Weekend Update: Jaguar Event an Unprecedented Hit

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Date: Saturday, August 24th, 2002, 09:10
Category: Archive

Apple has succeeded in doing something Microsoft always dreamed of, but never pulled off: making an operating system an event.

How many people showed up last night at Apple’s flagship store in Soho, NYC? According to employees: “a lot.” How many is that exactly? “Uh, a lot. We stopped counting.” Another employee: “We expected, like, a hundred people for this thing!” Not only was the spacious two-story store packed, with the Apple Theater completely mobbed, but hundreds lined up in two lines, each line stretching down the block, around the corner, and several blocks uptown. A Friday night and New York’s trendiest nightclubs couldn’t compete.

”People are saying there’s a celebrity at the front of the line,” said art history doctoral candidate Bragan Thomas. (If someone can explain to me how out of a random group of New Yorkers I ran into three separate art history doctoral candidates, all traveling separately, I’d appreciate it.) It wasn’t hope of a David Bowie demo, though, that inspired people: most were satisfied to wait even if all that was at the end of the line was a freshly-boxed copy of Jaguar. “We did a scan search,” said Thomas, “and everybody’s waiting for Jaguar.”

”What are you in line for?” a number of onlookers asked the crowd. “A new operating system for Apple” would come the response. The confused onlooker would stumble away, stunned. “We’re nerds.” But, even given Mac loyalty, why were people willing to wait in line for an hour to and hour and a half to buy an OS, particularly with other stores nearby that had the same freebies, the same price, and no line? Many said they wanted to get in the Apple Store: the glitzy two-story store glowed at night with an atmosphere worlds away from the normal mall / Banana Republic vibe of Apple’s suburban locations. People were excited to see the glass staircase — strangely, including people who already had been there. It seems the store itself became the perfect set for the drama of . . . well, Apple itself.

And of course, that’s what’s ingenious about how Apple made this an event. Was there hype leading up to the event? Not much; most people came by word of mouth (a number mentioned seeing the parties listed here on the PowerPage!). Was there a celebrity appearance? No. Wild decorations? Save some nice Jaguar banners and Jaguar prints on the floor, not much. Freebies? Um, t-shirts, only if you buy X. A drawing for a digital hub giveaway — with horrible odds of winning, of course. Celebrity appearances? DJs? Free food? No, no, and no. The event, strangely enough, was the computer itself — people came to play with the Macs, to SEE the operating system.

And that’s what’s amazing about last night. Microsoft hires the Stones, gets girls on roller skates racing around football stadiums trying to get crowds to yell “Microsoft rocks!” , and most of it fails to work. Yet Apple, a quarter century after the Apple II, still manages to embody everything that’s cool about computers. This was not just hardened Mac geeks in the crowd: many were simply devoted computer USERS. And yes, a few people came celebrating the Jaguar theme: faux fir-print clothes, even Jaguar hair made some scattered appearances. And many were indeed PC users, dying to buy something truly cool, a machine they would love, and many of them walked out with PowerBooks and G4 towers, taking advantage of 10% discounts.

For all of our legitimate criticisms of Apple lately, like poorly-performing towers, at least Apple gets that people using machines to do amazing things is still the center of what the computer revolution is about. And, in the midst of economic uncertainty in a neighborhood literally under attack less than a year ago, thousands gathered to witness nothing more than technology, still improving, still letting people do more, still getting . . . cooler.

Coming soon: photos of the event (feel free to send your own photos to me, and of course, in-depth coverage of how 10.2 actually performs.

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