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How to get an iPhone 5 in less than 24 hours

Impatience is a virtue. If you don't want to wait almost a month for a new iPhone 5, follow these guidelines and you might be able to snag one in a day.

Don't wait three to four weeks to eat lunch with your shiny new iPhone 5. Sarah Tew/CNET

My Verizon contract was finally up, and it was time to upgrade my slowly dying iPhone 4 to the long-awaited iPhone 5. October 26 was the day, and I was ready.

I had heard I'd face some delays getting a new iPhone, but after calling a few nearby Apple and Verizon stores, I learned that "delays" meant three to four weeks. I've been waiting for months to be able to upgrade to a new phone, so three to four weeks seemed like a lifetime.

My co-worker Sharon Vaknin mentioned that I could do an in-store pickup if I timed it just right, and pointed me to this NBC News GadgetBox story on a possible trick to getting the new iPhone within 24 hours. What the heck, right?

Here's the gist: Apple updates in-stock numbers for all its stores every day at 10 p.m. If you monitor Apple's site for the updated tally and you're quick enough and have a little patience, you can snag an iPhone online the minute one becomes available at a nearby store. In the morning, an e-mail awaits telling you your phone is ready to be picked up. So easy!

Around noon, I put the phone in my online cart so everything would be ready when Apple updated its stock numbers. "In-store pickup" wasn't an option at that time, and the online store said that if I wanted to the phone shipped, it would arrive December 4.

However, like a lunatic, I kept checking the site throughout the day; maybe the author of that GadgetBox post had it wrong. Maybe Apple updates its online stock numbers more often. No luck. Then, voila! Later in the day, "in-store pickup" became an option and the site let me input my ZIP code, but the phone wasn't in stock at any of the 20 or so stores within a 100-mile radius.

At 9:55 p.m., I jumped back online and started refreshing my cart. At 9:57 p.m., the site showed the phone in stock at the San Francisco store, so I quickly (and frantically) started inputting my credit card information. By the time I got to check out, the phone wasn't available anymore. I tried again, this time choosing a store in Emeryville, Calif., about 10 miles away. Once again, by the time I entered my credit card information, the phone was no longer available at that store.

Whew! Screenshot by Karyne Levy/CNET

The site still showed the phone as available at the Palo Alto, Calif., store (about 35 miles away), so rather than enter a new credit card this time, I let it use the card I had on file. Lo and behold, the third time was a charm, and I got an e-mail that my order was being processed and I would get another e-mail telling me when my phone was ready to be picked up.

Hooray! My iPhone is ready to be picked up! Screenshot by Karyne Levy/CNET

At 6:30 a.m. on October 27, less than 24 hours after I first started this process, I got an e-mail saying my phone was ready for pickup. I got to the Apple store when it opened at 10 a.m. and would've been able to pick up my phone right then, but there was a minor wrench in the plan. That day happened to be the grand opening of the new Apple store in Palo Alto, and there was a line around the block of people waiting to check it out and hopefully snag a T-shirt (the first 1,000 people in the store got an exclusive Palo Alto Apple store shirt).

Since the whole point of getting an iPhone 5 this way was to not to have to wait in line, I spent a couple hours shopping, having coffee, and running errands. I got back around noon, the line was gone, and I walked out with my new iPhone 5 in about 15 minutes.

Don't worry, iPhone 5. I'll come get you in a little while. Karyne Levy/CNET

If you, like me, are impatient, don't really want to wait weeks for a new phone, and are willing to do a little driving, give this trick a try. If you don't succeed the first time, try again, and maybe try a few nights in a row. You can always just have Apple ship the phone to you if it doesn't work out. Good luck!