"Where's iBooks?" the man was asking. "I want to see iBooks."
An older guy, one of the half dozen or so Apple sales associates on the floor, didn't know exactly what he meant at first. But then he figured out the man just wanted to see an e-book on the screen. That's why he'd come to the Apple Store: to see what an e-book looked like on an iPad.
The customer peered down through his fairly thick glasses at the James Patterson novel the sales associate had opened for him.
"Is it backlit?" he asked.
"Sure," the sales associate said. "It's an LCD."
For some reason the guy seemed shocked to learn the truth.
"I will go blind reading this," he declared.
"Why?" the sales associate asked.
"It's backlit. I will go blind."
The sales associate asked him the next obvious question: Did he use a computer?
But the guy was having none of it. He seemed to be on some sort of mission to dismiss the iPad as an e-reader. And he wanted someone to hear his thoughts, and let that person know that since other e-readers like the Nook (yes, he said Nook, not Kindle) weren't backlit they wouldn't strain his eyes and make him go blind.
"You can read the Nook like you would a book," he said, and with that, he exited the store. Whether he was headed to Barnes & Noble--which was not far away--wasn't clear, but he'd seen what he came to see and departed, his curiosity satisfied.
The sales associate seemed to take it in stride. The Apple Store attracts all types. Not far off, a guy was holding an iPad in one hand and his little dog in the other. He was tapping icons with a free thumb.
"What do you think?" I asked the sales associate.
"The iPad? You get one yet?"
"Not yet," he said. "Thinking about it, though."
I told him I was, too. But I didn't tell him quite how much. I didn't tell him I'd written a couple of articles about how I'd almost bought one the other day except that the store didn't have any 16GB or 32GB models. Now there was one waiting for me somewhere in back, thanks to a reservation I'd made. I had 24 hours to pick it up and a few readers were wondering whether I was actually going to buy the thing.
I honestly wasn't sure what I was going to do, but I figured I'd come back to the store, try to find the original sales associate I'd encountered, and see if anybody from Apple had noticed the story on CNET and somehow managed to identify her (some readers commented that they thought Apple would fire her, which I didn't think would happen).
She wasn't there. Instead, I got a retired refugee from the high-tech world who, for kicks, had become an Apple Store docent. He thought the iPad was plenty cool, but I sensed that as a hard-core techie, it seemed a bit too tame and user-friendly for his tastes.
He said he was against cell phones at first. "Used to be you could go have a drink after work for a couple of hours and not be bothered. I mean, people knew where you were, but you didn't get calls or e-mails asking where you were. They just knew."
One day he saw a guy out on the street carrying this huge portable phone, arguing with his wife over the contraption. This was the '80s. At the time, it seemed completely horrifying. Now it's completely normal.
"You try to sell people on the iPad?" I asked.
"Naw. They don't want to be sold."
He pointed to a sales associate standing at a MacBook at the next table. "You see that guy over there? He's there to help people with their computers. They come and talk to him. They ask him all kinds of questions. He's there for hours with some people, showing them how to do things. Drives him nuts sometimes. The iPad? People turn their back on me. They want to use it themselves. They don't want any help. Guy comes in here and wants to show his girlfriend what it's all about. He doesn't want me butting in."
But they must have some questions?
"Well, you get a lot of people asking to see certain apps that we don't have on the devices. Like the Kindle app, and the New York Times, but the devices are locked down. It would be good if we could show more apps."
"You can't download anything to them?" I ask rhetorically.
"No. They're totally locked." He then recounted how one time Apple opened up a table full of iPod Touches for downloads. In just a few hours, the public managed to download $300,000 worth of apps. They were downloading willy-nilly. It was a good day for developers. Apple still had to pay them their 70 percent.
I didn't think it was possible to spend $300,000 in a few hours on apps, even downloading from a dozen or so devices. It must have been in the early days, when the apps were more expensive, but I had no way to verify it either way. We talked some more, and he told me how he'd taken most of the Apple machines in the store apart, and he marveled at how well they were built.
I finally told him I had an iPad on reserve, with my name on it, so to speak, but I was still on the fence about buying it. The one thing that had me worried was that I wasn't quite sure how I was going to use the thing.
"It's fun," he said. "It's something you'd sit in your backyard with and smoke a cigar. You surf the Web, read a book, maybe watch some video. It's great for streaming video."
Right around then I noticed the store manager--sort of a burly guy--eyeing us (I knew he was the store manager, because I'd once asked to see the store manager and I'd gotten him). I had a bad feeling he'd read my previous two articles and recognized me. Sure enough, he started to make his way over toward us.
He came up to my new pal and said he wanted to see him. But he didn't pull him away, which was a good sign. He said, "When you're through..." Maybe I was just being paranoid.
Having procrastinated enough, I bid the sales associate adieu, and headed downstairs to pick up my iPad. Unwittingly, the guy had sold me. I didn't smoke cigars, but suddenly the whole image seemed appealing. As the sales associate behind the register looked up my reservation, I said to myself, "Cigar, martini, iPad." And then I repeated it, like a new mantra. Cigar, martini, iPad.
But just as I was ready to whip out the credit card, another sales person dropped a 13-inch MacBook Pro off on the counter. It was actually an older model that was being returned because the new model had just come out. I stared at it lustily. For $600 more I could have the new 13-incher instead of the iPad.
A couple of minutes later I found myself walking out of the store empty-handed. Sadly, I couldn't pull the trigger on anything, but I felt relieved and slightly impressed with my will power. Within hours, however, I was feeling deprived. And then I got an e-mail from a reader with the subject line, "iPad on a wee Scottish island."
- Hello, Am enjoying reading your articles on your route to buying an iPad. I live on a small island in Scotland, but am a longtime Apple fan. The news just came through yesterday that folk over here will have to wait until the end of May to get a hold of any iPad, but luckily I preordered one in March and had it delivered to a friend who was flying over on April 8 to London, to attend the same Expo I was going to be at. With the help of Google Earth I have worked out that my little iPad has now traveled 15,500 miles to get to our island (starting from China).
My first use has been to put my new book onto it, saving each of the 128 pages as tiff files in chronological order, since I am unable to buy the iBook app over here yet. But simply viewing the book in this way is a treat (it's full colour throughout, hundreds of photos of tropical orchids I have taken over the years).
Wow, I thought, the guy went to all this trouble to get an iPad to some wee Scottish island 15,500 miles away and here I was, only nine blocks way from one and was taking it for granted (and I could buy any app I wanted). Why was I being such a wuss?
I woke up the next morning and headed back to the Apple Store. This time I didn't stop to talk to anyone. I just went downstairs and paid for the thing, all $650 (including tax). If worse came to worst, I reasoned, I could return it for the 10 percent restocking fee ($60) within 14 days or send it over to Europe or Japan with someone and have them sell it over there, probably at a profit.
Or I could just hold onto it and keep writing about it.
I don't know. We'll see. Maybe I'll just let the readers decide.