Apple iPhone 6 preorders start at midnight, but problems plague Apple Store, other sites

Advance orders began online at 12 a.m. PT on Friday, but the online Apple Store still wasn't back up two hours later. And some other preorder sites had hiccups, including Sprint and T-Mobile.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
8 min read

Apple's online store remained down hours after iPhone 6 preorders were slated to start at midnight PT. Screenshot by Shara Tibken/CNEt

Editors' note: For more up-to-date coverage on iPhone preorders, see the following -- Apple: iPhone 6 preorders set a record overnight; iPhone 6 presales begin -- with US Apple Store caught napping; and For iPhone 6 Plus, big phone equals big wait.

Apple's new iPhone 6 devices are now available for preorder -- that is, if you can find a site that's working.

The Cupertino, Calif., company started accepting advance orders for its two new phones -- the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus -- at midnight PT on Friday. But many sites didn't open for preorders at the planned time, including the Apple Store.

The Apple Store remained down in many regions as of 2 a.m. PT, but savvy customers could purchase an iPhone through Apple's iOS store app. However, availability was severely limited in the app shortly after presales started.

Preorders through Verizon Wireless and AT&T largely started without a hitch at midnight, though some customers on Twitter have since complained about issues. Those problems were nothing compared to the issues experienced by Sprint and T-Mobile customers. The Sprint and T-Mobile sites were still down for many users nearly two hours after presales were slated to start. Access to Sprint's site faded in and out, while the T-Mobile site continued to display a form to register for a reminder for when the preorders began.

The rocky start to iPhone 6 sales is problem for Sprint and T-Mobile, the nation's third and fourth biggest carriers, which have been struggling to compete against their bigger rivals. Sprint's CEO told CNET earlier this week that the iPhone 6 is key to his company's turnaround, and T-Mobile hosted an event a day after the iPhone launch to tout its offerings related to the device.

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Some people joked on Twitter that they "might as well wait for the iPhone 6S now."

We've contacted the four major carriers and Apple and will update the report when we have more information.

The Apple Store issues are an embarrassment for Apple, which has boasted the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus launch will be its biggest ever. It's also a black eye for Angela Ahrendts, the former Burberry CEO who joined Apple CEO Tim Cook's team as head of online and physical store retail in May. She has been tasked with helping revitalize Apple's retail operations, which have experienced slowing growth. Angering customers during the iPhone 6 launch isn't quite the way to start.

The store outage on Friday also is the second large technical difficulty Apple -- the biggest tech company in the country -- has experienced this week. The livestream on Tuesday to unveil its newest devices worked only intermittently, and many users ended up hearing dubbed Mandarin instead of English when they had a picture at all.

The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus hit the market Sept. 19. CNET

The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 goes on sale Sept. 19 in 115 countries, starting at $199 with for a version with 16 gigabytes of storage space. The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus starts at $299 for its 16-gigabyte version, $100 more. In the UK, an unlocked iPhone 6 will start at £539, and the iPhone 6 Plus will start at £619.

From now until the launch date, consumers can place preorders through Apple's online store and at carriers such as Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Buyers also can make preorders at a physical Apple Retail Stores beginning at 8 a.m. local time on Friday. And several retailers also will get in on the act Friday in their physical stores, including Best Buy, RadioShack, Sam's Club, Target, and Walmart. Best Buy also will allow customers to make preorders online for only the Sprint version of the iPhone 6.

The iPhone 6 has the potential to be the biggest launch in Apple's 38-year history. Apple reportedly has asked manufacturing partners to produce about 70 million to 80 million units of its larger screen iPhones by Dec. 30, which is about 30 percent to 40 percent more iPhones than it ordered for its initial run of last year's iPhone 5S and 5C.

Ordering more devices to be available could buffer Apple against the supply shortages it has seen with past launches. The company also sets aside allotments for the different days of the preorder process. The iPhone 5, released in the fall of 2012, sold out of its initial supply of preorders in less than an hour. Apple didn't offer preorders with last year's high-end iPhone 5S because of supply constraints, but it did put its cheaper, plastic-encased iPhone 5C up for preorder. The iPhone 5C availability was much better due to lower demand for the device.

As of 2 a.m. PT, the two biggest US carriers -- Verizon and AT&T -- still had all versions of the iPhone 6 available for preorder, though the iPhone 6 Plus had shipping delays of two to four weeks.

Shipping delays around the globe

At Verizon, models of the iPhone 6 Plus -- Apple's phablet, or phone-tablet hybrid -- already had launch delays of as much as a month, less than 20 minutes after opening for preorders. As of 12:30 a.m. PT, the 16GB iPhone 6 in space gray and gold had a delivery date of Oct. 14, nearly a month later than the Sept. 19 launch. The 64 and 128 GB versions listed delivery dates of Oct. 7. All silver models still had delivery on Sept. 19, as did all regular iPhone 6 models.There is believed to be supply issues with the bigger phone, limiting the number initially available.

