Llike any good tech rat, I went to my local Apple Store to stand in line, in the vain hope of scoring a new iPhone on its first day of availability. I tried to pre-order, as I did for my iPad, but the problems with the Apple store and AT&T interface got in the way, and they were sold out by the time I finally got through.

So I made my way to the Apple Store at Christiana Mall in Delaware, excited and hopeful. The mall had a jammed parking lot, like a big weekend sale was going on, yet it was 7 am on a weekday morning, where no one else than a few construction or delivery trucks would typically be present. People had been lined up for many hours before the store opened at 7, and clearly, I should have been there earlier, but I’m still unwilling to stand around alone in the dark at the mall without big burly security, so I took my chances.

The line reminded me of the days when I used to stand in line for concert tickets. People were in a good and festive mood, talking and comparing notes. It was a community building experience, and I met a lot of interesting people, including a nursing student, wanting one before heading to Ghana this summer. One couple had their new, 8 day old baby with them, making him the official youngest Apple fanboy I have met to date. Doctors, residents and nurses started showing up in their scrubs, clearly getting off a shift at the local hospital. Apple employees delivered smart water and snacks out to people waiting in line. It was largely a happy group, even for those of us who were skeptical at our place in line and probability of securing a new phone that day.

After about an hour and a half in line, Apple employees informed us that they had handed out slips to everyone ahead of us, counting down the number of phones they had in stock, the reservations, and the number of people in line. While they said they could not grantee those of us towards the back, they did let us know that there was a possibility some of the people in front may not be able to activate their phones, might decide not to purchase, or not want to pay the upgrade fee, so there was a slim possibility we could still get one. Looking at the people ahead of me, I knew that the 50 or more ahead would easily buy up any of the “unqualified” buyer’s phones, and my best bet was to head home.

I headed home and placed my order online for delivery in mid-July, which will be just fine.  (I just found out it should be here in a few days). But I’m really glad I had the “line” experience anyway. I met some interesting people, and we bonded, even if it was in a kind of “sour grapes” way, as we began to despair about our ability to score a phone, and kvetched about the bottlenecks of the online pre-order process.

While I didn’t manage to score a new iPhone as of yet, I have been able to play with some of the features on the new OS upgrade on my 3GS. The best feature by far has got to be the folder features for the apps- all you have to do is drag one app on top of the other and create a folder, letting me finally put all my fitness apps and news apps in a smaller space, allowing for additional apps on the phone while increasing organization at the same time. Secondarily, syncing my iBooks content with my phone and iPad is equally terrific, and I’m thrilled by that alone.

Mostly, the upgrade to the iPhone 4 will be about better photos and longer battery life for me, over and above the OS upgrade. I’m excited to see the front facing camera and try the video chat on the fly, but I’m still basically in love with the iPhone as a mobile computing device.  Despite the tech issues that have been coming out, I still hold out hope that this purchase was a wise one, and the iPhone will deliver an even better mobile experience that I already enjoy.

Now if AT&T could just really improve reception out here in the suburbs, I would be completely happy. But that’s a continual issue that any and all mobile providers will continue to wrestle with- as more people demand mobile access and get used to having information and connectivity on the fly, the more bandwidth they will suck up, and the more challenging it will be to maintain pipes big enough to satisfy demand. The iPhone and its smartphone brethren have changed the way we looked at mobile access to the web- putting it in our pockets instead of in our briefcases. Now that we have it, it’s hard to imagine not having this level of connectivity at all times, and that will continue to stress networks.

And this is why Apple continues to succeed and thrill people- they give us stuff we couldn’t imagine needing. It drives people from all walks of life to line up for a new electronic toy like they used to line up for Cabbage Patch dolls or concert tickets- and some how, even when we go away empty handed, we can still feel like we’re part of the experience and part of a larger community. Even those of us who were disappointed about not being able to get the phone that day were still happy to have had an experience with others, and share a bit of excitement that can’t be equaled by the Fedex guy in the driveway. The sense of the club isn’t there.

And by giving the line a try, I still ended up with a great experience, a few new friends and a good story for a blog post. I just consider it a really early morning tweet up.

Sometimes virtual just can’t replace the joy of community, even in times of frustration.  Even if I have iPhone envy, perhaps the anticipation will make the ultimate item worth the wait.  Delayed gratification just might be worth it.  We’ll see.