There’s nothing like a touch of tradition to go along with the thrill of innovation.
Like waiting in line to be the first to get experience it.
Undeterred by the steep price tag, hundreds and even thousands of walk-in customers queued up outside Apple stores hours, days, and in some cases, months before the new device hit shelves.
Some, even way before they even really needed to.
First in line by far was Sydney, Australia-based YouTuber Mazen Kourouche, who arrived 10 days early for the initially-planned Sept. 12 launch. After camping out for a week and a half, however, Kourouche’s big day turned out to be a bust, with the iPhone X release delayed until Nov. 3. The vlogger got his happy ending, though, snagging one of the first iPhone Xs available at the Sydney store yesterday.
Of course, many others have waited in line for new iPhones this year and in the past, and they all have their crazy stories. Indeed, for Apple fanatics, it’s almost a point of pride to have suffered in obtaining the newest device. Others see it less as a competition and more as a cultural event, like camping out before a popular new video game or console is released or ahead of a sold-out concert to lock in the best view.
But among the zealous, horror stories of camping on a sidewalk, waiting in the rain, mismanaged release days and more are swapped with relish like ghost stories over a campfire, each devotee trying to outdo the last — all to demonstrate that they are among the brand’s true number one fans.
In the name of tradition, let’s pay a visit to the ghost of Apple lines past.
The Original iPhone
The year was 2007. The tech giant could hardly be called a giant yet, though it had sold around 100 million iPods so far. No one knew what a smartphone was, and Apple was touting its biggest product launch since the Macintosh computer back in 1984: a hybrid of the common cell phone and iPod music player which would eliminate the need to carry both devices. That got people excited.
At the Manhattan Village Mall, one customer arrived at 3:00 a.m., three hours before mall security would allow a line to form, and hid behind four large planters until 6:00 rolled around.
Others played by the rules, sitting on lawn chairs and sleeping bags and entertaining themselves by chatting with others in line, listening to music, watching movies on their Macbooks, or playing board games such as Scrabble. (What else were they going to play, Words with Friends? Candy Crush Saga? Pokemon GO? These were not even yet a twinkle in their developers’ eyes.)
The original iPhone sold 6.1 million units over five quarters.
Apple started the tradition of skipping model numbers early by leapfrogging over the iPhone 2.0 to release the 3G model in 2008, just a year after introducing the first smartphone ever. The concept was still novel enough to drum up massive lines, with customers even taking some capitalist initiative and offering to sell their places near the front.
The company also began the tradition of not having the supply to meet demand, with online orders selling out in the first minute and walk-in customers being added to weeks-long waiting lists to receive a unit.
Apple kept consumers waiting for the iPhone 4, which was not released until summer 2010. By then, people were in a frenzy to get the latest and greatest brainchild from innovator Steve Jobs — now featuring Siri and the new FaceTime video chatting capability.
The company’s market share was still only 4 percent at the outset of 2010, but it brought in half of the total profit generated by global cell phone sales and became the single most popular device in the U.S., selling 5.5 million units. Android, by comparison, sold 9.1 million — a larger total, but sales of individual device models were lower.
600,000 preorders were placed the first day the phone became available, and AT&T had to stop taking preorders entirely. Apple’s website said new orders may not be fulfilled until weeks later.
Apple retail stores saw the by-now familiar lines grow to hundreds of fans long, with many waiting hours and even days to get the new device — and many leaving disappointed with empty hands or a lesser model than they’d hoped to purchase.
The iPhone 5 moved 27.4 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, making it the best-selling handset in the world, with the iPhone 4S in second place. Later, the 5S and 5C models saw some of the longest lines yet and sold 9 million handsets on opening weekend alone.
By now, fans had the experience down to a science. They had learned from past mistakes of their own and those of others. They knew to bring the cushions, jackets and games. They knew they’d be leaving the event — yes, Apple had managed to turn queuing for 16 hours into an event — with new friends.
For this version of the iPhone, Apple had transitioned from the old 30-pin charging port to the smaller, faster Lightning port and added LTE support for 4G networks.
Business Insider noted at the time of the iPhone 5 release that former CEO Steve Jobs liked to see long lines on new product release days because it was a highly visible way to show that the new devices were in demand. It’s free advertising. But Apple isn’t the only one getting publicity out of the launches.
When the iPhone 6 and 6s were released in 2015, Gizmodo’s Lindsay Handmer camped out for two weeks ahead of the Sept. 25 release date at the Apple store in Sydney (again with the dedicated Australians — the rest of us need to step up our iPhone penance game).
To be fair, Australian buyers do get a cool opportunity that the rest of us don’t. They truly are the first of the first, since the new day dawns first on Australia’s east coast before slowly crawling across Japan, Europe and, finally, the U.S.
However, Handmer wasn’t just waiting for a new iPhone. His goal was to bring awareness to Australia’s 100,000 homeless, who sleep on the street every night not by choice, and not to drop $1,000 on a new smartphone, but because they have nowhere else to go. Handmer used the opportunity to fundraise for Mission Australia, a charity that supports homeless people in the Land Down Under.
Lines for the iPhone 7 were shorter than in the past due to the growth of online preorders and the phone’s availability in more countries than ever for the first day of launch. That meant resellers from China and other regions did not have to buy the device in the U.S.
However, many waiters in those shortened lines left disappointed, as online sales had depleted stocks of the flashier 7 Plus model and the glossy Jet Black version of the regular iPhone 7. Walk-in customers had to choose between leaving empty-handed or leaving with their second choices.
Apple skipped over the anticipated 7s model and went straight for the new form factor. Announced concurrently with the shinier, techier iPhone X, with its Face ID and edge-to-edge screen, the iPhone 8 was met with lukewarm enthusiasm.
By now, smartphones are just a thing we have, and replacing them every year or so is just a thing we do. The sort of person who’s likely to camp out overnight to get the latest one is also the sort of person who’s likely to wait one extra month and drop the $999 on the model X. In other words, the 8 was kind of dead on arrival, obsolete before anyone even got their hands on one.
Once again playing model leapfrog, Apple skipped the iPhone 9 entirely and went straight to the X — that’s pronounced “iPhone Ten,” like the Roman numeral, rather than the letter X.
Comparatively, stores seemed to be well-stocked with the iPhone X on release day, with more units on hand than they had for the iPhone 7 release last year — and that’s despite all the drama and delays surrounding production of the phones.