My Victorious Apple Store Experience, and a Glimpse at Boston’s First iPad MPG

I’ve returned home victorious after my morning adventure at the Apple Store in Boston’s Back Bay. As I write this, my new iPad is synching with iTunes–a process that takes some time, if you have a lot of apps, music, and photos that you want to transfer over to your iPad. So I haven’t yet really tried it out.

Being at the local Apple Store opening on the day some fantastic new product comes out is a ritual no geek can forego. So I set my iPhone to wake me up at 5:00 a.m. this morning, chugged some coffee, and rode my bike over to Boylston Street. The line was short at that point, which gave me time to stop at Dunkin Donuts for more coffee. Starbucks was still closed—a sight I rarely see, as I’m not a morning person. When I finally rolled up to the store at 6:19, I snagged the 20th spot in line, which I felt was a credible showing. Hey, I’m no Scoble. (The uber-tech-blogger was first in line at the Palo Alto Apple Store, just as he had been for the launch of the iPhone 3G.)

This was the line outside the Boston Apple Store when I arrived at 6:19 a.m.

This was the line outside the Boston Apple Store when I arrived at 6:19 a.m. Sleepy was right.

Though it’s a gorgeous warm day in Boston, it started out chilly, and the section of Boylston Street in front of the Apple Store, being so close to the Prudential Center, was a wind tunnel that my fleece wasn’t built to weather. So I shivered along with my line buddies. One was a guy named Nick, a Boston University sophomore studying computer science. Nick explained that he actually works at the Apple Store—in fact, his shift started at 11:00 a.m. today—but that Apple employees weren’t allowed to pre-order or reserve iPads for purchase. He wanted to make sure he got one, so he decided to come out and stand in line with everyone else. Nick is studying all the languages you need to build iPhone and iPad applications, and he was bubbling with anticipation.

I was, too, and we had a great conversation about what it’s like to work at the Apple Store. At this point I should confess that I actually did pre-order an iPad, but it’s the 3G version, which won’t be delivered until late April. I realized at some point this week that there was no way I could wait that long, and that I’d just have to buy a Wi-Fi iPad this week, use it until the 3G version comes, and then sell the used one. (I’ve already got potential buyers lined up, so don’t bother making me an offer!) When I explained this plan to a friend a couple of days ago, her reaction was, “You know you’ve got a problem, right?”

That's me, trying to keep warm. Nick, the Apple employee who goes to BU, is at right. Photo by Bill Ghormley.

That's me, trying to keep warm. Nick, the Apple employee who goes to BU, is at right.

Yeah, me and the thousands of other people who camped out in front of Apple Stores around the country this morning. Anyway, right behind Nick was a woman named Tina who lives in rural Connecticut and happened to be staying at a nearby hotel in Boston this weekend because her teenage kids are attending Anime Boston, the giant Japanese animation convention going on at the Hynes. (With the PAX East gaming festival last weekend, Anime Boston this weekend, and the Comic Con comic book convention next weekend, you’d think that somebody would have figured out a way to offer a three-for-one discount.) Tina didn’t know much about Apple gear, but she though the iPad sounded cool, and she said there wasn’t much else to spend her money on in the Connecticut farmlands.

Around 7:00 a.m. Apple folks came out and set up the crowd-control barriers, dividing us into two lines—those who had reserved an iPad for pickup at the store today, and those who hadn’t. At that point both lines started growing fast, up the street and around the corner. Before long I started running into people I knew, including Greg Raiz and his crew from Brookline-MA-based mobile app development studio Raizlabs; they were picking up iPads today so that they could test their new iPad-only game, Ploid (more on that below). I also got a visit from Bill Ghormley, one of Xconomy’s own business development samurais, who lives in Back Bay. Bill, who was out “walking his car” (moving it between metered spots), knew from my Tweets that I was standing in the Apple line, and he stopped to say hi. He took the picture of me on the previous page.

Before opening the doors, Apple staff gathered for a pep rally.

Before opening the doors, Apple staff gathered for a pep rally.

Apple folks kept the people in line liberally supplied with coffee, bottled water, and snacks (thanks guys!), which made the time go by faster. Before we knew it, people inside the store started removing the blackout curtains they’d installed to keep us from seeing the interior, which, of course, they’d reconfigured overnight for the iPad launch. At about 8:30 a.m., all of the people working the morning shift came down the spiral glass staircase and had a pep rally. I was stunned by their numbers—there must have been 100 or 120 people working the store. Nick explained that it was an “all hands on deck” day, since Apple wants to process iPad buyers as quickly as possible. The store manager, a really nice guy named Joe, gave a pep talk, followed by a lot of clapping and fist pumping—it really is amazing how enthusiastic most Apple employees are about their work. Then they all disappeared to their stations.

RaizlabsAt a couple of minutes before 9:00 a.m., to the crowd’s great delight, Joe threw open the store’s huge glass doors, and people from the reservations line started filing in, with TV crews watching and everyone else snapping pictures with their iPhones. The Apple people have this down to a science: Inside the store was a line of Apple employees—I guess they’re all called “Geniuses” now. Joe would match up one employee with one customer, and together they’d march to the counter to pull out an iPad or head upstairs to browse the accessories.

The reason I say Joe is a really nice guy is that at about 9:15 he started letting people from the no-reservations line into the store, even though there were still lots of people in the reservations line. I got paired with another really nice guy named Zach Jay, a “Business Team” member—meaning he usually works with people who have Macs in their offices—who set me up with a 16-gigabyte model and a dock. By 9:45 I was out of the store with my new iPad.

The crowd celebrated as the Apple Store doors swung open a few minutes before 9:00 a.m.

The crowd celebrated as the Apple Store doors swung open a few minutes before 9:00 a.m.

Outside I ran into Cort Johnson from Dart Boston, who said he’d just spotted the Raizlabs contingent—who had been among the first people to leave the store—at Starbucks. So I headed over there for an impromptu Ploid party. The game, which is the first multi-player game I’ve heard of for the iPad, is pretty cool: it involves picking a corner of the screen and then competing with up to three other players to grab matching sea creatures from a pool of water and drag them into your corner. (See the photo at the top right corner of this story.) You get points for collecting creatures that have the same shape or color. Today is the first time Raiz’s team has had the opportunity to test the game on an actual iPad rather than the simulator that Apple provides as part of the iPad software development kit. They seemed pretty happy. Other than some minor bugs, Raiz said, the game worked the way they thought it would.

I left Starbucks just as all the iPads at the table were starting to attract a crowd of curious onlookers. And my own iPad has just about finishing synching now…so I’ll follow up soon with a genuine review!

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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3 responses to “My Victorious Apple Store Experience, and a Glimpse at Boston’s First iPad MPG”

  1. Between the Twitterverse, the iPad-centric Modern Family episode, and your tale, I almost feel a part of this early adopter scene. Thanks for all the juicy detail about the experience Wade. But…Ploid….as your first use? (I know you are syncing your data…) That would not get me out of bed at 5:00AM. Looking forward to your real review, but thanks for the “Haul” story in the meantime.