Why do people queue for an iPad?

Would you queue for a new iPad? No, neither would we and nor do many people in practice, as it happens.

Despite the huge lines seen outside Apple Stores the world over on iProduct launch day, very few of those willing to spend cold nights out on the street are doing so for the express purpose of getting their hands on the new iPad or latest iPhone. This crowd is not as crazy as it looks. So what are their ulterior motives?

Outside the UK flagship Apple Store on Regent Street, around 40 hours before the doors are flung open to reveal the gleaming, new, third-generation iPads for the very first time, sits a smaller than expected clutch of campers with their backs to the shop window on canvas fold-out chairs - the number one essential for any serious queuer, so we’re told.

Of the seven, one is yet to spend a night out on the pavement of one of London’s busiest thoroughfares having joined the back of the line just that morning. She sits knitting a pair of gloves with a bag full of wool next to her and patterns for several other garments in her mind ready to pass the time but, a crafter by trade, she has no interest in the iPad at all. Queing for the latest Apple device is a job for her and it’s a friend who’s paying her wages. She won’t say how much she’s getting but perhaps the bigger question is just why her employer didn’t get him or herself online the previous week to pre-order an iPad for delivery?

“They want to be one of the first 10 people to get theirs from the shop. They’ll turn up just before opening to take my place and go in and get it.”

As it turns out, the crafter is sharing responsibilities with another friend who’ll take over after the first 24 hours. So, it’s just the one night on the street, stuffed inside a thick sleeping bag while propped up on her chair that she’ll have to suffer but, those in positions six and upwards are here for the long haul.

Serial queuers to the man, each has his own agenda. In sixth sits a 16-year-old “off sick” from school with the consent of his parents who quickly saw the benefits of turning a blind eye when their son sold his place in the iPhone 4S queue in 2011.

“I was 15th in the queue last time and my friend was 16th and we got £200 each. I’m 6th this time, so I’m going to be getting a lot of money, hopefully.”

Quite how the exchange rate racks up per place and, indeed, whether an iPad queue is as lucrative as an iPhone one remains to be seen, but it still doesn’t answer the question of just who these people are who are willing to part with three-figure sums, on top of an already expensive device, for something that can be bought and hand delivered in advance?

“Well, you can’t get it now because the pre-orders are sold out,” is our man’s response, and a fair one at that. “So, if you’re not getting it on Friday, then you’ll have to wait a while.”

The Regent Street Apple Store is not the only place selling new iPads on launch days, of course. Indeed, there are the mobile operator stores and third-party sales on top of all the other Apple retail branches around but, if you don’t want to spend your day chasing shadows, then £200 for the privilege might not be such a bad idea for the impatient. Our man in sixth is not such a person though. A confessed Apple-ite, all the same, he’s happy to wait for his gadget as is perhaps not surprising.

“I’ve got the 4S. I got it a month later. I’ll get the iPad a month later too. I’m not interested in getting it immediately.”

There is a final bonus for this queuer and that’s about making contacts for a future role in IT - as indeed he did, with the group taking up the rest of the slots up to third place. The group organises an Apple product jailbreaking conference in San Francisco in September called World Wide Jailbreak Convention 2012 and its members in the queue to promote just that, knowing that newspapers, magazines - and yes, sites such as your very own Pocket-lint - will want to talk to them about why they’re camping out to get an iPad when they could have ordered one online. So, job done as far as the jailbreakers are concerned.

Finally, that leaves the gentleman sitting at the very front of the new iPad queue outside the Regent Street shop. That man, a man you may have seen at the front of a few Apple Store queues before, is 21-year-old Zohaib Ali. Zohaib has Aspergers - a learning difficulty on the Autistic Spectrum - and has queued for all of the Apple products since the iPhone 3GS. His parents, brother and friend Ali (second in the queue), who sit with him while he waits, have become proud owners of Zohaibs past Apple trophies by proxy.

“It’s his thing,” explains Zohaib’s father - himself a veteran of Apple products, having picked up an Apple Lisa computer for a cut-price $3,000 in 1983 after writing letters to the company telling them that it was too expensive.

“For Zohaib, being first is like winning gold at the Olympics. It means everything to him and we’re all happy to be here with him twice a year at the launches to make that possible.”

According to his family, the Apple products have helped Zohaib learn in a way that just hasn’t been possible with other methods and it’s somewhere Mr Ali feels his son might have a future.

“We’d like to talk to Apple about getting Zohaib involved with the company. Apple has ambassador programs for areas such as education and environment and Zohaib would be the perfect person to become an ambassador for those with learning difficulties. It’s something that company like Apple should really do.”

Apple? Over to you.

If you feel inspired to join this band of brothers for your own reasons of publicity, finance or because you just want an iPad, then you might just make it in time before the barriers go up. Apple Regent Street is expecting a queue all the way round the corner and down to Hanover Square by 8am on the morning of Friday, 16 March, 2012, and that’s around 100m of people.

The tips from those we spoke to are to bring a camping chair. A £5 one will do but the £30 model from Blacks is the luxury option. Other than that, it’s a sleeping bag, a laptop (yes, the store Wi-Fi does reach that far) and perhaps a little tipple to help pass the night. Apple does have a toilet you can use and you can rely on your fellow queuers to look after your stuff if you want to pop off down the shops for a while. A break of an hour or two is acceptable but any longer might not be deemed in the spirit of things.

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