Apple, AT&T stores prepare for iPhone frenzy

Eager fans are expected to line up outside stores when the new music-playing device hits store shelves June 29.

NEW YORK--With a little over two weeks until the iPhone hits store shelves, Apple and AT&T retail sales representatives say they are preparing for a quick sellout and huge crowds on the June 29 launch date.

As of Wednesday, clerks at Apple and AT&T stores here said they didn't know how many phones they would be getting for the big launch. Some blogs have speculated the number might be as few as 40 devices per store.

One sales representative from the AT&T store in Times Square, who wished not to be named, said that number was likely on the low side, especially for stores in big cities like New York. He said the AT&T Times Square store received 20 devices for the recent launch of Research In Motion's Blackberry Curve. The store quickly sold out of those phones and received another shipment of about 100 Blackberry Curves the following day.

Sales representatives also said they are expecting big crowds for the launch, many of whom will likely camp out overnight in front of stores to make sure they are one of the first to get the new phone.

"If I were you, I'd probably try going to some little store in New Jersey that nobody knows about," the Times Square representative said.

Even Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, suggested to technology pundit Arianna Huffington that she go to an AT&T store where lines might be shorter than at Apple's stores.

The iPhone, announced in January, will be sold only on AT&T's and Apple's Web sites and at AT&T's roughly 2,000 retail locations and in nearly 200 Apple stores around the country. And neither company is accepting pre-orders. The phones come in two versions, a 4-gigabyte model for $499 and an 8GB version for $599 with a two-year AT&T service contract.

Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research, said he agrees there will likely be an initial frenzy for the phone, especially from Apple enthusiasts.

"There's no question there will be high demand for the iPhone, at least initially," he said. "People buy new versions of the Mac operating system in droves when it comes out. You don't see that kind of demand when Microsoft launches a new version of Vista."

Indeed, Apple fans are known for lining up early. Last year, when Apple's second retail store in Manhattan opened on Fifth Avenue, people camped out overnight just to be first in line. Many of the people who braved the wind and rain to stand in line once they got inside the new store. They were simply there to be a part of the event.

Rumors have been floating around recently that Apple is planning to create a temporary shortage of the iPhone to keep demand high. An Apple representative wouldn't comment on these rumors, but said the company is glad customers are getting excited about the product.

Excited might be an understatement, considering that AT&T's new CEO Randall Stephenson said in March that the company had already gotten more than 1 million inquiries on its Web site for the device. A sales representative at an AT&T store in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue said Wednesday that the store is receiving more than 100 phone calls per day, and at least another 100 inquiries from people who have walked into the store asking how they can get their hands on an iPhone.

Apple expects to sell 10 million iPhones by the end of 2008. Golvin said this is an achievable goal, especially if Apple starts offering the phone internationally. He predicts sales of the iPhone will come in waves. Early sales will likely come from hard-core Apple enthusiasts. But there will also likely be a second wave consisting of people who will wait to read product reviews or wait until their current carrier contracts expire, he said.

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