It was a mob scene at Grand Central Terminal this morning, with commuters and Apple fans alike trying to get a glimpse of the next-generation iPad -- no, not the iPad 3, it's just called the new iPad. Thankfully, Apple had plenty of security measures in place to control the hordes of customers while making the process of buying a new iPad completely seamless and enjoyable for fans.
Many wondered how the new Apple Store in Grand Central Terminal, which opened on Dec. 9, would handle the crowds for big product launches. After all, Grand Central Terminal experiences roughly 750,000 visitors each day and more than a million people during the holidays, and Apple product launches would only make the historic train station even more cluttered and messy.
With today's new iPad launch, Apple proved that it can control the crowds. Here's how they did it:
Divide and Conquer
If Apple simply opened the floodgates and let customers swarm the Grand Central Apple Store, it would have been pure chaos. There could have been fights and thefts, and the Apple Store employees would have been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of customers and fans just trying to get a first look at the beautiful new tablet.
To conquer the iPad launch day, Apple decided to divide the crowds to keep smaller groups of them under control. Entrance to the Apple Store -- even just to look around, or visit other parts of the store -- required a special bracelet that could only be obtained by standing in the line. Otherwise, the store was closed to the public, and Apple could therefore control how many could go in at a time.
The Funnel Method
If all of the new iPad customers stood outside of the Apple Store entrance, located in the Northeast corner of Grand Central, commuters would be unable to get to their trains, and the entire main concourse of the train station would be cluttered with police, security, Apple fans, and people on their way to work. It would've been a nightmare for everyone involved.
To avoid this madness, Apple started the line under the Northeast passage and used the long natural corridor to house the line of people, completely avoiding the main concourse. But once 8 a.m. struck, Apple didn't simply let everyone mob the store; Apple set up checkpoints within the line itself and let small groups of people enter the store at a time. A big chunk towards the front of the line was cordoned off, and once those people would be let into the store, that big area would fill up with people from the line again. It was an easy system that kept people under control but also kept the lines moving.
Big product launches create an insane amount of hype, and Apple needed to be ready to not only control the crowds of customers, but also needed to control the crowds of on-lookers, passers-by and commuters. Apple had plenty of help in this regard: The iPad launch was protected by NYPD officers, a few K-9 units, and MTA officials.
However, Apple also invited another company that it has used in the past for its big events. A secretive company called OIC patrolled the lines and the entrances to the Apple Store, making sure that all visitors were under control and had a bracelet on to enter the store.
OIC employees were pretty tight-lipped, but one member told me that his security team was setting up for this event since late last night, since some people decided to camp out early for the big launch. He also admitted that Apple has tapped his company in the past to provide security for big announcements and events, including the launch of the Grand Central location itself on Dec. 9.
Most fans in line agreed that the coordination involved to pull off this iPad launch event was extremely impressive. One family on vacation from Holland said that they had only stood in line for about an hour or so, and they thought it would be the perfect place and time to buy their new iPad. They, as well as others, said that sitting in line wasn't bad at all.
Even though the setup and organization of the queue might have you believe that the launch event was a strict process, it couldn't be farther from the truth. Customers were excited to buy their new iPads, or even just see one up close. Apple entertained patient customers by placing employees in the line itself, having them talk about the new iPad, how it works, and its accessories. As if they needed more reason to buy it.
But the overall experience was extremely positive, in spite of the stone-faced security team. The immense line did not interfere with the daily business of Grand Central Terminal, and Apple got to release its new iPad the way it wanted it to: With no mob scenes, no fighting, and no fuss. Apple has always been a fan of controlling the entire experience, and on Friday in Grand Central, store management was efficient, disciplined, and admirable.
About The New iPad
The new iPad features improved front and rear cameras, the same 10-hour battery life, and a dual-LED backlit system that powers the 2048 x 1536 true HD Retina Display, which displays 3.1 million total pixels. The display features 44 percent greater saturation of colors than its predecessor, and includes one million more pixels than an HDTV. Apple's dual-LED solution makes the iPad's screen noticeably brighter, but it also apparently solved several puzzling issues with heat dissipation and battery consumption.
The new iPad is sold in two different models, including a Wi-Fi only edition, and a version with Wi-Fi and 4G LTE capability. The new iPad is currently being sold by several retailers, including Apple, the AT&T Store, Verizon Wireless, Best Buy, Target, Sam's Club and Radio Shack. AT&T and Verizon Wireless will only sell the 4G LTE models; Apple, and possibly other big box retailers like Best Buy and Target, will sell the Wi-Fi only models.
AT&T and Verizon have different plans ready for the 4G LTE models of the new iPad. AT&T customers can opt to receive 250 MB of data (don't laugh) for $14.99 a month, 3 GB for $30 a month, and 5 GB for $50 a month. Verizon Wireless sells 1 GB for $20 a month, 2 GB for $30 a month, and 5 GB for $50 a month.
If you want to buy an Apple Care+ plan for your new iPad, which is highly recommended, you'll have to visit an Apple Store or order a plan online.