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William Lummus, left, and Alex Brewer

It might not have the appeal of an iPhone 5, but tomorrow’s launch of Apple’s iPhone 4S has still managed to attract a line outside of the Apple Store at Seattle’s University Village shopping center this evening, complete with the traditional lawn chairs signaling their intention to stick it out overnight.

OK, to be precise, as of 5:10 p.m. the line consisted of exactly three people — one of whom wasn’t sure if she was going to stay.

But why did these die-hards decide to camp out? Their answers highlight the way many people seek community in the digital age.

“It’s a fun experience,” said Alex Brewer, a University of Washington student who was one of the three people in line. “Last year it was a blast. You meet interesting people. It’s not everyone who’s willing to wait in line for 12 or 14 hours for a phone.”

Brewer and his friend, fellow UW student William Lummus, both camped out  for the iPhone 4 last year, when there was a rush of people around 7 or 8 in the evening, and then again at midnight and 4 a.m. as people woke up to wait in line. But the iPhone 4 was a major overhaul compared with the iPhone 3GS, whereas the iPhone 4S is an upgrade under-the-hood, with the same exterior as the iPhone 4.

Kieren Carmichael

However, online sales of the iPhone 4S have been strong, with Apple saying earlier this week that first-day preorders set a record.

Lummus said Apple’s addition of a 64GB model to the iPhone lineup is a major appeal for him, and the integration of the voice-controlled Siri personal assistant also looks interesting.

Their friend, Kieren Carmichael, a exchange student from Australia who also goes to the UW, said she decided to hang out for the experience, to be able to say she waited in line. She wasn’t sure if she’d be there until the doors open in the morning.

“I don’t really need a phone,” she said, “so if I got one I’d probably sell it.”

Update: The line had grown just a bit I stopped back by around 6:30, with Fraser Ratzlaff (pictured below at left) and Jason Lorig (in the sunglasses) claiming their places.

Why were they in line? Ratzlaff gave three reasons …

“After seeing the announcement (with no iPhone 5), it was kind of a letdown for me. But I thought about it and the only thing that was disappointing was the lack of an upgrade of a shell. But I got everything else I wanted: Better memory, better camera, faster processor, faster download speeds. I got everything else. So I thought, why am I disappointed? It’s a great phone.

“Second reason is just because it’s an experience. I love being part of the Apple culture, and I try not to be fanatical, but this is something I do every year now. And it’s just fun. I got some friends coming, we’re going to hang out later.

“And the last reason is just because it’s the one thing in my life that I have the latest of. You know, my wife and I don’t go on the nicest vacations or have the nicest cars, or anything, but I like to have one thing in my life that’s the latest. I don’t need an upgrade, I have the nicest thing out there.”

Lorig offered similar reasons. “I don’t like preordering,” he said. “I like to sit out here with everybody for 10 hours or so, and I want to make sure I get one tomorrow and not a month from now.”

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