Long lines mark the arrival of iPhone 4 in stores

Customers are being told they may have to wait up to four hours in some places, even if they already reserved an iPhone 4. Some retail stores report being out of stock by Thursday morning.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
3 min read
The line for those with reservations for an iPhone 4 was longer than the line for walk-in customers in San Francisco.
The line for those with reservations for an iPhone 4 was longer than the line for walk-in customers in San Francisco. James Martin/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--As the iPhone 4 made its debut across the U.S. Thursday, people came out in droves to be some of the first to buy one in stores.

Even several hours after stores opened, queues remain long, and supply appears to be thinning in some places. But overall, the official first-day sales of the iPhone 4 appear to be going as smoothly as can be expected. Apple stores opened at 7 a.m. first to customers who had reserved an iPhone ahead of time, and employees slowly began working in a separate line of customers who queued up without a preorder reservation. Many people were unable to submit preorders when Apple and AT&T's system crashed repeatedly the first day preorders were available.

The line remains hundreds of people deep at the Stockton Street store in San Francisco, wrapping around two city blocks. The line is significantly longer for those who had already reserved a device. But at two stores in New York, it was the line of walk-in customers that extended longer.

Brian Yin stood a block and a half from the entrance to the Stockton Street store at 8 a.m. as an employee told him he was looking at a wait of about four hours since he didn't have a reservation. He looked relieved. "I was going to leave by noon or 1 p.m., but I can wait."

Apple branded umbrellas were handed out when a rainstorm appeared over the Palo Alto, Calif., Apple store.
Apple-branded umbrellas were handed out when a rainstorm appeared over the Palo Alto, Calif., Apple store. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

And while the sheer number of people hoping to walk away with an iPhone Thursday is greater than any of the past iPhone launches, the mood is different. The hoopla and the party atmosphere from previous iPhone launches seems to be missing, but so too is the disorganization and activation delays of prior years, at this point.

As with past iPhone and iPad launches, Apple tried to keep the eager customers satiated, passing out coffee, bottled water, and pastries. When a brief rainstorm passed over the Palo Alto, Calif., Apple store, Apple-branded umbrellas were handed out to line dwellers. But preference was being given to those who planned ahead. "They're telling us the coffee and donuts are only for (people with) reservations," complained Joe Lobato, who camped out in front of the San Francisco store for two nights.

While the flagship stores in New York and San Francisco are still making sales, other stores are already out of stock. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster reported in a research note Thursday that he had called 20 Apple stores in the morning and found nine already out of iPhone 4s.

New York's Upper West Side Apple store ran out of 32GB devices around 10 a.m., and Apple employees have been turning away new people trying to line up without reservations. Some, like Patrick van Rosendaal, who's waited for every iPhone since the original in 2007, said he was done waiting after six hours, and got out of line.

Many customers who tried to buy phones at Radio Shack and Best Buy experienced disappointment. Those retailers received very small allotments of iPhone 4s for first-day sales. In Brooklyn Heights, the Radio Shack had eight iPhone 4s available, and were sold to people who placed preorders.

Best Buy stores were hit-and-miss on Thursday. Only if a store received more iPhone 4s than preorders then it would sell to walk-in customers. A manager at Best Buy in Manhattan said he didn't expect to have iPhone 4s in stock until next week at the earliest, or the first week of July.

Scenes from iPhone 4 launch (photos)

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Those who were able to get their hands on one Thursday even after waiting since the wee hours of the morning seemed pleased.

"Of course," it was worth the wait, crowed one enthusiastic fan named Ray upon emerging from the San Francisco store. "I'd wait hours. Days."

Not everyone on the street shared his enthusiasm. One bewildered passerby upon seeing the line stretching around two blocks said to no one in particular, "This line is for the iPhone? What, are they giving it away for free?"

CNET's Caroline McCarthy, Marguerite Reardon, and Josh Lowensohn contributed to this report.