Buzz is big as Apple debuts its all-in-one

Gadget lovers and their surrogates line up for the phone that plays music — and more.

Posted: June 28, 2007

They're on MapQuest, seeking the fastest route to the Apple or AT&T store tomorrow. They're offering hundreds of dollars for someone - anyone - to wait in line for them. They're lusting in their hearts, their wallets gaping, for what is - face it, people - a cell phone that plays music.

Unlike Batman's utility belt, this new creation doesn't come with shark repellent. Nor can you tickle it - at least not quite like Elmo.

But, for gotta-have-it gadget lovers, when the product is the iPhone, the latest from Apple Inc., a company that turned ear buds into a fashion statement, hype trumps reason.

"This phone is going to be a status symbol. If you're walking down the street with an iPhone, people will be looking at you," said Cat Schwartz, gadget director (really) for online auctioneer eBay Inc.

EBay expects to see iPhones for sale moments after they become available in stores at 6 p.m. tomorrow.

The iPhone's all-in-one nature is part of its appeal. It combines a cell phone, iPod music player, and camera, and it can play videos and access e-mail and the Internet.

It is not the only so-called smart phone to do all that. The hype comes from its reported ease of use. Instead of buttons, it has a touch screen. Its Internet browser allows for smooth Web surfing, unlike the clunky experience on other phones.

"Everything is so intuitive and so fluid," said Dan Steinberg, 21, a Drexel student who describes himself as "a big fan of Apple, and a big fan of gadgets in general."

He already owns a high-end Motorola Inc. phone and music player that retails for almost $300, but he plans to buy the iPhone as soon as he can.

He has watched video of the iPhone and hails its new capabilities.

"Here's a really simple example: You're listening to music, and you get a phone call. On the iPhone, the music fades out and you can answer the call and do other things. Then, when you hang up, the music fades back in," Steinberg said. "It makes so much sense when you hear about it, you think, 'Why didn't anyone else do that before?' "

With a starting price of $499, plus a required two-year contract from network provider AT&T Inc. that ranges from $60 to $220 a month, some experts have wondered whether consumers will shun the iPhone.

Jay Giller, 20, also a Drexel student, said the high price would keep him away from the iPhone even though he loves it.

"It looks absolutely cool," he said.

IDC Research Inc. found that 60 percent of consumers surveyed were interested in the iPhone, but only 10 percent would be willing to pay full price.

Some Apple lovers, however, find the price reasonable. The iPhone can replace several gadgets - a phone, an iPod, a BlackBerry for e-mail, and handheld organizers such as Palms.

"I'm pretty excited about the price plans," said University of Pennsylvania law student Alexander N.M. Niejelow. He spends about $145 a month for plans for his Motorola Razr phone and for his BlackBerry, and he figures he will spend only $99 a month with the iPhone.

But savings is not his primary motive.

"How cool is this thing," he said as he discussed the product. "Apple has really brought together form and utility."

Some of Apple's most-hyped products have flopped, of course. For example, the transparent casing of its Cube computer won design plaudits, but consumers found it too expensive.

So far, however, the iPhone has debuted to standing ovations. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, the most influential technology columnist in the country, hailed it as "a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer." He cited the AT&T network as slow, among other problems he considered minor.

Other Apple products have overcome annoyances. The company has sold 100 million iPods in five years despite complaints about their frequent need for battery replacements.

Apple also knows how to stir up consumer interest. Company chief executive officer Steve Jobs debuted the iPhone at a trade show in January, but since then, information about it has been hard to come by. The effect: a flurry of buzz in Web chat rooms.

"You have this unprecedented secrecy that turns into this feeding frenzy that we're all part of. It's sort of like the last episode of The Sopranos," said Roger Entner, senior vice president of IAG Research Inc.

Drexel University marketing professor Lawrence Duke noted that Apple aired commercials for the iPhone showing only 11 of the screen's icons, leaving the use for the 12th - since identified as a link to YouTube Inc. - a mystery.

"They sort of manufacture the buzz," he said. "They put the information out there, but not all of it."

At this point, the buzz is everywhere. People started lining up at Apple's New York store Monday. On Macrumors.com, users chatted about which Philadelphia area stores would offer the shortest lines. Apple has stores at the Suburban Square and King of Prussia malls in Pennsylvania, at the Christiana Mall in Delaware, and in Marlton in New Jersey. The iPhone also will be available at AT&T stores.

Kim Kane said she planned to be at the Christiana Mall early tomorrow to buy an iPhone - for someone she has never met. She posted her services on Craigslist, and found a buyer who couldn't spend the day in line. He is paying her $250 to do it for him.

"I'm going to take my chair, my book and my cooler," she said. "For me, it's like a day free of 'Mom, Mom, Mom!' "


Contact staff writer Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520 or hillmb@phillynews.com.

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