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Why people line up outside Apple stores for the latest iPhone

DevTorkelsen West Loop clutches his Android phone iPad as he awaits iPhone 5 outside Michigan Avenue Apple Store Thursday September

Devin Torkelsen of the West Loop clutches his Android phone and iPad as he awaits the iPhone 5 outside of the Michigan Avenue Apple Store on Thursday, September 20, 2012. l Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 22, 2012 6:16AM

Apple’s fond of saying how much they love their customers. But you don’t have to take their word for it! On Friday, the iPhone 5 will be available in stores. Lines have already formed in front of Apple stores — starting Monday at the landmark store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and now outside Chicago’s Michigan Avenue store. This is what happens every time Apple comes out with a new iPhone or iPad. If the company didn’t care about its customers, they’d release these products during times when the weather isn’t so pleasant for camping.

But why do people even choose to sleep on a sidewalk for days on end? Most people would do that to score a donor kidney for the best-liked of their three children. The reward at the end of this line is the ability to spend hundreds of dollars on a phone that’s already available for purchase online, and which will be manufactured in quantities limited only by the natural resources of our frail planet.

It’s not about the phone. It’s about the adventure. It’s the same reason I showed up at the best THX-certified theater in New England to purchase first-day, first showing tickets to “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” It wasn’t about the actual product. I wanted to be with a community of people who were so amped up about a new Star Wars movie that they were willing to get in line at 4 a.m. just to score tickets for a movie that still wouldn’t open for months.

I know, it makes no sense. Particularly as Apple continues to post record success after record success. The stock closed at above $700 a share the other day, and the iPhone 5 is already Apple’s fastest-selling phone based solely on preorders (more than 2 million in the first 24 hours, according to the company). Solely in terms of financial might, Apple isn’t the plucky farm kid in the X-Wing. Apple’s the guy in the black mask shooting at the X-wing from behind the controls of a TIE/x1 fighter.

The iPhone has ceded market share supremacy to Android. But there’s another factor that keeps people lining up days in advance: the iPhone’s seemingly unsquashable cultural supremacy. Apple doesn’t release a new phone every two months. This one is it; this is the event. And unlike the drumbeat of Android phones that usually tend to blend into a single anonymous blur, every phone Apple releases is, by definition, significant. And high on the world’s radar.

True, Apple works very hard to keep the iPhone from disappearing into the scrum of premium smartphones. But gadget hounds continue to be genuinely fascinated by the iPhone. And it seems as though Apple will never get so successful or so dominant that its fans will stop thinking of themselves as a tight-knit community of iconoclasts.

If Apple retains its soul, it’ll stay Anakin Skywalker, forever. Yes, I know how annoying that kid was in the prequels, but I’m going to stick with the analogy.

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