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iPhone XR goes on sale around the world, but fans mostly stay home

The iPhone XR might have been dubbed the best value iPhone in years, but shoppers weren't giving it the usual show of love.

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The Apple Store in Sydney is normally a hive of activity on iPhone launch day, but in the hour before opening its doors for Day 1 of iPhone XR sales, the usual queues were nowhere to be seen. 

Ian Knighton/CNET

The usual crowds that line up for Apple's newest smartphones didn't bother to show for the iPhone XR.

Apple Stores around the world opened their doors on Friday for the first day selling the iPhone XR, and while Apple has offered something a little different than on previous launches -- more colors and arguably the best bang for your buck from the iPhone in years -- the queues were nowhere to be seen. 

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At the Apple Store in the middle of Sydney, the entrance was quiet in the hour before doors opened. Where lines have stretched around the corner in anticipation of buying Apple's newest phone as recently as last month's iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max launch, there were just a handful of people waiting for the iPhone XR. Meanwhile, there were a few dozen people at London's Covent Garden store and the Fifth Avenue New York store.

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The crowd is light Friday morning at the Union Square Apple Store in San Francisco.

James Martin/CNET

According to staff at the Sydney store, most customers were coming in to pick up preorders at assigned times throughout the day, a system that Apple has also had in place for previous launches. 

The lack of big crowds is a first for Apple, which has gained legendary status for its ability to draw fans and lines around the block over the past 11 years. But the tech giant threw a wrinkle into this year's launch, first offering the higher-end iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, more likely to attract hardcore Apple fans, and saving the more budget-friendly iPhone XR for a month later. 

It could be that queueing is becoming less necessary. Wait times for those who order the iPhone XR online in the US are three to five days rather than the weeks we've seen with some launches in the past. It could be that the lower-priced, colorful iPhone XR is pulling in people looking to upgrade a 3-year-old model, or those looking for a less pricey phone for their kids. That could also be why the YouTube iPhone unboxers (and those who buy the phone to quickly flip it) were nowhere to be seen. 

An Apple spokesman wasn't available to comment on the smaller crowds. 

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Two iPhone XRs in Apple's Sydney store.

Ian Knighton/CNET

Apple's newest iPhone may have had to follow behind the iPhone XS, which went on sale in September, but it still gives Apple fans a way to trade up to a new iPhone without having to push up to the $1,000 mark for the iPhone XS (or stretch their hands and their budgets for the larger iPhone XS Max, which starts at $1,099).

And while the iPhone XS launch saw buyers ponying up for premium features including the Super Retina display and dual 12-megapixel rear cameras, the iPhone XR still has its own selling points. CNET's Scott Stein says the XR still delivers most of the iPhone X and XS features, including an excellent big screen, fast performance, Face ID and wireless charging, and a camera that's mostly as good as the iPhone XS. 

You can read our full iPhone XR review and the specs on the iPhone XR, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max here.

Sydney

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First in the preorder line at the Apple Store in Sydney, Rosa van de Pol picked up a black iPhone XR for her husband. 

Ian Knighton/CNET

First in line at the Sydney store for her preorder was 23-year-old paralegal Rosa van de Pol, who was buying a black iPhone XR for her husband "mainly because of the price point."

"I think it was a good option, compared to the other phones that came out," she said. "The whole phone is the screen, so that's great." 

But van de Pol admitted that considering the lack of queue, getting down to the store half-an-hour early "was a bit of overkill."

London

The scene was also quiet at the London launch, where doors opened at the company's historic Covent Garden store at 8 a.m. on a dark and drizzly morning.

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Macy the dog was one of the most popular customers of the day at the iPhone XR launch.

Katie Collins/CNET

Apple's policy of booking people in for specific time slots meant the crowd before opening time was modest -- there were around 30 people in total -- and the atmosphere inside the store was serene and civilized.

Many of the customers picking up their iPhone XRs were of the opinion they'd bagged themselves a bargain by opting for the cheaper model.

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Customers picking up their iPhone XRs in London.

Katie Collins/CNET

"We felt there was more value for money," said 54-year-old David, who was buying an iPhone XR for his 21-year-old daughter Joanna. Both are self-described "Apple freaks," although they've never queued to pick up an iPhone on launch day before.

