iPhone 5s Debut Was Big, With A Gold Shortage

September 21, 2013

In the face of continuing investor and blogger skepticism that Apple has lost its magic, Friday’s worldwide introduction of the iPhone 5s provided evidence that customers still crave what the company sells. On the other hand, an almost non-existant supply of gold iPhones sparked complaints from the waiting lines, and a strange scalping incident at a California Apple store provided some bad press for the event. Despite everything, analysts who follow Apple have forecast record three-day sales for the iPhone 5s model, which features a first-ever fingerprint reader to enhance security. The Fifth Avenue (NYC) retail store demonstrated the on-going enthusiasm of iPhone customers with 1,417 people in line at one point, an iPhone debut record according to one analyst. However, that line and others around the world quickly learned there was an extreme shortage of all versions of the gold model. Reports from U.S. stores indicated that each store received fewer than five gold handsets, and usually just two or three. Similar stocks were reported at stores outside the U.S., while cellular carriers reported having none of the gold models.

There were no pre-sales of the iPhone 5s, so Australia’s Apple stores were first to begin sales, including to a waiting line around-the-block at the George Street (Sydney) store that formed days early.

As 8 a.m. arrived around the world, there were similar early lines at Japan stores, where the first-in-line man arrived last week, and others joined him days before the product launch. The Ginza and Shibuya lines in Tokyo were particular early and long—one report said Shibuya’s line was over a half-mile long. When typhoon Man-yi struck Tokyo, the waiting line was offered shelter inside the Ginza store’s theater.

It was a different story in at Apple’s stores in China and Hong Kong, where Apple invoked an on-line reservation system to buy the new iPhones. At 8 a.m. Friday morning there were tens of security guards and hundreds of feet of bicycle fencing at the Sanlitun (Beijing) store, but only about 40 people in line. Those with reservations could pay for and pick up their iPhone any time during their assigned day.

In Europe, early and long lines formed at the high-profile stores in London and Paris, and other stores had long lines by 8 a.m.

In the U.S., two product promoters camped out 10 days early at the Fifth Avenue (NYC) store, but lines at other stores built more slowly. The Station Park (Utah) held a dual position of honor in the chain: its grand opening and the iPhone 5s.

On the west coast, Apple CEO Tim Cook appeared at the Palo Alto (N. Calif.) store, while execs Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue were at the Stanford (N. Calif.) store. Cook later used his just-created Twitter account to say, “Seeing so many happy customers reminds us of why we do what we do.”

One of the most bizarre incidents in Apple store chain history occurred at the Pasadena (S. Calif.) store, where a scalper used vans to bring in homeless men the 10 miles from a Los Angeles shelter to line-sit before the debut. The men later said they were to be paid $40 and given cigarettes and fast food for the work. The men obtained reservation cards from the Apple employees before the doors opened, and were then supposed to hand them over to the organizer when they entered.

However, there was a mad scramble among the hired men and the organizer when the store opened. Once inside, the organizer was able to purchase several iPhones before Apple employees ordered him out of the store. In the turmoil, the organizer failed to pay the men he hired, which then set off fights that Pasadena police officers had to break up. The organizer was driven away to safety by the police, and was not charged with any crime. However, two men were arrested for participating in a fight.

Apple issued a post-event statement that said they would be ramping up gold iPhone 5s production by one-third to meet the demand.

An Apple employee hands out iPhone 5s reservation cards to men in line at the 4th Street (N. Calif.) Apple retail store on Friday morning. Based on the number of cards in the box, AT&T gray 32 Gb was the most-available model, but with fewer than 200 handsets. The availability of other models were much more limited.

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