A Hungry Crowd Smells iPhone, and Pounces

Technology writers are seldom subject to frenzied, Beatlemania-esque paroxysms of public attention. June 29, 2007, was the exception. I was in the wrong place—Apple's Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan—with the right device. The iPhone.

Because I was one of four journalists who'd been given a pre-release iPhone for review, Fox News asked me to do an on-location interview. But as soon as I saw the swarming crowds of rabid fan boys and girls, it was clear that even a glimpse of the thing would set off a near riot. When the interview began, the crowd smelled iPhone, and ominously closed in. Suddenly a young man swooped behind us and made a grab—not for the iPhone, it turned out, but for the interviewer's microphone. He bolted with it, but was tackled by one of the Fox technicians, and the mike was recovered. (The interloper's point, it turned out, was to protest Fox News, not to swipe my prize; the whole sorry event wound up on YouTube.) Shaken but undaunted, we restarted. It got even scarier. People pressed in close, fingers stretching toward the device, Michelangelo style. Afterward, a production assistant warned me that I should have a bodyguard with me until the sale began at 6 p.m.

I made it through the day without extra muscle, but I still marvel at the phenomenon. For two weeks a gizmo took its place among Iraq and Paris Hilton as a dominant news event. Only part of this could be attributed to the marketing acumen of Apple, which has a sense of drama that no company can match. People are passionate about their mobile phones—and passionately unhappy about the general experience of using them to access the Internet. Apple's iPod success led them to believe an even bigger breakthrough was possible with the iPhone. In some respects the iPhone hype overwhelmed even Apple. Criticism of its sudden price cut (from $600 to $400, after only 10 weeks) and its rejection of third-party software (Apple says it will address this early in 2008) was amplified by the expectations. But statistics show that the million-plus iPhone users are taking advantage of the device's breakthrough Web-browsing features. And even though I knew that a faster, flashier model would come out in 2008, I went to the Apple store when it was time to give back my loaner and I bought a replacement. This time the crowd wasn't nearly as bad.