iPhone XS launch: 3 days in the life of an Apple store

To observe the atmosphere in an Apple store at launch time, I went to the same store three days in a row at the same time. The people-watching was sublime.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

They always show the images from the first Friday.

The Friday when lines form outside Apple stores, and the frenzy awakens the staff in the empty clothing and furniture stores in the vicinity.

What's less often seen are the minutes, hours, and days after the initial noise. So, I thought I'd visit one Bay Area Apple store at the same time on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, just to bathe in the rhythm of what was going on.

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I chose 11.20am. Because, well, I rarely do anything useful before then.


The police officer looked fairly relaxed.

She stood to one side of the store doors, staring into the nothingness opposite.

On the other side of the doors, an Apple store employee was clearing away the food trolley that had been left for all those who had waited in line.

This was a little odd, as there were still people waiting in line.

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Worse, there were two Apple store employees standing like bouncers on either side of the door. Had the Apple store reached capacity?

I gingerly approached the smaller of the two employees. I asked whether I could be naive enough to go in and just look at the new phones. Or did I have to stand in line?

"They're the pre-orders," said the employee. "Just go right in."

I thought pre-ordering was sensible -- which is why I never do it -- but making these people stand in line outside, while others are stroking away at gadgets inside, seemed almost cruel.

Inside, though, actually finding space to grab a phone wasn't simple.

There were three large tables with phones on them. Almost every phone was being clutched, stroked, and prodded.

Every store employee was busy talking to a customer. Many customers hadn't necessarily ordered, but knew the precise phone they wanted.

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Most curious, though, were two women who just knew they wanted the XS Max, the Ndamukong Suh of the Apple range.

These women didn't care whether their hands would be able to operate the phone. Instead, they needed to see how much space the Max would take up in their purses.

Helpfully, they'd brought their purses along with them and were slipping the Max models, still attached to their security cords, into them.

"Oh, this could work," said one.

Madam, it might take up a lot of space in a clutch, but surely not in that vast Louis Vuitton laundry bag you're lugging around.

Often, when I go into an Apple store, an employee pounces upon me in a genteel, cheery manner within two or three minutes. Not this time. I think I could have been there for an hour without even a hint of patter.

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I stared at and handled all the colors in both the sizes. The gold color seemed insipidly pink. The Max seemed far heavier than the XS.

The excess of noise, though, drove me out.


It couldn't be worse than Friday, could it? Surely there'd be a little more calm.

Well, there was a different police officer out front. And the retractable crowd control barrier was now inside, instead of out.

The frenzy, though, was unchanged. The place was again teeming with humanity. It was easier, though, to access a phone and examine it.

This was because there was an enormous crowd around the Apple Watch Series 4 table.

A tall Apple store employee was expounding to the throng about the elements he prefers. Aesthetic elements, you understand.

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"The Cape Cod Blue in leather is my favorite," he said. He could have been talking about bondage gear for a Halloween Party. (Hey, it's Northern California.)

Instead, this was an earnest debate with customers about the merits of Cape Cod Blue against the Lavender Gray Sport.

I tried to listen, but it was hard to hear everything above the din.

So, I went back to one of the phone tables.

"I want this one," said a customer to a store employee.

"But that's an iPhone 8 Plus," said the employee, seemingly wondering whether this man really had come in on XS launch weekend, only to ignore the XS.

"Yes, that's the one I want," replied the customer emphatically.

I walked out of the store, again not having been approached by a single Apple employee, and had to talk to the police officer.

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"Are you here because Apple's scared people will steal the new phones?"

"Yup. It happens all the time," he said.

"How long do you have to stand here?"

"Till 8 tonight. And someone will be here every day for the foreseeable future."

"Are you guys taking it in turns? It seems like the most boring job ever."

"Oh yes," he said, with as much of a smile as he could muster.


It was a glorious Sunday morning. Surely by now, by 11.20am, there might be a little less hubbub in the Apple store.

This was Sunday. People do things on Sundays, don't they? They go hiking, fishing, golfing, churching, and, well, eat enormous brunches.

As I approached, I noticed something had changed: There was no police officer.

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Could it be that phone thieves observe the Sabbath? Or could it be that police officers cost a lot more on Sundays?

I looked inside and the crowd was again enormous. There'd be no respite from the madness.

It really is madness, isn't it? Hordes of people being sucked into a store in order to worship two phones and a watch.

On this Sunday, the Watch table didn't enjoy such a crowd. The iPhone tables, however, were packed.

The conversations differed little from the previous two days. The gold colored XS models still looked insipid.

And not a single Apple employee intercepted me as I picked up one phone, then another and then another.

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A couple of self-righteous millennials pushed past me, ceremony-free, such was their desperation to clutch a new gadget.

As I walked toward the door, I looked back and saw the young, and the previously young, the washed, and the just-out-of-bed.

Apple's got them all, hasn't it? And so few ever seem to leave.

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