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Hey, is that the iPhone?"

I'm just settling into a booth at Reginelli's on Magazine when a waitress notices the sleek, futuristic-looking slab of glass and metal resting next to my water. "Yes indeed. Do you want to see it?"

She nods. I drag my finger across the bottom of the screen and 16 brightly colored icons immediately jump into place. I touch the one marked by a road sign: "Maps." Block by block, the familiar arc of the Mississippi River comes into focus. She seems impressed.

"Check this out." Touching the Google search field at the top of the screen sends a virtual keyboard springing up from the bottom. "P ... I ... Z ... Z ... A." Nine little red pegs fall scattershot over Uptown New Orleans. "There we are." I touch one of them. A transparent overlay pops up: "Reginelli's Pizzeria," it reads, followed by a small blue arrow. I touch that. The map is pushed aside by an info page, with hot links to Reginelli's phone number, Web page and address. There also are buttons marked "Directions To Here," "Directions From Here," "Add to Bookmarks," "Create New Contact" and "Add to Existing Contact." I touch the number. Ten feet away, the desk starts ringing.

Now she looks dumbfounded. "Don't answer that," she turns and says to a hostess reaching for her phone. When she wheels back around, she's wearing the same awestruck face that I had made for the first time a week earlier. "That's wild."

With Apple's revolutionary new iPhone, seeing really is believing. Making reservations is just one of many routine tasks the device manages to turn into a showstopper. Something like setting an alarm or finding a contact, once a series of mundane cursor clicks and multiple button presses, now operates much like spinning a showcase wheel on The Price is Right, which even matches the speed of your swipe.

Perhaps the Internet feature is most impressive. While manufacturers like Research In Motion (BlackBerry) and Palm (Treo) long ago incorporated Web and email access on their smartphones, such products used either clumsy proprietary software (unintuitive at best) or a garden variety of Mobile Web tools (largely useless). The promise of the iPhone is a full-featured PowerBook experience in the palm of your hand, and with the assistance of an accessible WiFi network (now available citywide via Earthlink), it delivers.

A pocket-sized version of the Safari browser allows you to manipulate the Web for the first time with your fingers: left, right, up, down. Pinch or double-click anything -- a photo, a block of text -- and it's elegantly zoomed and resized to fit the screen's width. Turn it to either side and an accelerometer recognizes the orientation, reformatting the site in a widescreen display. Seamless integration also means that everything always is in play. Touch a number in an email and the phone will begin dialing; tap an address in Safari and you're looking at it from a satellite. Never before has a phone's various features all worked together so harmoniously and so easily.

Anyone with a television already knows this, of course. Apple's brilliant marketing blitz, in which disembodied hands introduced us to the iPhone's basic functions, proved the Cupertino, Calif., company knows about more than just product design. Its 6 p.m. unveiling on June 29 was a masochistic bit of willful manipulation, ensuring that lines would be twisting out of Apple Stores just as the nightly news cameras started rolling.

Outside of a second line or the occasional Hansen's Sno-Bliz fix, there are precious few things that can scare up a queue in New Orleans in the dead air of summer. Yet there they were, at all three Uptown AT&T locations, in numbers that reached close to triple digits by the time Steve Jobs generously pulled back his curtain. Area technophiles braved 90 degree temperatures and a handful of hecklers to be among the first to own the "Jesus phone," as some particularly irreverent bloggers branded it.

We chose the Tchoupitoulas store for two reasons: The covered walkway seemed a necessity should it start to rain (it would), and the proximity to Smoothie King promised internal air conditioning if the heat got to us (it did). It should be noted that I'm using the term "we" in the editorial sense. My significant other was present, too, but only for the sake of amusement.ÊShe witnessed my months of stalking up close -- "If the iPhone were a woman, she'd have a restraining order against you," she offered thoughtfully at one point -- and couldn't believe there were so many techno stalkers.

The crazies quickly connected. With nothing to do but read for four hours (or in the case of two devoted/deranged campers, an entire night), we chatted up those immediately around us. Two were doctors at Ochsner, but didn't know each other; we also counted a pediatrician, a public defender and a policeman. ("Think of all the good they could be doing," quipped my companion, now hitting her stride.) Pizzas came, then beers. The campers relayed a funny story about some wobbly college girls who joined the line briefly after departing F&M's the night before. To their dismay, they didn't stay.

When our time finally came, we left with not one iPhone, but two. The comedienne had come around.

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