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Gold rush: How I failed the iPhone 5s line

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I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. Stumbling around in the dark, I threw on a jean jacket and hopped on the subway to the Apple flagship store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan — nearly an hour away from my Brooklyn residence. All to get my hands on a 16GB or 32GB gold iPhone 5s.

Well, my hands remain empty, and it seems like they’ll be staying that way for a while.

I have actually never been in a single line for an iPhone, but I decided this year to make an exception. My grandfathered AT&T unlimited data plan is a vestigial bundle offering alongside my parents’ home phone bill. I happily ordered my iPhone 4S online two years ago with my eligible upgrade, only to find out at checkout that AT&T would only send my phone to my parents’ California home — not my New York City apartment. Rather than repeating the hassle and extra cost of an unneeded cross-country shipping scheme, this time I just decided to go directly to the source.

But I didn’t expect the hustle and bustle surrounding Apple’s flagship store. By 6 a.m., the line wrapped around two city blocks and settled across the street for a third. By that point I had received news that all of the September shipping dates for the gold iPhone 5s had been tapped out, so I figured waiting in line was my only shot to see my beautiful, shiny gold phone before October.

Part of the 5th Avenue iPhone line
Part of the 5th Avenue iPhone line

At the corner of 58th Street and Park Avenue, where I had been standing for the hour leading up to the store opening, I began chatting with one of the blue-shirted Apple employees — who happened to be very stoked by this release. As the line stretched farther behind me and presumably extended into Central Park, line-goers were concerned that phones wouldn’t be available for folks this far back.

“No,” he assured us excitedly, fully trusting in his employer. “You’ll definitely get your hands on one.”

He was wrong.

Within the first three minutes of the store opening, word had filtered back that one of first people in line had excitedly asked for a 64 GB gold model, only to be told that they had absolutely none in stock (this story was confirmed by CNET). Twenty minutes in, a rep was running down the line to relay the bad news, “We’ve sold out of the gold model!” So, twenty-two minutes into the store opening, I left the line I had spent all morning waiting in and decided to take a gamble at the smaller and lower-profile Grand Central Apple store location.

Another subway ride and a 15-minute wait later, a Grand Central employee was telling a block and a half line — which also wound around the interior entrance of Grand Central Station — that only Space Gray phones were left. And, although I didn’t have the gall to attend a third line, a rep from the SoHo store admitted that by my 11AM call, they only had a few Space Gray models left for the frontmost members of a 4-block line.

It was like phone armageddon. Only the most rugged and devoted reaped the spoils of the phone of their choosing. I was dejected. My five-hour odyssey had left me without my gold phone.

iPhone line 2: Grand Central
iPhone line 2: Grand Central

Now, I will hazard to say that New York is a particularly intense environment to wait for anything, but the truth is that Apple has dropped the ball across the world. BBC News reported that shortages across the UK left carriers frustrated, and Apple Insider indicated that the 150-person line at the San Francisco Apple store expressed concern over whether everyone could get their own phone.

From what I can tell, Apple has made two grave mistakes. First, the lack of pre-order for the iPhone 5s was a direct factor in Friday’s booming turnout. Only the 5c was available for pre-order, so anyone who wanted an iPhone 5s needed to show up and wait. This created a true first-come, first-served situation that led into the company’s second mistake: under-delivering the stock needs for the iPhone 5s, especially for high memory and gold-finish models. Disappointment was inevitable — and has turned the happy-go-lucky iPhone wait into a serious gamble.

In contrast, my coworker Alex Colon woke up at 3 a.m. EST, ordered his Verizon Space Gray 32GB model in three minutes, and was confirmed for shipment in 1-3 days. I, however, will become very good friends with the phone attendants at my local store and hope my judicious calling will put a phone me in a prime spot for that gold phone. For me, the odyssey continues.

43 Responses to “Gold rush: How I failed the iPhone 5s line”

  1. Has anyone stopped to think about Apple’s strategy here? This was clearly a planned shortage to create a demand & lots of stories about the anticipation of the device. Very smart on Apple’s part if I say so myself. Now that we’re in October, I’m awaiting my gold iPhone that I ordered online when the site/purchase launched at midnight (California) time.

  2. To get it shipped to your address through AT&T, all you have to do once logged into MyAT&T is Wireless>Profile>Personal Info>Edit; change it to desired address, order the phone, make sure your get a conf number, then change the address back. When I was on my mothers plan, I use to do it every time for the iPhone, iPhone 3G, 3GS and 4…. I recently did my iPad mini that way as well bc I wanted a GSM iPad. Not CDMA bc I now have Verizon. It works, promise. I’m surprised AT&T didn’t tell you this, they’re the ones that pointed me in that direction to begin with.

