SAN FRANCISCO--Putting to rest any doubts about whether the iPhone 4S would have as much consumer appeal as the previous models, crowds gathered in cities far and wide to get the device on its launch day.
First-day buyers today lined up at Apple retail locations and its carrier partner stores to get a first crack the latest iPhone. Some camped out overnight in San Francisco, while others in New York had set up shop even before the phone was announced.
Some even traveled around the world to get one, including Martin Gizemijter, who flew 11 hours from the Netherlands to pick up an iPhone from an Apple store in Pasadena, Calif., having done the same for the iPad 2's launch earlier this year.
"I've been awake for a long time," Gizemijter told CNET. "It's not a matter of being worth it," when asked about waiting in line. "It's not an intellectual decision. It's about the experience."
Whether the iPhone 4S could draw the same crowds as Apple's last iPhone was called into question after its unveiling last week, with some calling it an "underwhelming" update from Apple. The phone, which looks identical to the iPhone 4 on the outside, sports a faster processor, new antenna design, a better camera, and a sassy new voice assistant called Siri that can listen for, and respond to voice commands. Even with those additions, some found disappointment that Apple hadn't used the longer than usual time between models to come up with more of drastic change to its iPhone formula.
Early numbers proved that skepticism wrong though. Even before we get the number of iPhone 4S' Apple's sold on its opening weekend, which some analysts are estimating could reach as many as 4 million, the phone has already pushed past the device it's replacing in terms of early sales. Earlier this week Apple announced it had sold 1 million of the phones in the first 24 hours it was up for preorder, compared to 600,000 preorders for the iPhone 4. The phone also has the added benefit of being available on more carriers than its predecessor, as well as offering a third, top of the line model that boasts 64GB of built-in storage, and a $399 price tag.
One other big difference between this year's launch and last year's is that Apple seems to have finally gotten enough units ready for first day sales, at least for AT&T and Verizon customers, that is. The launch of the iPhone 4, which went on sale last June, was marked almost immediately by heavy shortages. Apple pushed back preorders by weeks and prospective buyers showed up at retail stores days later only to walk away empty-handed. Lines were longer too, with Apple offering in-store pick-up for those who pre-ordered, as well as allowing people to line up and try their hand at getting a model.
This time around, buyers had a week ahead of the launch to preorder the device and have it shipped to their home on release day, saving a trip to a retail store. While both Apple and the carriers quickly ran through orders that could be shipped out to customers in time for today's launch, the physical stores CNET tracked throughout the morning on both sides of the U.S. and Europe had plenty of units to go around, and moved lines of buyers in and out of the store briskly. The one noticeable shortcoming was with 16GB models made available for Sprint, with one Apple salesperson telling CNET that they had gotten less stock for the new carrier.
That's not to say everything's rosy in 4S-land. Shortly after the device went on sale, there were reports of AT&T having problems activating phones for new buyers, the full scope of which remains to be seen. This is certainly not the first time that this has happened, with original iPhone buyers running into problems getting the device to be activated by AT&T, the only carrier the device was available on up until earlier this year with the addition of the Verizon iPhone. The same thing happened in 2008 with the iPhone 3G. It also happened with the iPhone 3GS in 2009, when some customers got stuck in phone limbo for up to 48 hours. But that problem did not plague last year's iPhone 4, the device the 4S now replaces.
In the end, it appears the real story is that Apple's iPhone 4S launch hit no major bumps or roadblocks, and that this year--as in years past--the company can still get people to line up outside stores around the world for a new iteration of a gadget. And that's still pretty impressive.