You should wait online, not in line, for the iPhone 4S

The iPhone 4S approaches, but you don't need to stand in a line to get it.

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
3 min read
iPhone 4 launch: not a picnic. Marguerite Reardon

With any new Apple iPhone or iPad, a logistical question emerges that bears considering: how do you buy it without enduring a line or a long wait time? The iPhone 4S goes on sale next week on October 14, and it's crossed my mind that my travails with both the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 weren't pretty. Resellers have recently been largely responsible for making the already challenging Apple Store lines an unbearable ordeal with products being sold out well before most people even knew they were back in stock.

In fact, I preordered an iPad 2 back in the spring, then canceled when I decided that the two-week wait time could be bettered by a quick trip to the Apple Store. I bet wrong, and spent two weeks calling Best Buys and searching message boards for a place that would have the iPad I wanted in stock.

Embarrassing, yes, but this was a common occurrence for many people during the first month or so of both the iPhone 4 and iPad 2's existence.

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I have one simple suggestion, and it's hardly a shocker: take advantage of preorder.

The iPhone 4S can be preordered starting October 7 on Apple's Web site. Many people prefer to stop by a store in person, especially for their phones, expecting quicker satisfaction and perhaps hoping to save a few dollars on delivery. I'm most definitely going to order my Apple products for delivery next go-around, and save myself the effort.

Sure, preorder is an obvious answer. Still, I hesitate to order online, especially with Apple Stores nearby. Many people like the idea of a trip to a store for in-person service. It's a more direct form of gratification. Or, at least, it is when you're not dealing with endless lines.

Maybe the iPhone 4S is a different story. Perhaps there won't be large lines at all, or not to the same degree. Maybe a similar-looking chassis and a single dual-band phone for all carriers will allow Apple to pad its stock a little more. I wouldn't count on it, though. As long as the iPhone 4S's launch date worldwide remains different from the U.S., it'll probably be just as much of a hassle. Whether or not the iPhone 4S is a monster hit or a major sales disappointment remains to be seen, but consider this: the last similar-looking iPhone, the iPhone 3GS, still sold over a million units in its first three days back in 2009. A lot of phone users on a lot of carriers have been waiting for a new iPhone, and the extra build-up of customers since this summer's typical launch could make a difference.

Apple's not likely to reintroduce an in-store pickup preorder like it used with the original iPad, or a store-based time-stamped ticket system. So, it'll probably be first-come first-served, or bust. Take the smarter path and just order online, and use the Apple Store strictly for window-shopping. Or, consider what other stores will be selling the iPhone 4S. Right now the full laundry list isn't clear, but we'll probably know a lot more by the end of the week.