The first iPhone went on sale at 6 p.m. on June 29, 2007, kicking off the smartphone era. And 27-year-old Ryan O’Donnell was one of the first to get one — after standing in line for six hours while battling sunburn, exhaustion and a very full bladder.
Ten years later, O’Donnell, now 37 and a San Francisco-based filmmaker, said that the iPhone's debut made him feel like a “piece of alien technology had landed on the planet.” He and his friends had been discussing what it would be like if Apple were to create, as rumored, an iPod phone. When it became a reality, he had to have it.
“Reason went out the window,” he said.
O’Donnell already had a smartphone at the time, a device called the Blackjack that was made by Samsung and had the selling point that it could connect easily to Outlook. But the BlackJack could barely display even simple Web pages, and its battery life was so short that the store threw in an free spare battery, O'Donnell said.
The promise of having a super-responsive touch screen and better mobile Internet access convinced him to stand in line for Apple's device on the Friday it launched, he said. Despite pulling an all-nighter at work, O'Donnell headed to the Apple store in downtown San Francisco around noon to wait for the evening sales launch.
He was not adequately prepared for this shopping trip. For one, he was exhausted. Some people who were already in line had chairs and laptops. Second, O’Donnell quickly realized that he was going to get sunburned and it was not going to be pretty. (He tried to fashion himself a tent out of his clothes.)
Then, threes hours in, the real crisis happened. He realized, with horror, that he really had to use the bathroom. “I thought I’d have to leave the line,” O'Donnell said. He eventually managed to get hold of his partner, who worked downtown, to save his place in line.
His comrades in line were all friendly and chatting with each other — something O’Donnell said would never happen now with the iPhone. “Now people would all have their phones, but then, we were talking with one another,” he said.
Apple employees fanned to the party atmosphere that held up despite the summer sun. O’Donnell remembers the store employees walking up and down the line, handing out water and even burritos from a nearby Chipotle.
And then there were the cheers from the employees when people finally got into the store. The atmosphere was unlike any O’Donnell had seen before, he said. He recalls seeing legendary Apple designer Jony Ive standing above the crowd on the second floor.
When O’Donnell got home, he opened his new phone — sliding to unlock it for the first time. “Oh, my God, this worked,” he remembers thinking. The filmmaker, who was introduced to The Washington Post by Apple's PR unit, was the first among his friends to get an iPhone. He said felt like he had “a superpower” the first time he used the device to find a restaurant.
O’Donnell won’t be standing in a line when the next iPhone comes out, though he will take the opportunity to upgrade, he said. The last time he bought an iPhone was three years ago, he said, because the successive models seem to last longer for him. Plus, the novelty of each model has worn off since his first few iPhones. (He has always had an iPhone, by the way. And no, he doesn’t have his first iPhone anymore.)
Yet while O’Donnell doesn’t plan to attend the next campout at the Apple store, he said, he will set an alarm to preorder his next phone — from the comfort of his own bed.