A line extends around Apple's Fifth Avenue store in April, 2010. Photo: Bryan Derballa/Wired.com
It’s official. The new iPad goes on sale at Apple Stores Friday at 8 a.m. If you missed your chance to pre-order, now’s the time to prepare yourself for the time-honored tradition of waiting in line for an Apple product.
If you think you’re going to waltz into your local Apple Store on Friday morning and walk out five minutes later with a new iPad, think again. There’s going to be a line — a very long line filled with early adopters. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you’ll be part of a cultural phenomenon that harkens all the way back to the days of the first iPhone.
I’ve stood in more Apple Store lines than I care to remember. OK, I’ve stood in almost all of them, waiting patiently in queue for the iPhones 3G, 3GS, 4 and 4S, and for the original iPad and iPad 2. Some purchases were personal, some were for my job. But now I’m a line-waiting expert, so learn from my experience. With the right strategy, you can make this Friday’s line wait the best 90 minutes to three hours you’ve ever spent.
Avoid Flagship Stores
Depending on your location, you may be within driving distance of more than one Apple Store. If this is the case, choose the outlier store in that quiet burg or hamlet. You may miss the opportunity to appear on your local TV news, but your time in line should be reduced significantly.
Carrier Store Siphoning
We can’t confirm this is a widespread phenomenon, but at Wired’s preferred Apple Store for launch-day purchases, clerks from neighboring wireless stores will typically descend on the Apple line with promises of shorter wait times. In fact, Gadget Lab editor Jon Phillips shaved about 45 minutes off the wait time for his iPhone 4S (a professional purchase) by taking a leap of faith when an AT&T store representative told him, “We have only five people waiting in line — you would be number six.”
So, if your preferred Apple Store is near a retailer that’s also selling the iPad, send out a buddy to scout the situation, and look for siphoning tactics like the one we describe above. Other retailers selling the iPad Friday include AT&T and Verizon stores, Best Buy, Radio Shack, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart. Check with your local store for availability, as these retailers typically have much less stock than Apple Stores.
Some stores will have restrictions on how soon customers can line up. Call ahead. There’s no point in waking up at 2 a.m. if you can’t line up until 6 a.m. Hint: If your target store is inside a mall, the mall may have specific restrictions in place. But if the store is on a public street, chances are you’ll be fine lining up whenever you want.
I’ve arrived at Apple lines about 90 minutes prior to the store opening and have never been turned away without a new product. Sure, you can show up two days early and camp out, but your iPad won’t be any more special than the one purchased by the guy who stood in line for just two hours. That said, drive by the Apple store the night before. If the line is already 25 deep, you might want to prepare for an early morning.
Sick Time vs. Vacation Time
If you call in sick and end up on the local newscast, your boss will not be happy. Instead, plan to start your work day late, or simply take a vacation day. Score bonus points by offering to pick up an iPad for your boss. Don’t offer to pay for it. Just pick it up.
Bring a Buddy
You will have to use the bathroom, so commission a friend to hold your place in line. If you can’t find a buddy, make friends with the people around you — tell them that you’ll return with coffee if they’ll graciously hold your place. (And then they’ll need to use the bathroom as well, giving you an opportunity to return the favor.)
Grab a backpack and fill it with snacks, drinks, and your favorite gadget. You’ll need to pass the time, so be sure to pack extra battery power for your electronics. Or, just pack an actual book (how novel!). Bring sunscreen too. It should be pouring rain outside of Wired’s favorite Apple Store this Friday, but in your neck of the woods, you might end up with sunshine.
A Folding Chair Doesn’t Mean You’ve Conceded Anything
OK, following this suggestion may be insurmountable for some: Sitting in line in a camp chair basically tells the world that you’re an unapologetic Apple nerd, and this isn’t your first iRodeo. But standing on your feet for 90 minutes is never an orthopaedic joy, and sitting on the ground is arguably worse.
Appeal to Powers of Influence
Don’t bother trying to sweet talk your friends who work at Apple Stores — they probably value their jobs more than your friendship. However, employees at other retailers may be a little more willing to hook you up with a squirreled-away iPad. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
People who queue up in Apple Store lines are usually friendly tech enthusiasts with deep reserves of curiosity and good humor. So chat with each other, share stories, and have fun. I’ve stood in line with college students, blue collar workers, grandparents, kids and lawyers. Every one of them has been a delight to talk with, and shared my enthusiasm for the new product. Plus, you can challenge your new line buddies to a game of Draw Something.