June 29, 2007 / 10:41 PM / 12 years ago

Apple iPhone launch draws gadget geeks, hired help

NEW YORK/CHICAGO (Reuters) - Albert Livingstone’s wife thinks he is crazy for lining up overnight in Chicago to be among the first on Friday to buy Apple’s much-hyped iPhone.

“It’s the newest toy. I’m 62 — I don’t have much time left to buy toys,” said Livingstone, who stood in line with his friend Mark Stevenson, 50. They rented a room across the street and took turns to sleep.

The pair were among hundreds of people who lined up — some for up to five days — outside Apple stores and outlets of AT&T, the exclusive iPhone carrier for the next two years, for the launch at 6 p.m. local time in each U.S. time zone.

The iPhone melds a phone, Web browser and media player. It has received rave reviews from U.S. technology gurus, who have praised the gadget as a “breakthrough.”

But not everyone could understand the excitement.

“It’s just a phone!” a San Francisco construction worker, driving by the Apple store in his pick-up truck, yelled at the waiting crowd.

Yet on a mild summer’s day in Chicago, 50-year-old business consultant James Budd joined the line at dawn to not only buy an iPhone for himself, but also for his 95-year-old grandmother because he hoped it would be “simple enough” for her to use.

Even John Street, mayor of Philadelphia, has been waiting in line outside an AT&T Inc. store since Friday morning, his spokesman Joe Grace said.

But other high-flying professionals who couldn’t escape work paid others to do it for them.

A tongue-in-cheek Citigroup research note on Apple Inc. even gave tips on how “to obtain an iPhone ASAP on Friday,” advising clients to “send whoever is the newest and most junior at your firm to stand in line.”

“Given the likely crowd density and accompanying pushing and shoving, it would be helpful for the firm’s representative to be more physically intimidating.

“The ideal candidate would be a summer intern who plays football for an NCAA Division I university. A nondescript bag to carry the phone home in is a good idea too,” the note added.

“WE STINK”

Some executives seemed to have similar plans of their own.

Lauren Smith, 21 — No. 144 in line outside the Apple store on New York’s Fifth Avenue — said her boss was paying her $15 an hour to wait.

“If it rains, I’m going to call him and try to knock that up,” said Smith, who works at media company Worldwide Biggies.

Several young entrepreneurs also sought to make a quick buck off the launch of the iPhone, which started going on sale at up to $600.

In Walnut Creek, California, a group of college students arrived at the Apple store at dawn on Wednesday to nab the first 10 spots, which they were selling on Web site www.iwait.org.

One of them, Josh May, said most spots had already been sold for up to $700 to “people with kids, a lot of businessmen who have to work and people who just don’t want to wait in line,” but No. 1 and No. 2 were still up for grabs.

“We’re exhausted, we’re having trouble speaking — and we stink,” said May.

He added the group would offer their services for other events, such as the launch of the last Harry Potter book in July.

Nicholas Haubrich, 25, a restaurant reservations manager, secured the number-one place in line at the Chicago Apple store after arriving at 2.30 p.m. Thursday.

“If my mom can operate a Mac, anyone can,” he said. “I want to be part of it — it’s history.”

In New York, Imran Khan, 27, pinned a note to his shirt that read: “Buy my spot for $5000 and get my chair.”

He said he received an offer of $4,500 on Friday, but turned it down.

Terry Austin, a 23-year-old New Yorker, waited in line for 27 hours outside Apple’s Fifth Avenue store and was among the first to buy one.

“I feel good, it was fun,” he said when he walked out clutching his purchase.

When asked if it was worth it, he answered: “We’ll find out.”

Additional reporting by Sinead Carew and Franklin Paul in New York, Eric Auchard in San Francisco and Jon Hurdle in Philadelphia

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