Should Apple rethink iPad 2 distribution system?

Long lines and buzz about scalpers beg for a better way to handle hot products such as the iPad 2.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
2 min read

Why do there have to be lines?
How long will it be before customers are replaced by scalpers? Sarah Tew/CNET

I remember, last year, waiting on line one morning for an iPhone 4. I was on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and I gave up after an hour and a half. The lines were too long and had formed hours before.

This was two months or so past the iPhone 4's launch, and it was still impossible to buy one of the phones at a store. Lines would form every morning, scoop up whatever little stock there was, and leave the Apple Store once again drained of its supply. The cause? Grey-market resellers.

Sound familiar?

We're less than one week into the iPad 2 launch, and supplies are depleted everywhere. Now, the New York Post has already reported that scalpers have been seen on lines in New York City, scooping up iPad 2s for high mark-up resales overseas.

Technically, Apple can't stop scalpers. And, really, it's no different than if you or I decided to buy two iPads, then sell one on eBay. It's not a pretty practice, but it's hard to reinforce against. Still, it's enough to make me stay away from Apple stores in general. It's not going to get any easier now that component supplies might cause delays. Now, it's true, none of us needs to really be worrying about getting our hands on new, shiny tech when far more dire issues surround the world. But, that being said, it doesn't make sense to have the iPad 2's release basically be a cottage industry for profiteering middlemen.

I'd prefer a simple reversion to the system that was in place for the first iPad: I reserved one online for in-store pickup, got a date and time sent from Apple, and I hopped a subway down to pick one up. That online reservation system has been removed because, according to Apple employees I spoke with last year during the iPhone 4 launch, that system was being gamed by scalpers, too.

How was your experience been? Have you seen long lines forming? Have you even tried looking? Can you propose a better solution? Of course, there's always online ordering, which has increased to a four- to five-week delay. Honestly, considering how things are going, we probably shouldn't expect anything better anytime soon.