Hype Meets Reality At iPhone's Debut

By Kim Hart and Sabrina Valle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 30, 2007

Stephen Easley was the first person to emerge from the Apple Store in Clarendon, and a dozen television cameras trained on his new iPhone.

In his haste, he ripped open the package, and the phone he waited 20 hours to buy nearly bounced out of his hands and onto the concrete.

"Oh, my God," a woman gasped. "He almost dropped it!"

The iPhone hit shelves last night at Apple and AT&T stores across the country, after months of mystique and secrecy that even kept store managers in the dark about the logistics of the sale. The most ardent customers waited out hours of heat and rain, sometimes by the handful and in some cases by the hundreds, for a chance to be among the first to shell out $500 to $600 for the device.

Some said they expected the phone to change their lives. Others said they just wanted bragging rights over less-patient friends. Many were hoping to resell at a steep markup.

Just before opening time at the Apple Store in Tysons Corner, a line of some 200 people snaked out the door, through the mall and onto the sidewalk.

George Kennedy, 38, of the District, was the first in that line and triumphantly held up his two iPhones to the cheers of the crowds behind him. He said he had stood in line since 4 a.m., leaving only once to get a bite from McDonald's and trusting his neighbors in line to hold his coveted spot.

At the store in Clarendon, security officers carefully controlled the crowd of 200 customers as if they were waiting to get into a club, while the AT&T store in Friendship Heights sold out of an undisclosed number of iPhones by 7 p.m. after starting selling the devices at 6 p.m.

By 7:30, dozens of iPhones were posted on Craigslist for resale in the Washington area, listed from $700 to $1,200.

Analysts and skeptics warned of the new phone's potential downsides. AT&T's network, the sole carrier for the iPhone, sends data slower than some of its rivals. And industry analysts said even the hallowed iPhone may need some time to work out the kinks.

"No one waited in line to get an iPod, and it got mediocre reviews," said Chris Null, a consumer adviser for Yahoo Tech. "It didn't consume the market until the second or third version, once the issues had been worked out."

But Apple's carefully orchestrated marketing and controlled media strategy helped heap fuel on consumer and media fascination.

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