Verizon iPhone goes on sale (live blog)

Apple's iconic device is now being sold through a second carrier, but for all the pent-up anticipation, the lines are remarkably sparse today. Follow our coast-to-coast live coverage.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Marguerite Reardon
Daniel Terdiman
10 min read

The wait is finally over for the Verizon Wireless iPhone. Starting today, Verizon's version of the iPhone 4 will be available in retail stores.

Apple and Verizon Wireless stores, along with Best Buy and selected Wal-Mart stores, will start selling the Verizon iPhones at 7 a.m. local time. And even with a high of 28 degrees forecast for New York City, eager iPhone fans are expected to line up around the block at stores throughout the city.

It's unclear how many iPhones will be available today. Apple and Verizon quickly sold out of the initial batch of iPhones that were made available through a presale to Verizon customers last week. In fact, Verizon said that demand for the iPhone 4 surpassed any other previous smartphone launch on its network, including the hotly anticipated Motorola Droid and Droid X, as well as the HTC Incredible.

Watch this: Verizon iPhone launch lags at NYC Apple store

In an effort to move the sales process along more quickly, Apple has been taking online reservations for customers buying the phone in its retail stores. Customers with reservations can pick up their reserved iPhones after noon in Apple stores.

But some people, of course, just like the thrill of waiting in line. That's why CNET is sending out a crew of reporters and photographers to document the occasion. I'll be on location at the Apple cube on Fifth Avenue in New York City updating a blog with pictures and snippets from the crowd. I'll also be in front of the camera putting together a story for CNET TV.

My CNET colleague Daniel Terdiman will also be contributing to the blog from the West Coast, where he will provide commentary from the Apple scene in San Francisco. For the latest news and pictures from the Verizon iPhone launch, bookmark this page and be sure to check back early in the morning and throughout the day.

The Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York City the morning of the Verizon iPhone 4 launch. CNET/Sarah Tew

New York 6:50 a.m. ET: It's 18 degrees here in New York City, and there are now eight people in line at the Fifth Ave. Apple store. Queens resident Akira Sawada, 32, is first in line--he arrived at 5 a.m. There are more Apple employees inside the Apple store than there are outside.

Apple Store, Manhattan, early a.m.
Chilly scenes of winter at the Apple store in Manhattan, shortly before the doors open. Wilson Tang/CNET

New York 7:07 a.m. ET: People are in the Apple store. The line of about 10 people was quickly ushered in at 7 a.m. We are now waiting to talk to people who are walking out of the store.

New York 7:30 a.m. ET: Apple is not letting press into the store. But I went in as a "shopper." It was filled with at least a hundred Apple employees in blue shirts, who were on hand to help customers buying and activating their new phones. Apple is not allowing any photography inside the Apple store.

Apple had more staff on hand than there were customers for the Verizon iPhone 4 on launch day. CNET/Sarah Tew

New York 8:05 a.m. ET: The first Verizon iPhone customers started trickling out of the store about 20 minutes after the doors opened. I talked to Rominel Peguero of Manhattan. He was fourth in line and stood in line for about a half hour before the doors opened. He said he has never in stood in line for anything before. But he was afraid that Verizon and Apple would run out of phones, since they sold out during the pre-sale last week. He said he was going out of town tonight and wanted to make sure he got his new phone today.

The 10 or so customers who were waiting in line to buy the Verizon iPhone 4 head into the store at 7 a.m. ET in New York City. CNET/Sarah Tew

New York 8:15 a.m. ET I apologize for not updating this blog more frequently. It's about 20 degrees in New York City. And my fingers have been so cold that I wasn't able to type for very long. Also, as I mentioned there were only a handful of people in line at the store, so there wasn't much to report. But I am now in a warm diner a few blocks from the Fifth Avenue store. My fingers are warm now, so I'm able to type once again. Apple clearly was expecting more of a crowd this morning. As I mentioned earlier, the Apple staff way out-numbered actual Verizon iPhone 4 customers. I guess we finally have the answer to the question: What will keep people from standing in line for a new iPhone on launch day? It looks like 20 degree temperatures.

CNET reporter Maggie Reardon was blogging about the Verizon iPhone 4 launch outside the Apple store in New York City on Fifth Avenue in freezing temperatures. CNET/Sarah Tew

New York 9:00 a.m. ET: I'm officially warmed up and ready to brave the cold city streets again. I will be moving uptown to the Apple store on the Upper West Side. I'll also check out some Verizon stores here in New York City to see how the crowds are. My colleague Daniel Terdiman will also provide updates from San Francisco. So stay tuned. We'll see if the Verizon iPhone frenzy is bigger in a warmer climate.

