Six a.m. on a blustery Seattle morning. Temperature: 43 degrees. It was raining and windy as I headed out to the Alderwood Mall in Snohomish County to try my luck at getting my hands on Apple's new iPad. I was concerned that 6 a.m. might not be early enough to get my hands on Apple’s latest treasure. Pre-ordering from Apple had fast became a train wreck; the earliest available shipping date of March 19 virtually disappeared once the new tablet was announced on January 27. Deliveries will stretch out for the next 2 to 3 weeks.
So doing the Apple fanboy dance — going to Apple retail stores or other sellers like Best Buy, braving the elements and the crowds to see if one was available— made good sense. I would be part of a global movement. All I needed to do was to stand in line and wait for a store employee at either store to hand me a magic piece of paper telling me that my store had the tablet with the specifications I wanted in stock. Urban legends about previous Apple events tell of people paying hundreds of dollars to buy those tickets from someone who had waited in line: without it, the wait could take weeks.
When I arrived at the Best Buy store at 6:20 a.m., only two people were lined up. At the Apple store a few minutes later, there were at least 30. Buyers were roped off into two sections to keep the mall courtyard clear. Some people were seated on the concrete, using Mac laptops and iPads, brushing off the raindrops as they worked and waited. Apple employees handed out free bottled water, energy bars, hot coffee, and umbrellas (branded “Alderwood,” not “Apple”).
At about 7:45 a.m., with the crowd at roughly 60 people, most standing under umbrellas, several Apple employees in blue T-shirts came outside and started handing out the paper tickets. One of them approached me asking what version I wanted. I made it clear I was just watching as a reporter. His attitude swiftly changed from friendly to wary. “You need to talk to our corporate offices,” he said, pulling out his cell phone and hurriedly starting to dial. “You must have lots of questions.” I assured him at length I was just there to observe. He eventually nodded and moved off, but I felt his eyes on me.
At 8:00, back at Best Buy with about 10 people in line, the doors remained closed. I went to the glass front door, pointed to my wrist to signify it was time to open. A minute later, a woman opened the door and explained, somewhat officiously, that they were still preparing their paperwork and would be with us shortly.
And finally, at 8:05, the Best Buy people emerged with the valuable tickets. I was lucky: I will be getting my 32-gigabit black Wi-Fi-only iPad. The couple behind me, who had also waited for nearly two hours, shifting from foot to foot to stay warm, wasn’t so lucky. She really wanted a white one but was told, “We didn’t even get any of those.”
I didn’t wait around for her reply. I got back in my car and started the engine. It was cold out there.
Check back for Skip Ferderber's review of the iPad3 tomorrow am in the Weekend Tech Scan.