The iPhone 6 Plus also had ship dates 14 to 21 business days out at AT&T. And shipment delays also showed up on Apple's iOS App. Only the 16GB space gray iPhone 6 and 128 GB gold iPhone 6 were still available for delivery on Sept. 19, as of 12:35 a.m. PT. The app doesn't easily break down carrier options.

Sprint's site crashed shortly after midnight PT, prevening customers from preordering the iPhone 6. Screenshot by Ian Sherr/CNET

In Australia, the first place that will have the phone in physical stores because of its time zone, many users complained about delays in the preorder process. The local wireless carrier sites crashed right as advance sales opened up. While orders started at midnight in California, it was 5 p.m. in Australia, the perfect time for people to overload sites with demand. As of 1:30 a.m. PT, the major Australian telecom sites remained down.

The Australian version of the Apple Store came back online around 1 a.m. PT though the site remained down in the US. As of 1:20 a.m. PT, all Aussie iPhone 6 Plus phones now will ship in seven to 10 days -- for the 16GB version in silver or gray and the 64GB model in gray -- or three to four weeks. The 128GB iPhone 6 in gold and gray shows up as "currently unavailable," rather than delayed timing.

In Germany and France, all 128GB and 64GB 6 Plus had ship times of three to four weeks as of 1:15 a.m. PT. The 16GB 6 Plus models are seven to 10 business days in Germany but Sept. 19 in France. For the iPhone 6, it varies, but they're all either seven to 10 business days or Sept. 19.

In the UK at 2:45 a.m. PT, all 128GB, 64GB and 16GB 6 Plus models have shipment dates three to four weeks out. For the iPhone 6, all are seven to 10 days. The online shops for UK carriers O2 and EE were offline at 2:45 a.m. PT. Three's shop had a queuing system in place, while Vodafone seemed to be working normally.

The iPhone is Apple's most important gadget and its biggest moneymaker, accounting for more than half of sales and about 70 percent of profit, according to analysts. Millions of customers continue to scoop up its older devices, but Apple has been facing threats from bigger screen devices introduced by rivals such as Samsung and HTC. Introducing larger screens with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus will help it please current customers and possibly tempt some buyers from Google's Android operating system.

The new iPhones, unveiled Tuesday, are a big jump over the 4-inch screen found in last year's iPhone 5S. In addition to being slimmer and lighter, both models also include a 64-bit A8 processor with improved graphics, an improved 8-megapixel rear camera, improved battery life, and an NFC chip that allows you to use the phone to make payments.

"Yes, they're bigger; They're a lot bigger," Apple's marketing chief, Phil Schiller, said during the event. "They are the best we know how to make and I think the best anyone has ever seen."

Apple's long history of shipping delays

Apple's new devices tend to sell out quickly.

The iPhone 5 from 2012 -- available for preorder on Sept. 14 of that year and in stores Sept. 24 -- sold out of launch-day stock at a then record pace. About an hour after preorders started, Apple's online store changed the shipment timing from one week -- coinciding with the official launch date -- to as long as three weeks.

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Apple received over two million pre-orders for the iPhone 5 within 24 hours, and first weekend sales totaled more than 5 million. The device was one of Apple's most anticipated as it added 4G LTE technology and bumped the screen size to 4 inches from 3.5 in the earlier iPhones.

By comparison, it took about 22 hours for the iPhone 4S preorders to sell out online after it went on sale Oct. 14, 2011, and about 20 hours for the iPhone 4, released June 24, 2010, to go out of stock.

Last year, meanwhile, marked the first time Apple released two phones at the same time, the pricey 5S with the TouchID fingerprint sensor, and the colorful and cheaper iPhone 5C. Apple didn't make the iPhone 5S available for preorder because of supply issues, but it did allow customers to reserve the 5C on Sept. 13.

However, Apple didn't release preorder figures for the 5C as it had done for every iPhone since 2009's introduction of the iPhone 3GS. That was likely because the 5C's initial uptake wasn't very strong, as Apple CEO Tim Cook later acknowledged during an earnings report in January.

The 5C also didn't sell out during preorders, with the device still available in many places after preorders first started. But less than two days after the Sept. 20 launch, it already was tough to find an iPhone 5S. Many customers waited as long as a month for the new device. Overall, Apple sold 9 million units of the iPhone 5S and 5C models in the first weekend after they hit stores.

CNET's Ian Sherr, Seamus Byrne, Jason Jenkins and Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

Updated constantly between 12 a.m. and 2:45 a.m. PT with information about preorders, including site outages and global availability.

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