A view of the flagship Apple Store in San Francisco, about 15 minutes before it opened for Verizon iPhone sales on Thursday. Note the tiny line outside. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

San Francisco 6:40 a.m. PT: Well, here at the flagship Apple Store in San Francisco, you'd have to say it's not just cold weather that's keeping people from lining up to buy the Verizon iPhone. Upon arriving here about five minutes (before the 7 a.m. opening of the store), there were literally more Apple Store employees, police officers and reporters--each--than people in line to buy iPhones.

Few people were waiting in line for the Verizon iPhone in San Francisco on Thursday morning. And the weather cannot be blamed. James Martin/CNET

Indeed, there were only two people in line when I arrived.

Justin Roi, a 27-year-old San Francisco resident was first in line, and he got here just 50 minutes before the store's opening. In fact, he assumed he'd be in line for quite a while--he brought a chair to sit in while the line would presumably work its way slowly into the store.

This, of course, is quite a turn of events from the usual Apple product launch, where there are usually tons of people lined up to be among the first to buy whatever Steve Jobs and Co. have to offer.

A large group of Apple Store employees stood through some kind of Verizon iPhone training, minutes before the store opened on Thursday. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

In Roi's case, this is his first iPhone--AT&T or Verizon. "I was [waiting for Verizon]," Roi said. "I've had a lot of crappy phones from Verizon. Now I'll be moving up to iPhone."

But Roi also said he was surprised at the lack of people in line--thus his chair. Actually, he said, as he rounded the corner near the Apple Store and saw very few people waiting, he thought that all the iPhones were already sold out.

But, that's not the case. As in New York, the lines were short, but Apple can't blame frigid weather here.

On the other hand, we've heard that the Verizon store nearby has a bit longer line--so I'm going to head over there right now and see if there's more of a scene. If not, or even if there is but it's significantly smaller than the usual Apple product launch line, I think we'll be able to say that the hype surrounding the Verizon iPhone may, for perhaps the first time in recent Apple launch memory, have been just that--hype.

San Francisco 7:11 a.m. PT: At 7 a.m. on the dot, with temperatures probably in the 40s--still, quite a bit warmer than in New York--the doors to the Apple Store opened up and there stood a phalanx of Apple Store employees, all of whom were cheering loudly. I've been to Apple product launches here before, and those times, the cheering employees felt right--their excitement matched that of the people in line.

This time, however, the wild cheering seemed deeply out of proportion to the number of people in line--I think there may have been four by the time the doors opened. I felt a little embarrassed for everyone involved.

Given that we heard that there were more people at the nearby Verizon store, I ran over there just after the Apple Store doors opened--like in New York, Apple wasn't letting any press inside--to see what was going on.

Inside the Verizon store in San Francisco
Inside the Verizon store in San Francisco early this morning. James Martin/CNET

There, about 15 people were waiting patiently in line. At the front of the line--though a small number of folks had already been let inside--Cara Morgan waited with her Shetland Sheep dog Cooper. She said she'd only been in line for about 15 or 20 minutes.

As they let her inside (the dog had to wait outside) I talked to the person who had been behind her. His name was Stephen Howarter, from Concord, California. He said he'd never had an iPhone before, and that he was getting Verizon's iPhone "'cause I can actually make calls inside [San Francisco] on Verizon."

Like many Verizon users, Howarter expressed the common view that AT&T service in the city is dysfunctional at best. He said he has six family members with AT&T iPhones, and that all of them suffer through dropped calls all the time. "That's why I've not gotten an iPhone [before]," Howarter said. "I've been waiting for Verizon to get the iPhone. I would never switch to ATT. Not until they improve their service."

And was he surprised at the relative lack of people waiting to get the new phone from Verizon? Howarter said he was. Then again, he suggested that iPhone mania has been going on for quite a while longer than Verizon has offered the device. "I guess the people that had to have the iPhone were going to get it and not care about the coverage," he said. "The people who do care [were] going to hold out.

Since the Verizon store was also not letting press inside, I ran the half-block back to the Apple Store, where by 7:08, the entire line--all four people--had been let inside. After a couple of minutes, a customer emerged, to the cheering of the Apple employees. It was still kind of embarrassing.

Then again, I thought of the folks who had brought donuts along for the (expected long) line. I was told that even though there was a cart stacked high with donut boxes, there were 500 more of the sugary treats in the store's basement.

