Another iPhone launch brought another onrush of customers to Apple Stores across the country and around the globe, as eager customers queued up to get their hands on the latest smartphone from Apple Friday.
The iPhone 5 went on sale at 8 a.m. local time throughout the U.S. Friday. And that was just one country where the new phone made its debut—the iPhone 5 also arrived in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, France, Germany, Canada, and the U.K.
In New York, that meant the usual crush of customers outside Apple’s flagship Fifth Avenue Store, which was as packed as any previous iPhone launch. Adding to the mass of humanity were dense droves of reporters and vendors surrounding the queued up customers. Still, when the store opened its doors at 8 a.m., the line moved briskly and continuously.
The scene was more subdued at Toronto’s Yorkdale Mall, perhaps due to a combination of improved online ordering and the fact that Apple Stores in Canada no longer stock unlocked phones. But you didn’t hear any of the 100 or so customers in line complaining about the ligher-than-usual crowds.
That crowd included a number of first-time iPhone shoppers. One Torontonian was making the switch from a BlackBerry to a 16GB iPhone 5, while another person in line was coming back to the iPhone after trying out a Research In Motion phone.
Apple Stores and other retail outlets on the west coast didn’t open their doors until three hours after the Eastern time zone, but that did little to dim the enthusiasm for iPhone 5 shoppers closer to Apple’s home base. In downtown San Francisco, Apple Store employees handed out cards to the people waiting in line to streamline the process of picking up their new phones.
First in line in San Francisco was Charlie Hufnagel, who had been there since Monday evening. Hufnagel wasn’t waiting in line for himself; rather, he had been hired through an online services company called TaskRabbit to wait in line on someone else’s behalf. Store staff had roped off Hufnagel, designating him as first in line. When TaskRabbit wasn’t coordinating food deliveries, Hufnagel used a Bunsen burner to cook ramen and took advantage of the Apple Store’s Wi-Fi.
It all ended happily for Hufnagel, too. The person he was waiting on behalf of showed up on Friday to claim his phone, but store employees still let Hufnagel go into the store to buy one for himself.
Shoppers waiting across the bay at Emeryville’s Bay Street mall didn’t have to camp out as long, but only because over-zealous mall security shooed away early arrivals. Kevin Cross showed up at the Apple Store at 3 a.m. Friday, but mall security wouldn’t let him stand in line for another two hours. He circled the block until 5 a.m. It was Cross’s first time standing in line for an iPhone launch: “I usually wait until the fervor dies down.”
Other iPhone 5 buyers found other avenues for getting a prime place in line. When security at the Emeryville mall chased away Edward Mitoma, the 45-year-old dentist relocated to an Apple Store in nearby Berkeley. “I would have gotten one online if I could keep my phone plan,” Mitoma said. “Plus I wanted to see the experience—the camaraderie.”
Back at the Fifth Avenue Store, Matthew Wainchus, a student at New York’s Pace University, was in line to buy an iPhone 5 on its first day of availability, just as he has for every iPhone release. He was looking forward to LTE support, which will allow the iPhone 5 to connect to faster cellular networks in the U.S.
“I actually like AT&T,” said Wainchus, who had been in line for two hours before the Fifth Avenue store opened. “A lot of people have problems with it, but I love it.”