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My Painful Experience Of The iPhone 4 Launch At Apple Regent Street

For the first time ever, I stood in a line for seven straight hours to purchase what must be the most sought after smartphone on the planet, the iPhone 4.

In the process, I learnt a few things about how Apple works and how the company could improve the once-in-a-year experience of buying an iPhone on Day One.

Today I saw hundreds, possibly thousands of Apple fans, queuing up for hours to get their hands on the device and while some of them were die hard fanatics, like Alex Lee who stayed in front of the store for 32 hours to get his iPhone, the rest of us were just common Apple fans.

There were a number of significant problems today and low iPhone 4 stocks was not one of them. Indeed, as I made my way out to the checkout counter, I saw a few hundreds iPhones being lined up just a few feet away and that was at 4pm today.

No, the biggest problem was the almost obsessive focus Apple has on doing things right rather than doing the right things. Which is why the first person to actually buy the new iPhone was not the guy who queued up for 32 hours but one who had preordered and came to the store.

This is also why the purchase process was so painfully long today. Buying the iPhone 4 proper took only 60 seconds and it was actually the company's strategy to get preordered and on-the-spot buyers in different queues that backfired.

One Apple staff told me that the reason why it was taking so long was down to the fact that many customers were choosing to do the instore activation and transferring their data to their new phone. Asked whether they have a "buy only" counter, she replied no.

Towards the beginning of the afternoon however, things changed and those who wanted to buy SIM Free phones were put in a different queue as they entered the store proper. But even then, the wait was horrendously long and the heat and the fatigue added to a growing frustration.

We understand that Apple is having a heck of a time selling the iPhone 4 both on SIM Free and on monthly contracts. However, they must improve their quality of service tremendously over the next 12 months and aim at reducing the time people stay in queues.

Oh, and when I left, there were still people queuing up outside the store, round the block in Hanover Street.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.