For both of the last two summers, Apple and AT&T stores have seen long lines and short supplies for the launch of the original iPhone in 2007 and the iPhone 3G in 2008. Surprisingly, we could see the same phenomenon play out for the third straight year when the third-generation iPhone -- iPhone 3G S -- goes on sale on Friday morning.
There are already reports of lines forming on Thursday night at Apple's two flagship stores, the downtown San Francisco store and the Fifth Avenue store in New York City (according to Fortune and Engadget). The New York line is especially significant since the area was under heavy rains on Thursday that cancelled first round play at the U.S. Open golf tournament taking place on Long Island.
The line for the iPhone 3G at the San Francisco Apple Store in 2008. Photo credit: CNET
The lines may not be as long this year, but iPhone sales are expected to be very brisk, with some analysts predicting 500,000 units sold over the first weekend.
Both Apple and AT&T would like to learn from the mistakes of the first two iPhone launches and manage the process better this year to avoid logistical and systems problems that frustrated a lot of customers the past two years. This year, both companies have been taking pre-orders on their Web sites, with the orders available in two ways, free delivery (as early as Friday) and pick up at a local Apple or AT&T retail store.
For those who pre-ordered the iPhone 3G S for pickup at a local store, they will be able to pick up their orders starting at 7:00 AM local time at the Apple or AT&T store that they specified in their order. Also, I spoke with an associate at an Apple Store today who said that the pre-ordered devices will be held until the store closes on Friday.
For those who didn't pre-order an iPhone 3G S but plan to stand in line to buy one on Friday, their line will start processing orders at 10:00 AM local time. So it sounds like there will be two lines, one for pre-orders and one for walk-ups. It will be very interesting to see how the stores juggle the two lines. Some reports have even suggested that the lines will be merged after 10:00 AM. I'd like to see them try that.
Look for reports from CNET and ZDNet from iPhone lines around the world on Friday. I will be in line and reporting from the Apple Store in Louisville, Kentucky (TechRepublic's hometown) on Friday morning.
For more insights on the iPhone 3G S launch follow my Twitter stream at twitter.com/jasonhiner