Friday is worldwide iPhone 12 day, but what does an iPhone launch look like during the coronavirus pandemic? Apple's launch of its latest phones shows that people are indeed still willing to line up for a new iPhone, if not in the same hordes as in years gone by.
In Sydney, Australia, for instance, a few dozen people had lined up at the Apple Store in the Central Business District by 8 a.m., when the store opened. That's fewer than last year, but perhaps more than could be expected in the coronavirus era. Jun, the first in line, marked his place at 11:30 p.m. the night before. He bought an iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro and will be back on Nov. 13 when the iPhone 12 Pro Max launches.
As far as world cities go, Sydney is one of the least affected by COVID-19. New South Wales, the state of which Sydney is the capital, has recorded a total of 4,363 cases and 53 deaths. By comparison, New York has had 260,000 cases, London has had 39,400 and Tokyo, 29,350.
Still, Apple has put measures in place to shield Apple Store employees and customers from the coronavirus. A temperature check and mask were required to enter Sydney's store, with masks provided on entry for those without. One-on-one sessions with in-store specialists were socially distanced, and customers could wait outside and have their phone delivered to them by an employee if they didn't want to come inside the store.
Jun said he's concerned about the coronavirus, but said he trusted Apple to enforce social distancing in line and in the store, gesturing at a customer 1.5 meters behind him.
In London, the Regent Street Apple Store saw an influx of people wanting to get their hands on a shiny new iPhone 12 on Friday morning. Apple didn't respond to a request for comment about how many lined up.
In New York, a line of about 50 people, socially distanced, snaked outside Apple's Fifth Avenue store. At the Apple Store on the Upper West Side, early attendance was sparser.
In San Francisco, Apple's Union Square store will be open but customer activity will be tightly controlled. Customers can't freely enter and browse. The company books 15-minute "check-in windows" for customers picking up devices or wanting to shop one-on-one with an Apple Store employee. People save a bar code to the Apple Wallet on their phones and check in at their allotted time at barriers outside the stores. When customers are allowed in, guards takes their temperature and direct them to a table to get help from a store employee.
For hardcore Apple fans, queuing for hours (or days) has been a staple of every iPhone launch. In 2007, hundreds of people lined up in New York, London and a few other major cities for the very first iPhone. Before long, it became a worldwide phenomenon. September meant new iPhone, and new iPhone meant crowds outside Apple Stores.
Pundits have long predicted the death of the iPhone launch ceremony, especially as online delivery became easier and more efficient. Yet despite diminished numbers -- there were certainly more people at last year's iPhone 11 launch, even though the iPhone 12 brings a more substantial upgrade -- Sydney's launch shows Apple diehards are indeed still willing to brave a long night to be part of the fun.
"The experience is good here," said Mitch, who came to the store to pick up his new iPhone before work. "Every time I pick up a device here, it's actually so good. They sit you down, everything comes out to you. They walk you through the whole process."
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro that launch on Friday. Coming on Nov. 13 are the , the iPhone 12 with a smaller display, and the , the iPhone 12 Pro with a bigger display.
The new iPhones come with a slew of improvements, including to the display, which is now OLED in all models and which has improved crack protection, processor and cameras. But the biggest jump is 5G capability, which all four phones are equipped with. Due to spotty coverage and limited availability, 5G is still something of a nascent service. But with dramatically increased speed and reduced latency, it promises to be the new standard for mobile internet within a year or two.
CNET's Sean Keane and Eli Blumenthal contributed to this report.