The Verizon Wireless store on 34th Street in New York City had about 40 people in line when it opened at 7 a.m. on Thursday, a representative said. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

New York 10:00 a.m. ET: It seems Verizon Wireless stores were the place to be if you were looking for some customer buzz on this iPhone 4 launch day. At the Verizon store on 34th Street, Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney said about 40 people lined up outside the store before it opened at 7:00 a.m. One customer had been there since 11 p.m. the night before, she said.

When I arrived, around 9:50 a.m., I had to wait outside briefly before being let in. The Verizon security guards said they were managing the number of people inside the store to insure it wasn't too crowded. They asked if I was buying a Verizon iPhone and they gave me a card with a number on it, which designated that I was the 158th person to walk in the door. The card also had information that I could fill out to help the salesperson inside expedite the sales process. It asked for my name, mobile phone number, whether I was an existing or new Verizon Wireless customer, which package I wanted to sign up for, and which version of the iPhone I wanted. Raney said all customers entering Verizon stores nationwide were given these cards to help them keep their place in line as well as help move people in and out more quickly.

Verizon was handing out these cards to customers who wanted to buy the iPhone 4 on launch day. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

Unlike the Apple store on Fifth Avenue, Verizon was allowing press into the store to take pictures and to keep warm. Raney said staff had been handing out hot coffee to people standing outside.

Verizon Wireless had a steady stream of customers buying the iPhone 4 at the Verizon store on 34th Street in New York City on launch day. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

Raney wouldn't say how many iPhones Verizon had sold already, and she wouldn't speculate on how the early hours of the launch were going in terms of sales on the East Coast. She said Verizon might be able to offer some insight after the weekend. But at the Verizon Wireless store on 34th Street, she said, sales had been steady all morning. And there were still plenty of iPhones available as of 10 a.m. She said if stores run out of iPhones, customers can still order them in the store and have them delivered directly to their homes. Shipments should reach customers by February 18, she said. Verizon also expects to restock stores throughout the weekend as needed.

Raney said she had talked to other Verizon PR reps at other stores throughout the country, who reported that crowds at the big Verizon Wireless stores were similar in size to what the 34th Street store was experiencing. She said some stores, such as the Verizon Wireless store near Bryant Park in New York, may see a spike of traffic during lunch or after work.

New York 11:00 a.m. ET: My next stop after checking out the Verizon Wireless store on 34th Street was the Best Buy store on West 62nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan. At 11 a.m., the store's mobile phone department was dead. There didn't appear to be a customer in sight buying a Verizon iPhone 4 at that moment. A Best Buy representative said a handful of people were outside the store when it opened at 7 a.m. And she said the store had plenty of Verizon iPhones in stock at 11 a.m. But because this store gets a lot of shoppers after work, she said she couldn't guarantee that the store would have any left by the weekend.

There wasn't much of a buzz at the Best Buy on W. 62nd and Broadway in New York City on the Verizon iPhone launch day. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

New York 12:00 p.m. ET: After stopping by the the Best Buy store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I hit the Apple store a few blocks away on W.67th Street and Broadway. At about 11:45 a.m. there were 10 or so people waiting in line inside the very sunny and warm store. Most were there to pick up their reserved Verizon iPhones. But a salesperson told me the store still had plenty of devices for sale even without a reservation.

Only four people waited outside the Apple store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Verizon iPhone launch day, an Apple sales associate said. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

The bitter cold and the fact that people could reserve the phones online to pick up at a nearby Apple store or even order them for home delivery, must have helped deter big crowds. Or perhaps it was the fact that the iPhone 4 is a 9-month-old phone that is simply being sold on a second carrier in the U.S. Whatever the reason, the crowd was tiny compared with the hoopla that typically surrounds an iPhone launch, the Apple staffer said. When the store opened at 7 a.m., he said, only about four people were waiting outside. He attributed the line that had formed at midday to the fact that the store had only two employees handling Verizon iPhone sales. The rest were dealing with customers buying other Apple products.

A small line formed inside the Apple store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at midday on Verizon iPhone launch day. Most people were there to pick up an iPhone they had reserved online. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

San Francisco 11:25 a.m. PT: My CNET colleague Erica Ogg pointed me to a Piper Jaffray survey taken this morning that jibes with what I heard from the small number of people I encountered at the San Francisco Apple Store and the nearby Verizon store.

According to the survey, just 8 percent of Verizon iPhone buyers that Piper Jaffray talked to were currently on AT&T. Fully 63 percent of those interviewed for the survey were already Verizon users, with 18 percent using Sprint, and 13 percent being T-Mobile subscribers.