The strange allure of unboxing and tearing apart new gadgets.

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
June 17 2009 1:51 PM

May I Smash Open Your New iPhone, Please?

The strange allure of unboxing and tearing apart new gadgets.

Click here for a slide-show essay on the allure of unboxing and ripping apart gadgets.

Later this week, Kyle Wiens will travel to an undisclosed European country, stand in line for hours to buy Apple's new iPhone, and then find a comfortable, well-lighted place to take the phone apart. Wiens, the co-founder of a site called iFixIt, does this sort of thing for a living. Last year iFixIt's staff flew to Australia so they could get one of the first iPhone 3Gs to go on sale in the world—they disassembled the phone before anyone in North America had had a chance to buy it. A few weeks ago, they did the same for the Palm Pre, buying it up and rendering it unusable in a matter of hours.

People stand in line for lots of different kinds of things: sneakers, concert tickets, reality-show auditions. But gadget fans exhibit particularly curious rituals as they're waiting to get their hands on their most-coveted items. In addition to ripping gadgets apart like Wiens and company, many gizmo freaks go ape over "unboxings"—yes, pictures of tech toys being taken out of boxes.

The Web abounds with clips and galleries of people unpacking their latest purchases. For those not obsessed with gadgets, the coverage can seem excessive, even unnatural. Who cares what Apple's mighty mouse looks like when you take it out of the box? For gadget lovers, the appeal is obvious. Today's best devices are preceded by months of rumor, commentary, and online lust—by the time the thing's finally ready to be taken out of a box, people can barely contain themselves. Plus, a gadget is never as good as when it comes right out of the box. Why not document this one, perfect moment?

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Click here for a slide-show essay on the allure of unboxing and ripping apart gadgets.

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Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.