sufficiently impassioned. I don't care about cars, so spending $100,000 on one seems unnecessary and weird to me. I like video games but hate dressing up, so cosplay seems like an exhausting way to spend time. But people love all that stuff. Good for them.

I kind of envy the people who line up at ungodly hours for a new iPhone. People mock them for caring so much about a phone, but I don't think I care about anything enough to wake up at 3 in the morning.

Which is what reminded me of Taylor. I miss arguing about phones . Nowadays screen sizes are similar, camera technology has advanced and third-party apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter dominate our time, so you make fewer tradeoffs than ever when comparing an iPhone 11 Pro to, say, a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus . This is especially true when comparing an iPhone to a Pixel device, which runs pure Android. Unencumbered by a third-party user interface like Samsung's OneUI or (God forbid) Huawei's EMUI, pure Android is the only operating system that can compete with the slickness of iOS .

One phone might have a slightly better camera, the other a slightly longer-lasting battery. You end up with a great device either way, so there's not much to squabble about. To me, the question now isn't Android vs. Apple, it's $499 phone vs. $999 phone. But that's a whole other can of worms.

I mainly miss arguing about phones because of how wholesome it was. Taylor and me would have drinks and yell loudly at each other, but it's difficult to have hurt feelings over an iPhone vs. Android argument. I don't argue much nowadays, but when I do it's probably about something inherently invidious. Politics, racism, sexism or something similarly likely to cause acrimony. Even typing those words is enough to make me anxious. Can't we just love one another?
Which is my message to people ragging on the Cult of Apple. Let them line up. Let them get super excited about a new iPhone -- even if new phones, regardless of brand, are now more iterations than overhauls. They care about something that's not actively hurting someone else, which feels like a rare descriptor in 2019.

As for Taylor and me, we both won the argument. The last phone I bought was an iPhone. It was a good decision. Earlier this year he smashed his iPhone X , and I recommended he try the inexpensive Pixel 3A . He says it was a good decision. Ah, how the wheel turns. 

Up close with the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max

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