It’s so quiet outside the Apple Store on Orchard Road, you wouldn’t have thought that a landmark event would be taking place there in slightly less than three hours.
On the pavement which normally would be devoid of human presence at this time of night (or day), many have succumbed to the z monster. Some sit hugging their shins, resting their heads on their knees, while others give in to prostrating on the floor with their bags as makeshift pillows.
They’ve been waiting since Thursday, the day before, to be the first in Asia to buy the iPhone X, which marks the 10th anniversary of Apple’s iPhone. It costs $1648 or $1888, depending on the storage size.
For that price, you could get easily get a laptop. But for a pocket device that is slightly larger than my palm, I’m expecting holographic projections in my video calls. However, that remains a distant dream.
Judging by the size of the queue, money is certainly not an issue. Many came prepared with snacks and power banks to tide them through the night.
But almost all did not expect the downpour in the wee hours of Friday morning. Free ponchos are their salvation.
More than 200 people are bunched up under the roof of the Apple Store’s entrance, which only shelters half of the queue. The rain eventually subsides to a drizzle, but the rain drops are still large and the ground is too wet for comfort.
The windows of the Apple Store glow in the dark, illuminating the huge mass of bodies huddled outside against the dreary conditions. Towering over the crowd is a big Apple symbol, shining brightly like a beacon of hope for refugees waiting to enter the gates to the promised land.
I wonder how many have started regretting their decision to queue for a phone.
A young man has found the energy to walk around. Maybe he’s just had a Red Bull.
I ask how he mustered the willpower to stay up for so many hours.
“Apple is a brand that makes me feel good. Since the iPhone X marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, I believe it will be the best yet,” Son replies.
So strong is this university student’s belief that he flew in all the way from Vietnam two days ago to get his hands on the phone of his dreams.
Face ID – which allows an iPhone X user to unlock the phone simply by scanning one’s face – is the feature that Son is most hyped about.
He currently uses a Samsung Note 8, which launched in September. It is also equipped with face-recognition locking technology. But it comes with a fingerprint sensor too, which the iPhone X has done away with.
“Would being deprived of Touch ID be a problem,” I ask, “Since Apple Pay has already become synonymous with the fingerprint sensor?”
“Nope, I think this is going to be the future,” he says confidently.
I prod him further about why he has decided to change his phone when it is still new and considered one of the best on the market.
“Before this, I used an iPhone 6 and I loved it. I admire Steve Jobs a lot. When I switched to Samsung it just did not give me the same user experience.”
Fair enough. So what’s the main difference?
Son says he can’t quite put his finger on it.
Most people in the queue have been roused from their naps. Conversations multiply and amplify. T-minus 90 minutes, and there is finally some buzz around the Apple Store.
But something’s not quite right. While there’s chatter, I can’t understand the diction.
Turns out there are more foreigners than Singaporeans in the queue. Many hail from Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, and like Son, have flown in from their home countries to take part in the only Southeast Asian launch of the iPhone X.
“Today doesn’t feel like an exclusive launch that I would normally associate with Apple,” says Bryan, an IT professional.
“The queue system is so disorganised and there are so few Singaporeans here, it doesn’t really feel like a ‘Singapore launch’ to be honest. It’s the worst I’ve attended.”
This would be the last time he queued for an iPhone, he claims, “10 years is enough.”
Bryan is a self-declared Apple fanboy, and already cautions that whatever comments that he and his friend Marcus give me would be biased due to their undying love for the brand.
As proof of his loyalty to Apple, Bryan shows me a picture of his previous seven iPhones, all of which he had queued for on launch day. He ignored the iPhone 8 when it launched in September because there was “no point” when the upgrades from the iPhone 7 were minimal.
He’s not that biased after all, I remark.
The three of us spend the next half an hour discussing Apple’s brand and philosophy, and why they would never switch to another brand or platform.
I had previously thought that Apple fans were sheep. After all, most could not even string together a proper argument to convince me why the iPhone was a better smartphone than any on the Android platform, other than repeating the word “nice”.
But my 30 minutes spent with these two gentlemen was insightful, even if I still won’t switch over to iOS.
I find two 17-year-old teenagers in line who have a surprising amount cash on their hands, given their age.
For Kee Yuan, the iPhone X would be his first iPhone. What a way to mark this change, by queueing overnight with almost $2,000 in his bag.
“The Apple brand is famous, so I don’t mind spending the amount of money to try out a new phone.”
At the same time, he isn’t willing to be upfront about where he got his money from.
What does he intend to do with the iPhone X after paying such a healthy amount of money, I ask.
“I will most probably play games and watch videos.”
I suggest the better option of buying both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 with that money. He would still be left with change to buy a few games.
Kee Yuan laughs.
“Yeah I know. But I also want to be part of such a big event and try out the best phone.”
Apple Store staff rally the queue to countdown to 10. The team of 20 cheer so much louder than everyone else who’s been there since the night before. Of course they would, seeing this huge crowd of between 200 and 300 willing to fork out $1,600 each.
The first person in line enters the store and everyone is ecstatic, as though he is the first kid with the golden ticket to step into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Supakorn Rieksiri, a student from Thailand, emerges from the store about 15 minutes later, having done his tour of media interviews inside following his purchase. He was the first customer to make a purchase in Singapore.
He can’t leave the grounds just yet – blocking his exit is a gigantic, professional looking video camera. He is due to appear ‘live’ on the morning show on Channel NewsAsia.
But the hosts from the Mediacorp studio are not ready for him yet. And so he waits in front of the camera, a weary look on his face.
Just across from where he is standing, other early birds have swiftly gotten down to business. iPhone X boxes and wads of cash exchange hands in a blur, and then they vanish.
It’s 8.40am. Supakorn is exhausted from the queueing, and all he wants is to head home to Thailand to unbox the most expensive phone in the world.