Today in Apple history: Fans line up to get their hands on the very first iPhones

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First gen iPhone
The smartphone that changed smartphones!
Photo: Traci Dauphin/Cult of Mac

June 29: Today in Apple history: Fans line up to get their hands on the very first iPhones June 29, 2007: The first iPhone goes on sale, giving excited Apple fans lined up outside stores their first chance at owning the game-changing smartphone.

The queues that greet the iPhone launch around the world prove that Cupertino is onto a good thing with the smartphone, first shown off by Steve Jobs earlier that year.

iPhone launch queue: A preview of frenzies to come

These days, queuing up for the latest “insanely great” product is a part of Apple culture. It’s like iOS, Macs and that sly sense of superiority every time you hear your Android-owning friend complain about malware.

But it wasn’t always like this. In the late 1990s, a series of mini Apple stores inside larger tech retailers bombed horribly because of a lack of footfall.

By 2007, things had changed.

Apple stores were rolling out around the world, fulfilling Jobs’ vision of an upscale retail outlet. Plus, a string of iconic products — the colorfully “toyetic” iMac G3, the equally bright iBook laptop, the iPod and its white earbuds — had conspired to make Apple into a brand that could create a genuinely ardent opening day buzz.

These devices were cool enough to queue for.

And that’s exactly what happened when the iPhone first went on sale on a Friday in late June 2007, as Knocked Up and Pixar’s Ratatouille ruled theaters and Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” dominated the radio waves.

Launch-day lines: An Apple tradition is born

Around the United States, news outlets reported snaking lines of customers waiting to pay $500 or $600 a pop for a new iPhone.

We’ve been in line for days,” Melanie Rivera, a customer outside Apple’s SoHo store in New York City, told CNN Money. “It’s very uncomfortable out here in these chairs. But people are very social. We’ve made it through the rain, so we feel like we’re getting closer to the phone.”

Similar scenes played out in other major cities. To build anticipation, Apple limited each customer to just two devices. AT&T, meanwhile, said it would sell just one handset per person.

For any bemused non-techies watching on TV, perhaps the most exciting moment was when tech journalist Stephen Levy — one of a small number of tech journalists to get his hands on a device prior to launch — almost got mugged on live television.

The iPhone: An unproven entity

Not everyone was sure about the iPhone, however. Apple proved that it could create non-computer products with the enormously successful iPod. But 2007-era Apple remained only a decade removed from the scattershot company that tried to get into the videogame, digital camera, pocket organizer and, yes, restaurant markets during the 1990s.

Simply put, people remained skeptical about Apple. With the iPhone’s lack of 3G connection, poor-quality camera, AT&T exclusivity and high price point, they weren’t totally wrong to maintain their skepticism, either.

In a research note to clients, Tom Smith, Universal McCann’s research manager for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, wrote: “The simple truth [is that] convergence is a compromise driven by financial limitations, not aspiration. In the markets where multiple devices are affordable, the vast majority would prefer that to one device fits all.”

Universal McCann’s appraisal matched its research, which suggested only 31 percent of Americans wanted a device with multiple capabilities.

Chatter in the iPhone launch queue

There’s no doubt the iPhone prompted big queues in certain places. Still, one Apple fan recalls the original iPhone launch day as surprisingly laid back — certainly when compared to today’s massive launch events.

“Queues today are much, much larger,” Mark Johnson, a 56-year-old graphic designer from Liverpool, England, told Cult of Mac. “I knew that I wanted the iPhone as soon as it was announced, so on launch day I queued at the Trafford Centre Apple Store. I was fairly near the front of the queue, and when I arrived I was surprised that there weren’t more people.”

Johnson does, however, recall the type of excited launch-day chatter that will be familiar to anyone who ever queued up for a new Apple product.

“The people at the launch speculated how it would affect them and change their lives,” he said. “Some thought it would just be a phone that plays music, with a a few extras, but as Apple fans were buying it anyway. Others thought — quite rightly — that it would be a game-changer.”

Do you remember the iPhone launch?

Were you one of the folks queuing up for an original iPhone? Dredge up your memories of the iPhone launch and share them in the comments below.