Even though I generally have no trouble picking up a new Apple product soon after launch, I decided to get up early and queue outside the Sydney George Street store this morning. It was an interesting experience.
Oddly, the crowd was overwhelmingly of Asian origin.
I arrived at 6:15am and there were hundreds already lined up around the block and down York Street. The woman in front of me was from Thailand, and behind me were a group of ten from Vietnam.
Without exception, everyone I spoke to wanted a gold iPhone 5s (clearly Apple has missed a key desire in the Asian market until this year). Many were in the queue to buy stock to resell at a profit in countries where the launch will not be for some time.
The group of ten from Vietnam were a "team" that planned to buy the maximum and then go back and re-join the queue. That means two 5s and ten 5c phones that would leave on a flight later in the day.
Given the long time involved (I joined at 6:15 and got to the store at about 10:00) a major annoyance was people surreptitiously jumping the queue. I saw a couple join in a driveway gap, they played dumb and said they thought that was the end of the queue, hmm. Without too much prodding they backed off and left.
Another pair kind of stood beside the queue for a while in front of the woman in front of me and then started walking with the queue until they gradually merged in. The woman was annoyed but didn't say anything - I was not so easy going.
I told them they could not just join a queue hundreds of people in - the main chap looked me in the eye and said he'd been there all morning "since 4:30am". I said that was nonsense. Next he claimed to be with a guy in front - I tapped him on the shoulder and asked to confirm the connection, there was none.
What I found amazing is that this guy was calm and while behaving in a rather vague way was able to look me in the eye and lie repeatedly. I called the security guards and they agreed that these interlopers had pushed in. The guards assured them that even if they stayed in the queue they would not get a phone. Even so, the queue jumpers remained in place for some time. They asserted that the guards would soon forget and all would be well.
I asked how they could lie so blazingly, they explained that everyone is like that. In the end they did give up and we reached the door of the shop.
Overall the mood was good, with lots of chat and good organisation from the Apple store staff on hand. I do feel manipulated though, Apple took a lot of time to process orders - offering a full service including SIM swaps, carrier plan activation and data migration. Many customers, like me, just wanted to purchase outright and could be in and out in a minute, but we had to wait.
The queue attracted the normal media attention with TV stations, plus a helicopter and I was briefly interviewed by @ClaireRPorter of News Ltd (until she figured out that we've met as fellow commentators).
The iPhone 5s is great by the way, the Touch ID fingerprint unlock is a truly differentiating feature that will lead me to use the phone much more than in the past. The other great unexpected feature, at least in Australia is the amazing tiny charger:
Oh and the 64bit processor and M7 motion chip which will hopefully replace the need to carry a FitBit dongle.
Gold 16GB and later 32GB phones sold out first, the same story was reported at Broadway which I visited at lunch time. They said they had "plenty" of the lower priced 5c phones.
I can see why Apple is not too concerned about going "cheap", even when they do the high end phone seems to sell more - at least near launch. Time will tell but I think the colour phones will be the big seller in the months ahead.
Next time, I'll skip the queue, but it was an entertaining experience.