Long Lines at Apple May Not Mean Much

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A long line of buyers, or sold out products, may not mean much. Yet, the media and some Wall Street analysts made out that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) had another raging success with the new iPhone 5S. Maybe not. A day, or a week, is no longer a long time in the smartphone industry.

Apple has benefited from the fact that the iPhone 5 has been around a long time. It also has been helped because Samsung launched its own Galaxy 4S several months ago, and demand has fallen off. The iPhone 5S has been released into market starved for the “next big thing.”

It also is worth considering some of the evidence. The Apple Store on New York’s Fifth Avenue is carefully watched during new launches. There were lines around the block. The word was that the store was out of the iPhone 5S by early morning, and that the version with the gold cover was in especially great demand (there is no accounting for taste). On the other side of the big crowd story and sell out data is the ages old Apple habit of tight supply on launches, which has created immediate shortages before. Some outsiders even think Apple does this on purpose to make it appear that there is feverish demand. A USA Today article hinted at this:

Tight supply of the high-end iPhone 5s could crimp first-weekend sales of Apple’s new iPhones; many customers lined up for the gold and silver models on Friday were told that the devices had sold out.

Demand has been “incredible” and Apple is currently sold out or has limited supply of certain 5s models in stores, Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said.

But which came first — the supply or the demand?

The Verge looked at the same phenomenon across other nations, but it did not have a better suggestion for why the supply problem had happened:

Confirming our sources’ reports, the gold iPhone 5S is now listed with an “October” shipping date in the US, UK, and Australia online stores, while all the other colors currently have one-to-three and seven-to-ten day delivery estimates. It took less than 30 minutes for the gold 5S to slip to an October wait in the US. Several earlier reports also suggested that the iPhone 5S will be hard to come by in general, as Apple may be focusing on the lower-cost iPhone 5C, which could be in higher demand and easier to produce in large numbers right now.

Finally, no one who truly understands how Apple could deny that the huge Chinese market — the largest wireless market in the world — is at the core of Apple’s future. The Global Post reported:

The gold model has proved particularly popular in status-conscious China, where the new device went on sale for the first time right after release.

It is early yet. Sales have not been measured against Wall Street expectations. Wait a week or two or so, and watch how things turn out then.