Sometime, probably in early October, the new generation of iPhones will go on sale. Thousands of people will camp out overnight to keep places in line outside Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) retail stores to be among the first to own one. Others will wait to get them through the wireless store locations for companies like AT&T. Still others will order them online and probably wait a little longer.
Shortly after the release, Apple will say it is low on supply. However, those who braved sitting in lines overnight will own an iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus or perhaps the rumored iPhone X.
The Apple first day retail tradition is nearly as old as the iPhone itself, and it is one of Apple’s greatest marketing tools, even though Apple does not control it. News outlets post pictures and videos of the waiting lines. They are an example of how badly Americans want a new Apple product. The subsequent announcement about supply problems has been described as another Apple marketing gimmick, although there is scant proof of that. Either Apple has made a mistake in its supply line and really made too few phones, or it wants to make it seem demand is so strong that it could not possibly have anticipated consumer enthusiasm.
Apple has 361 stores in the United States, compared to a small handful when earlier versions of the iPhone were released. Mathematically, that makes it harder for iPhone lines to be as long as they were in the past. So, the longer the lines, the more the demand may not apply as much as it did for models like the iPhone 5. In terms of publicity for first day new iPhone sales, the success of the Apple Store may have damaged Apple’s ability to leverage pictures of people in sleeping bags and portable chairs.
Nevertheless, regardless of the rise in Apple store count, people will sit in the dark, and in some cases the rain and the cold. The tradition will go unbroken.