Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Europe's Phony iPhone Frenzy

November 10, 2007: 1:24 PM ET

tomj-iphone-cloud.jpgFor the faithful, waiting long hours in line for a new Apple (AAPL) product has become one of those formative experiences they'll be retailing to their grandchildren.

It's "a bit like going to a rock concert," Paul Waite told the London Times after sitting in the bitter cold outside Apple's Regent Street store for 12 1/2 hours on Friday for a chance to buy an iPhone on its first day of sale.

For Apple, the queues have become an important marketing tool -- one they carefully nurture and stage manage for maximum effect. The lines of eager buyers generate buzz, build customer loyalty and produce a flood of free publicity in the local media.

And they are totally unnecessary.

Rumors planted by Deutsche Telekom (which owns T-Mobile) of possible holiday shortages in Germany notwithstanding, there were plenty of iPhones in stock when the device made its European debut Friday at midnight. According to the AP, a crowd of 350 braved wind and rain to buy the phone at the Deutsche Telekom shop in Cologne, despite the fact that there were iPhones to be had without a wait at nearly empty T-Mobile shops across the country.

Likewise, a hardy band of a half-dozen hard-core fans shivered through the night outside London's flagship Regent Street store -- the advance party of a much-photographed and interviewed queue that grew to 300 by the time doors opened at 6:02 PM. (The time was a nod to Apple's British carrier, O2 U.K.) Meanwhile, iPhones were in stock at more than 1,300 other Apple, O2 and Carphone Warehouse shops.

The fans, for their part, were stroked and coddled through the night by Apple and its corporate partners. Third in line (and first out the door with an iPhone, having waited 26 hours for the honor) was Tomek Jasinski, 20, an architecture student in London. He kept a running diary of his experience in his blog, where he reported that Apple employees provided free coffee (in free Apple mugs), Apple umbrellas and plastic bags to keep dry. The Cloud, whose network will provide free Wi-Fi for the iPhone, was even more generous, providing hoodies and hats and plying Jasinski and his fellow queue-holders with pizza, donuts and Starbucks hot chocolate.

As the crowds grew and the deadline approached, the media gathered in force -- at one point, Jasinski counted 25 cameras. The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones described the scene at the end as "mayhem." Just before the doors opened, he said, Apple staffers walked up and down the lines of people, "whipping them into a frenzy."

Deutsche Telekom says it sold 10,000 iPhones in Germany between midnight and 5 p.m. Friday (link, in German). Apple sold 270,000 in two days after its U.S. debut.

UPDATE: Reader Jasper from L.A. helpfully points to dial-a-phone's Mobile phone blog, which posted photos of deathly quiet O2 and Carphone Warehouse shops around London as Fleet Street zeroed in on the Apple store on Regent Street. There are nice photos of the mob scene inside that store at AppleInsider. For Fake Steve Jobs' take, see his Secret Diary here.

[Photo of Jasinski, left, and friend © 2007 Tomek Jasinski. Reposted with permission.]

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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