  3. Your best bet is ALWAYS go outside the city. I live in Chicago, so I went to Calumet City, and got there 2 hours b4 opening, sat in my car till 30 min. b4 opening and was the 1st person in line…. I happily picked what I wanted without a care in the world as to whether they would have it or not.

    Done that for years and never lost out on a new model on opening day…

  4. Freerange

    With all due respect, this article should never have been written, at least as it relates to your own experience, not that of others.

    I’m an expat from Colorado living in China and even I know not to show up at the 5th avenue store at 6 a.m. on launch day expecting a positive result, And lines several blocks long! Especially when the tech media has widely been reporting on a severe shortage of the 5s due to manufacturing problems with the TouchID sensor – and you are supposed to be a tech writer!!!!

  5. Kerry Rae

    iPhones are a headache to obtain
    I remember waiting online to reserve my
    4S about 2 years ago I selected all the options then my internet page got stuck become slow, so I went down to the apple store 2 hour bus ride the guy checked for my details and I wasn’t on there I was so gutted I asked if I could just go in store and but one but they said I had to do the process online all over again!!!!

    I popped into a non apple store and got my phone on contract but it cost me more than
    Spending the £529.99 at the time lol

    What I learnt Is just wait since this ;)

  6. Andy Kaufman

    5AM? You must be there much earlier than that to snag what you want. Now if Apple had also allowed pre-orders for the iPhone 5S the previous week you would have may had a chance. That changed everything about Friday. With the amount of media coverage Apple received I would look for this to return again. I also want a Gold but have decided to see it in person first and then order late October to avoid Apple’s second wave of shipments that may be pushed before the paint cures. Don’t want gold paint flaking off in my hand like the black ones experienced last year.

    • Bc Apple isn’t gonna have any 1 week after launch. And if they do, chances are they’ll be gone b4 you ever hear about it. Their second shipment wave usually starts about 3-4 hours after official launch… Also, their second shipment wave isn’t set to ship till end of October already.

  7. mattverzola

    A similar thing happened to me on Friday. I called the soho store earlier in the week and the apple store employee told me they would “definitely have enough” iPhones, and the line isn’t too bad mid-day around 2-3pm. Ha!

    Got there, found out they only had space grey left. My honeymoon is in Paris on October 7th, so yeah, I want the phone ASAP (to all you people who can’t understand why someone would want this phone so soon).

    When I called today (Saturday) the apple store employee wouldn’t tell me about supplies, he would only tell me how long the line is. Couple questions I have: does going during the week improve my chances, and what’s the best apple store in NY that would likely have them in stock?

    Would. Love to know if you have any luck with your hunt!

  8. Sean Perkey

    Don’t feel too bad. I got in line at 9:45pm on Thursday night at the Apple store in Sacramento, CA. I was 4th in line and they only had 1 16 Gig gold iPhone 5s. The first person got it. Talk about a really disappointed line of folks. I picked up space grey and I’m pretty happy with it. Still can’t believe they only had 1…

  9. You can always order online and have it redirected to a separate shipping address afterwards. I ordered a 64gb Gold at 12:01, by 12:04 I was done. I should receive it next week rather than October…I honestly recommend online.

  10. You seriously think Apple didn’t intend this? Apple likes lines. They are free publicity. No pre-order and published reports of limited supply contributed to longer lines than what there would have been otherwise, particularly give the lack of any major advancement (excluding the fingerprint sensor).

    • Exactly. Now every 6pm news show is guaranteed to have coverage of the “long lines” and “high demand”. You can’t buy this kind of publicity, and yet Apple, like a lot of other companies, have learned how to get it for free.

  11. Best thing to do was fin an out of the way store. Hard to do in NYC I’m sure. Here in Seattle area, I went to my local store, no line, put my name in the queue, walked across the street to Starbucks and came back. Seen within 35min, out the door in 90 because of some other complicated phone stuff I had going on. This store wasn’t even shipped the gold, but whatever, I’m just going to put a cover on it anyway.

  12. i think you can take over your phone number and unl data from your folks account. its called limited liability release…

    you can call them to inquire if att allows it (and let you keep your plan as-is). the only caveat is if you are saving on the calling portion being in a famiy call plan.. then your price would go up monthly to match some version of current comparable monthly minutes…

    good luck and hope you get a gold one soon

  13. About the only thing in this world that I would be willing to stand in line for 5 hours would be a ticket to the International Space Station on board a Russian Soyuz. Maybe.

