Angela Rush shows off her new white iPhone 5s next to her old, cracked iPhone 4. She got in line at 6:45 am ET with 18 other people outside the AT&T store in Harrisonburg Va., which opened early at 8. (Image: Matt Hamben) Thousands of people waited in line to buy the new iPhone 5S or 5C at stores in cities around the globe on Friday.
Many arrived very early outside Apple stores in major cities like Paris, New York, Tokyo and the like.
Even in Harrisonburg, Va., a college town of about 60,000, there were lines to buy the new iPhones outside the AT&T and Verizon Wireless stores, which sit across the street from each other.
Instead of the hundreds of buyers waiting overnight in the big cities, these lines each had less than 30 people waiting for 8 a.m. openings, but the first people in line still did show up as early as 4 a.m. in the foggy darkness. One man even arrived even earlier but slept in his car.
For Darlene Perez, waiting in line meant she could buy both versions of the new iPhone immediately. She arrived well before the 8 a.m. opening at the AT&T store and was 15th in line to buy iPhone 5C's for each of her parents (in blue and floral pink) and an iPhone 5S for herself.
Why did she have to get the phones the very first day they were available and arrive so early to get in line? "I always upgrade my iPhones and I really love Apple products," she said.
She said the iPhone 5C's were ideal for her parents since each would cost only $100, plus a two-year contract. That's $100 less than she would spend on her iPhone 5S. "For only $100, it means less if I have to replace one," she said.
Perez, who works at one of the many poultry processing plants in the area, uses her older iPhone 5 mainly for Internet access and to get 100 to 200 work emails a day. AT&T has good LTE service in town, a big advantage, she noted.
Being one of the first to get new iPhones wasn't that difficult in a small town, since she would have been up early anyway, Perez said.
Even so, she admitted that she knows Apple has her firmly in its product marketing and upgrade grip. "Apple is just sitting back and making money," she said, smiling and pointing to the others in line.
The 19 early arrivals at the AT&T store were hoping the initial supply would last. Several said they had called all week and were promised that at least 20 would be on hand at the start of the day and more would be available before closing. The only iPhone 5S on hand at the start was a slate gray model and store managers wouldn't comment on the size of their supply.
Angela Rush, an intelligence analysis major at James Madison University, was among the first to buy one of the iPhone 5S's with the gray back, which she proudly showed off next to her beat-up and cracked iPhone 4.
"I wanted 32 GB up from my 16 GB iPhone 4 -- mainly for storing music," she said. "I like country."
Rush had dropped the iPhone 4 twice, resulting in many cracks on the display. Even so, it continued working for two years so she was eligible for the iPhone 5 upgrade. This time she made sure to buy a white protective case, and drop protection for $10 a month.
The gray back of the sleek new iPhone 5S wouldn't even show through her new case. "So it really doesn't matter what the back color is," Rush said.
Many of the customers in line were well aware of the biggest new features of the iPhone 5S and 5C, with the 5S offering a faster A7 processor, a fingerprint sensor, and a better 8 megapixel rear camera, which also also offers a slow-motion feature and enhanced flash.
However, nobody knew that the iPhone 5S's A7 processor is an unprecedented 64-bit ARM-based chip, up from the the 32-bit processors now commonplace in smartphones.
Apple made a big deal of the 64-bit technology at the unveiling of the phones. Nonetheless, for the early customers in Harrisonburg, that feature paled in comparison to the new camera, and even to the three colors available for the iPhone 5s and the five colors for the iPhone 5C, whether hidden inside a case or not.
Vada Kelley, a graphics designer, owns one of every form factor Apple device that's available, including two iPhones. Her current phone is an iPhone 4S.
While waiting in line, Kelley said she really wanted the gold-backed iPhone 5s, (really a champagne gold shade) but initially said she would settle for gray just to get her hands on the latest technology. "I wanted gold, so I'll try the gray and maybe exchange it later," she said, before making her way inside the store.
"Gold's a cool new color and I like it," she said. To Kelley, color is a very basic and important quality in the design of any product, video or Web page. Kelley owns Estland Design and works with many business clients who want effective Web sites.
"I communicate all the time with clients on how their sites are performing, and sometimes use FaceTime," the real-time video chat function in the iPhone, she said. "They want to make sure their Web sites are working well."
While Kelley prefers Apple products for her personal work, she tries all brands of mobile devices to make sure they all work well with customers' Web sites. Still, her focus remains principally on Apple and what it might produce next.
"I'm excited to know what Tim Cook's doing next with Apple TV, not just the little box, but a real Apple TV," she said. "I saw an interview where Cook said they would be putting resources into the next TV."
By the way, Kelley left the AT&T store without her gray iPhone 5s, but paid for a gold-backed version that she'll pick up in two to three weeks. "I looked at the gray and decided I wanted the gold instead, and my second choice would have been white," she said. "I might get a case, but I'm going to see how much I handle it and whether I might drop it."
Obviously, Apple figured out something very basic: color matters.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.
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