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Interview: Rob Shoesmith, Apple’s 250-hour iPhone 4S camper

Love the iPhone 4S? Never leave the house without your iPad 2? However strong your devotion to the Church of Apple, we’re willing to bet you’ve never met anyone quite as devoted to bagging an iPhone 4S as MEDL Mobile’s Rob Shoesmith, who camped some 250 hours on the street ahead of the 4S launch, living only on handouts from dozens of companies eager to cash in on the publicity generated by his stint as an urban hermit. During his mammoth ten-day vigil outside the Regent Street Apple Store, he befriended the homeless, battled sleep deprivation and witnessed a robbery. But was the iPhone 4S worth it? Read on for what may be the year’s strangest story in tech…

 

Recombu: So, was the experiment a success?

Rob Shoesmith: Most definitely! It was an incredible experience that I will never forget! I have so many memories!

 

RCB: What was the weirdest thing that has happened while you were in the queue? Any good stories?

RS: One night a very drunk South African lady began dancing outside the Apple Store. It reminded me of one of those old iTunes adverts from years ago. She proceeded to dance right up to me in her sleeping bag and opened here purse and gave me four rand! I tried to explain to her that I wasn’t homeless and she was having none of it and ran off!

I also woke up to find the Apple Store being raided. I was half asleep at the time but woke up to see a load of motor bikes shooting off into the distance. As a marketer I knew the significance of this and posted a blog entry with a picture that was picked up by a number of national newspapers.

 

RCB: Have you had any reaction from Apple?

RS: On day one I was told to wait on the pavement outside the Apple Store by their security team. I don’t think they took me to seriously. By day four the security team came over and said I could set up camp under their archway as the weather was getting really cold! The media coverage I was generating was massive, so from a PR point of view I’m guessing Apple were aware of this and helped to take care of me. I don’t think the store has seen too many people try and camp out for ten nights before an iPhone launch.

 

RCB: On your website you talk about “having your eyes opened massively”. What do you mean?

RS: Prior to the experiment taking place I thought camping outside an apple store for ten nights would be pretty straight forward! I was donated a lot of good quality camping gear and I had a lot of food and restaurants helping me out. Hand on heart I can say it was one of the toughest ten days of my life!

I met dozens of homeless people who were so inspirational for me who helped me get through to the end! Some of these guys had spent years on the street with absolutely nothing! I met a young homeless guy called Terry Partington (he is on twitter @TerryPartington) who had been on the streets for around three months and to my amazement he pulled out a MacBook and connected to Apple’s free WiFi. He was interested in my experiment and we really complimented each other and a nice friendship has formed. He helped me to get used to life on the streets and I gave him some food and products from my sponsors to help him get by. As the tiredness kicked in he helped me to shoot YouTube videos and looked after my belongings so I could visit the bathroom and have a little sleep. A lot of people wouldn’t have trusted a homeless person, but I had a gut feeling that he was a genuine guy who had had a lot of bad luck. He is interested in digital imaging and by a matter of chance a couple days later I met a photographer who happened to run a photography course; I explained Terry’s situation and all being well I’m going to try and get them connected.

Even with the quality gear I had I was still absolutely freezing at night. Covent Garden was busy 24/7 and this had a massive impact on my sleep. I was surviving on around two or three hours of sleep a night and I was suffering from massive sleep deprivation.

I got talking to so many homeless people who were wonderful to me who had so many skills but were stuck in a situation. I’m now going to be raising money for the homeless. I set up some QR codes for the experiment and a homeless man called Anthony approached me and asked, “what are those funny pictures used for?” I explained that you can scan the code with a smartphone and it then displays a hidden message with a link to a website.

A few days later as I was about to go to sleep Anthony popped over and said hi and asked me “Rob how would I go about creating a QR code?” Inside I was thinking “wow!” I proceeded to explain to him how to do this and he then then told me he was going to create a QR code for himself and write a message about himself and what life living on the streets was like. He said he speaks to a lot of tourists everyday and that the codes could be a nice ice breaker to get talking to people.

 

RCB: What do you think of the iPhone 4S?

RS: First impressions are good! Speed-wise it seems quicker and Siri looks excellent – that will only grow in time. I was a bit disappointed that some of it’s features are not available in the UK yet. There is a lot of potential!

 

RCB: What model phone did you get?

RS: 16GB black. I love my music, but 16GB will be plenty. I stream a lot of my music anyway.

 

RCB: Would you queue again?

RS: Yes but maybe not for so long. The first 7 days were very tough as I was the only one in line. It was a huge morale booster when others joined me in line! I think camping with other people would be a lot easier. I have some other experiment ideas up my sleeve and I like to be original so it wouldn’t take the same format as this one.

 

RCB: As you say on your site that your stint outside the Apple Store was to create marketing buzz for MEDL Mobile, do you have any cool apps in the works you’d like to tell us about?

RS: We have a lot of new apps in the pipeline but many are under NDA at the minute. One our game apps – Boxhead the Zombie Wars, which is still free to download – had tremendous download rates whilst in line. The traffic to my blog [www.iphone5experiment.com] was very targeted which had a great influence on our sales. The idea was to create a challenge and the top 3 high scores online would receive a prize donated by some of my sponsors.

 

RCB: What was the best piece of free swag you managed to net from a company? What was the worst/least useful/most bizarre?

RS: The best piece was a wearable sleeping bag called a Musucbag. Without this I would have probably frozen to death. And of course all the kit supplied to me by [outdoor clothing company] Helly Hansen.

The most bizarre was a sexual supplement by Menhancer. I mean, why would I need this whilst camping outside an Apple Store? I was also given a thong by a sex shop love honey. It was just too cold to wear it 🙂


RCB: Was it worth it?

RS: Yes! It was such a mental challenge to keep going and I’m so glad I completed my challenge. I connected with so many new people including the media, new companies, people and it has inspired me to get involved with some homeless charities to do some good. I met more people in 10 days than I have done in the last 2 years.

 

You can keep up with Rob’s exploits on his Twitter feed, @shoesmith81, read more on his ten-day camp at iphone5experiment.com and follow Terry Partington @terrypartington. You can donate to Rob’s homeless charity project at justgiving.com/iphone5experiment.

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