One of the things I have always appreciated about iPhone launches is that I can have the device delivered to my home. In fact, it seems that every other year, they insist on doing the iPhone AT&T activations at the Apple Store to remind themselves why they shouldn't
do the activations at the Apple store.
With the release of the first iPhone which was unsubsidized, it was a simple matter of walking into an Apple store, and picking out how much memory you wanted. With the iPhone 3G, activations were done in store, as it was a subsidized phone, and appropriate checks to AT&T needed to be made -- instead of a 3-minute transaction consisting of simply handing over a credit card to the cashier, customers were instead subjected to the slow credit check/authentication scheme of AT&T (this is why if you ever switch carriers, you are at the new carrier's store for at least 90 minutes while they verify your identity and run a credit check).
With the iPhone 3GS launch, the process of in-store activation went much smoother -- about 10 minutes after entering the store, you would walk out with your new iPhone, activated and ready to go. (I skipped the store and just had my iPhone delivered to me at home). I remember going to the store that day to purchase a screen protector and marveling at the expediency of the geniuses in how quickly they could sell an iPhone.
The iPhone 4's launch seems maddeningly frustrating in comparison; the customer needs to activate in-store, and instead of the 10 minute turn-around of the 3GS, the process is taking 30 minutes instead of 10 after passing though the entrance. Tack on another 2+ hours of standing in line (if you reserved) or even longer (if you didn't), and today might as well be iPhone 4 camp day. One can only wonder how many hours were lost from people standing in line. And this year, more people turned up at Apple retail stores to line up for a phone (even a reserved one) because of the meltdown when AT&T's servers collapsed underneath demand for the iPhone 4's. Estimates are as much as 4 times more people are showing up for iPhone 4 than did for iPhone 3GS.
Even bypassing the Apple store and going to an AT&T outlet, it wasn't any better -- besides the low stock, it seemed there weren't enough sales people at Best Buy to handle sales of the iPhone 4.
The lesson? Pre-order and have it delivered.