"We thought we'd make the effort to come and see the store as well, because it's just been refurbished," said David. "It's quite an exciting day really."

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Apple's Covent Garden store in London has a fresh look.

Katie Collins/CNET

The iPhone XR launch in London coincided with the reopening of the Covent Garden site following refurbishment, which sees a new forum area for talks added in the central atrium. 

The refurbishment brings the store in line with other Apple Stores around the world. At both its main retail locations in London (the other being its flagship Regent Street store) Apple has been careful to work around the listed heritage status of the buildings, to ensure their original features are kept intact. The arched porticos just outside the Covent Garden store are a great example of this, and also make it the better location of the two to shelter from the London rain while standing in line for phone launches -- even on days like this, when the queue is relatively short.

New York 

The chilly morning breeze had the customers in line at the Fifth Avenue store keeping their hands in their pockets, shifting legs to stay warm.

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Mark Guliaiev, 20, was the first one in line for iPhone XR's launch. He was also the first one in line when iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max launched in September. 

Marrian Zhou/CNET

The line was surprisingly short, not even half a block long. The first one in line was Mark Guliaiev, a 20-year-old student from Ukraine. He had been waiting since 2 a.m. He got one yellow iPhone XR. 

"There was no people whatsoever. It was the least crowded day ever," he said. "I'm buying it for my parents, but if they don't like it, I'll just return it. I'm getting it for fun. I just want to be number one, simple as that." 

Compare that with last month's iPhone XS launch, which drew two different block-long lines. Some people had to wait more than 8 hours for their phone. 

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Inside the Apple store on Fifth Avenue, there weren't that many customers compared to iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max's launch day. 

Marrian Zhou/CNET

Patricia Disessa, a 28-year-old engineer from Brazil, was second in line and had been waiting for one hour. Her phone was stolen so she was buying a new one.

"I think the XR is the most cost-benefits [balanced]," she said. 

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Patricia Disessa, 28, is holding her new white iPhone XR. 

Marrian Zhou/CNET

Eddie Suarez, 36, works in security. He had been waiting less than 50 minutes. His iPhone XR was an upgrade from last year's iPhone 8 Plus. 

"It's affordable. It's the more affordable [one] out of the bunch," he said. "It's updated. It's like a car, everyone wants to buy the next car for the year, the next video game for the year. Just to keep up with the times I guess."

San Francisco

Varoon Malik was surprised to be the first person to arrive outside the Union Square Apple Store in San Francisco early Friday morning.  

"I was expecting a line," the 36-year-old from India said.

Malik was mistakenly told the store would open at 7 a.m. (an hour earlier than reality), so he arrived at 6:45 a.m. He was soon joined by a few other customers.

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Varoon Malik was the first person in line outside the the Union Square Apple Store in San Francisco early Friday morning.  

James Martin/CNET

Malik came to buy the iPhone XR in red for his wife, who was still sleeping at their nearby hotel, and his sister back home in India. "I was threatened that I better take this back with me," he joked.

Malik's wife and sister are upgrading from the iPhone 7 and 7s, respectively. But he won't be getting a new iPhone for himself. "I'm an Android guy," Malik said.

Malik wasn't the only person there buying the new iPhone for a spouse. Princy Agarwan, 27, came to buy the iPhone XR in blue for her husband in India. He currently has the iPhone 6, and held out for the iPhone XR because of the lower price and range of colors.

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Princy Agarwan came to Union Square store to buy the iPhone XR in blue for her husband in India. She was fourth in line when she arrived at 7 a.m. PT.

James Martin/CNET

Agarwan was fourth in line when she arrived at 7 a.m.

"I expected a long queue, as I've heard in the past, so that's why I came early," she said. "I wanted to be first."

Jenny Leipziger came all the way from Napa with her 16-year-old daughter Sabrina, who was upgrading from the iPhone 6 to the iPhone XR in black. Leipziger works at AT&T and was surprised she and her daughter were just 6th and 7th in line.

"I remember when the first [iPhone] came out, and there were really long lines," Leipziger said. "People were spending the night. I was a little worried that 7 wasn't going to be early enough."

It turns out Leipziger didn't have much to worry about. When the doors to the store opened at 8 a.m., there were only about 25 people in line.

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