    I like my iPhone but I sure as heck wouldn’t stand in line for hours to get one. Yikes.

  14. formerapplefan

    San Diego store where I waiting for 2 hours was “sold out” in five minutes. I suspect Apple had few if any of the non space gray units. Disappointed that they made people wait in line under false pretenses.

  15. Manny Godinez

    I lined up at 6:30 pm on Thursday and I was 5th in line out of 300 people. at the la canters apple store in San Antonio tx. I am happy to have gotten my 32gb space gray next morning! There were only 2 64gb gold at the store and a buddy of mine who was behind me got the last one. I knew the gold would be rare, I just didn’t care for one lol. There were 4 gold total at the store and another 2 at the other location in town. Apple screwed up their supply big time!

  16. Charlyn Fronda

    Hehehe since this was your first time in line… it was really against your odds… i NEVER lined up and always waited when the frenzy is over.

    Well, next time… try lining up like super early… like those other fan-boys. I’m not like them even though I too love apple products (won’t line up for it though)

  17. I stayed up until 3 to order mine (gold, 16g) online. The order page confirmed 1-3 day shipping, but when Apple emailed me my confirmation the shipping availability had changed to 7-10 business days. Very disappointing!

  18. If you needed that iPhone for a tech-review then better luck next time. If not, then I hope you spent some of your time in that line examining your life, and asking yourself why you would need this device right now, as opposed to waiting a month or two. Priorities are important in life. An honest examination will rank obtainment of the new iPhone down the list.

    • scoutgirl7

      You’re making a LOT of judgmental statements about this person’s life. Why are you on here doing that? Perhaps you should examine your own life priorities to see why you need to be so critical of the choices others make.

  19. Jim Turner

    If you want a phone shipped to your location instead of the billing address for the account place the order on and then while it is still in the processing stage click to edit the order and change the shipping address to your actual location. I did this with my iPhone 5 last year so i could get it delivered to me at college.

    • Lauren Hockenson

      Thanks for the insight, Jim!

      It’s actually not an Apple thing, but an AT&T policy thing. They’ll only allow shipment to the billing address associated with my phone. And, since it’s bundled with my parents, that means it’s their house. I have literally no way to change it.

      It’s really convoluted, but I’ve stubbornly stuck to it because I don’t want to void my unlimited data plan.

      • Jim Turner

        I had the same problem last year my phone is in my parents name and I have AT&T. When i was ordering the device I ordered it from apple and it would only allow me to ship to my parents house which i found aggravating but I ordered it anyway. However, after the order had been submitted and was still in the processing stage under the my orders section of the apple website I was able to click edit order and change the shipping address at that point, even though I couldn’t even choose a shipping address when the order was initially placed.

        • Lauren Hockenson

          Ah-ha! A processing loophole. I see.

          I think I’m going to try local stores for a little longer, just because the wait on the Gold phone is so long.

          My 4S works just fine in the meantime, so I’m not out much except a little sleep and my pride.

      • If you go to the AT&T store, you can get them to put an alternate shipping address. I have the same situation in that I’m on my mom’s plan & didn’t want to accidentally mess up my unlimited data. They put my address as the shipping address for my 5s, just like they did two years ago for my 4s.

        The only catch is that you may have to get your parents to call in & have an agent notate the account saying that your address is an authorized address to ship to and/or add you as an account manager.

  20. Tim Burks

    SGSinHI, if you used your real name, maybe you wouldn’t come across as such an asshole in your post.

    Hi Lauren, we had a similar thing happen in Palo Alto today. There were very short supplies of gold iPhones at the University Avenue store, and they all seemed to go to speculators who sat outside the store in lawn chairs beginning yesterday morning. In contrast to previous years (I’ve been to many Apple launches), the campers at the front of the line seemed a bit seedy, and some of us further back thought that there was at least one organized group of resellers. I can say for sure that the person who was second from the front circulated several times back through the line trying to sell first his place in line, and then his ticket allowing him to purchase a gold iPhone – his asking price was $1000. I can also say that Tim Cook walked right by all of this but probably was moving too quickly to notice.

  21. So, is this your first time at the Apple rodeo? If you have EVER tried to get an iPhone on launch day you know what to expect. So it is Apple’s fault that you didn’t follow the logical path like Alex?