Long Lines Are Back at Apple Stores for the iPhone X

Updated on
  • Apple advised people to ‘arrive early’ for in-store purchases
  • Some initial delays eased as Apple ramps up production
Julie Ask, Forrester Research analyst, discusses Apple’s fourth-quarter earnings and demand for the iPhone X.

The $1,000 price tag on Apple Inc.’s new iPhone X didn’t deter throngs of enthusiasts around the world who waited -- sometimes overnight -- in long lines with no guarantee they would walk out of the store with one of the coveted devices.

At Apple’s flagship Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan, the line coiled up and down several times along 58th Street and extended across Madison and over toward Park Avenue. Apple was only letting in 10 customers at a time, so people were likely due for an even longer wait. Luckily, the weather in New York City was unseasonably warm and sunny.

Jun Yu Lin, 19, a student, arrived at the line at 8 a.m., just as the store was opening. He joined the queue about a block-and-a-half away and after one hour had barely budged.

“I feel anxiety right now,” he said. “I’m not sure if they’re going to have the supply.”

Similar scenes played out across the world Friday, recalling the throngs that formed on the first day of iPhone sales on June 29, 2007. While pre-orders last week sold out quickly, and pushed delivery out into December, Apple said Thursday it has added more production capacity and that those six-week waiting times would be reduced.

With buoyant demand for the new handset, Apple is projecting record revenue of $84 billion to $87 billion during the holiday quarter, easing concerns among investors that production problems would undercut sales. The stock rose 2.7 percent, to $172.72 at 9:37 a.m. in New York.

In New York, at least two Chinese-speaking Apple employees were deployed to help manage the huge line, which had many visitors from China and elsewhere. Videos and photos published on Twitter showed security guards sectioning off those waiting in line outside Apple’s Orchard Road store in Singapore. In Sydney, fans set up lawn chairs while others sold their spots in line just hours before the phone was scheduled to go on sale in the region. Lines outside Tokyo’s Ginza Apple Store snaked down more than two blocks. In London, Apple employees cheered as the first customers exited the store after buying the new handset.

Mazen Kourouche was among the first to get the iPhone X on Friday at the Apple Store in Sydney, which opened at 8 a.m. local time, an hour earlier than usual. The 20-year-old software engineering student, who pre-ordered the X, said he upgrades his iPhone every year.

“The whole size and the screen and the new dimension of it, that’s the most beneficial feature for me,” Kourouche said. “It’s a full screen -- edge to edge -- it looks nice.”

At the Apple store in Tokyo, Iori Watanabe and his brother arrived two days early to be the first ones in a line of more than 500 people. Watanabe, a 21-year-old who works at camera maker Olympus Corp., said he wanted to replace his iPhone 5 and was most interested in the new phone for its screen and facial-recognition technology.

Apple is known for creating hype around each new iPhone launch. But in recent years, online pre-orders and other buying options reduced store lines. This year, Apple has marketed the iPhone X heavily, and new features like facial recognition and the edge-to-edge screen are stoking demand.

Concern about limited initial supplies of the phone may also have drawn shoppers to Apple stores on launch day. In an announcement last month, Apple encouraged those without reservations to “arrive early,” an indication of its anticipated crowds. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said Thursday that demand for the iPhone X was “very, very strong,” without being more specific.

Read more: Apple’s forecast tops estimates on iPhone X

Apple stopped reporting opening weekend iPhone sales with the iPhone 7, citing demand that far outstripped supply. However, the company hasn’t indicated if it will follow that trend with the iPhone X (it didn’t report opening weekend numbers for the iPhone 8 last month). The company’s strongest weekend launch was the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus in 2015, which saw more than 13 million units sold over the initial days.

In the past few weeks, Apple started video advertisements, put posters on the walls of its retail store chain, and has replaced its web homepage with pictures of the sleek, new device.

When the phone became available online last week for pre-orders, people around the world went to drastic measures to secure one, staying up all night armed with multiple devices ready to place an order at midnight California time. Many were disappointed when they found that instead of receiving their phone Nov. 3, they’d have to wait in to December, as the initial stock sold out in most major cities within half an hour.

In London, Karin Habbas said he pre-ordered the new phone as soon as sales opened. After picking it up today, he was expecting a stream of colleagues who would want to get a look a the redesigned model. "I’ll keep the box on my desk and I’m sure there will be a lot of interest," said Habbas, a 24-year-old product designer.

Those hoping for a second-chance, by walking in to an Apple store on Friday, face lines the likes of which haven’t been seen in many years. But some online customers got good news: Some orders originally scheduled for delivery in the middle of November are seeing shipment notifications indicating that their devices will arrive early next week. Waiting times for new iPhone X orders also improved on Thursday, with the shipping time changing to three-to-four weeks from five-to-six weeks on Apple’s online stores in the U.K., Singapore, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Australia, and Greater China. Shipping times remain five-to-six weeks in the U.S. and Canada, while Hong Kong still lists online orders as “unavailable.”

Resellers hold stacks of HK$1,000 banknotes next to a stack of boxed iPhones.

Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg

Stores will likely sell out of the iPhone X quickly, in part because of pent-up demand. Many people eschewed the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, which came out in September, waiting for the snazzier iPhone X, one of the most exhaustive overhauls of the phone ever. During the first four days of availability online, the iPhone X got more than double the number of pre-orders than the last major iPhone revamp, the iPhone 6, from 2014, according to data from Slice Intelligence.

Apple has struggled to get the iPhone X to the market on time and some analysts have warned that there may still be too few iPhone Xs to meet initial demand.

The Cupertino, California, technology giant introduced the iPhone X in September, nearly two months before the release. That’s the longest period of time between a new iPhone’s introduction and its sale date since the six-month waiting period between the original iPhone’s debut and launch date in 2007.

— With assistance by Zoe Ma, and Peter Elstrom

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE