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iPhone 5 launch: More than 1,000 people needlessly block London's Regent Street

Another iLaunch, another queue. For my sins, I was sent down there to check out what all the fuss was about and why exactly people had been waiting there for more than a week. Ultimately, I'm not sure I got an answer.

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Topic: Apple
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1 of 8 Ben Woods/ZDNet

Early on Friday morning, I set out for Apple's former London flagship store on Regent Street to see the for the first time.

It didn't go well initially; firing up Apple Maps on the new iPad placed my house as somewhere in Epsom (in Surrey, for non UK dwellers) rather than where it actually is in North London.

But no matter, I knew where I was, and where I was going.

I arrived at the Apple Store at around 7am to see the doors already opening, so I wondered if I'd missed the hulabaloo and they'd opened earlier than the already early 8am release time. But no, I was just still a little hazy from having to be in Regent Street so early.

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2 of 8 Ben Woods/ZDNet

The first folks I came across in the queue were there for one reason only — and it wasn't the iPhone 5.

It's no surprise when something as notable as an Apple launch rolls around that people will try and grab some of that attention for their own ends — even if in some cases, the money was going towards legitimate and totally deserving charities.

This man — let's call him Richard Wheatcroft (as that is his name) — was selling the second-place spot in the queue for his social enterprise CrowdFuelledCauses, via a site called Sooqini.

One of Wheatcroft's queue buddies told me the bids for his spot were at around £2,000. A later update from the @crowdfuelled Twitter account confirmed that they couldn't agree on a final price for the spot, so instead, they are selling all four handsets they picked up.

The money raised by the sale is going towards the beginnings of the 'Hope Boutique Bakery', which is a bakery that wil be run by women that have been caught in abuse, trafficking or prostitution. A good cause indeed, one that these guys have spent the last week camping outside the Apple store for.

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3 of 8 Ben Woods/ZDNet

This girl, Amanda, had flown in from Brazil yesterday and bought a spot at the front of the queue in order to get her hands on the iPhone 5 — and it wasn't even for her. Her brother is the lucky chap getting the handset she bought. While Amanda wouldn't say what the spot in the first 10 had cost her, she did say it was less than £1,000.

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4 of 8 Ben Woods/ZDNet

A masked man — who was happy enough to give his name (Cam Newton) but not show his face — said he was "not interested" in the iPhone but was there to buy one in order to promote The Customer Experience Foundation. (Which you can look into yourself, if you're interested — I don't want to do his job for him.)

He is pictured here having bought two iPhones he didn't really want.

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5 of 8 Ben Woods/ZDNet

When the doors finally opened at 8:03am (tut tut — three minutes late, Apple?) the now obligatory and somewhat disturbing cheering, hollering, whooping and jumping around started from the staff in the store. All of them were considerably more excited about the event than anyone I saw waiting to go in.

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6 of 8 Ben Woods/ZDNet

Spare a minute for the poor folks from survey service 63336, who had the job of interviewing everyone in the queue about a range of issues. That's asking the same questions 1,297 times to 1,297 people, a mere few of whom can be seen above.

According to their survey, 67 percent of people in the queue on the day would rather have Google Maps back in iOS 6 rather than Apple's own attempt. 


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7 of 8 Ben Woods/ZDNet

Perplexingly, a whole bunch of these people seemed to be doing it for the 'experience', as the Three store (and Orange, two doors down) had around four people waiting for the iPhone 5 to go on sale.

At the Three store, buyers got to sit down and wait in comfort inside. One of the sales reps told me they had stock to sell to people who hadn't reserved the phone, but that they expected to sell out on Friday.

Perhaps it was the incredibly long walk (472 feet) from the Apple Store to either of these other retailers that put those in the Regent Street queue off.

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8 of 8 Ben Woods/ZDNet

Naturally, if you spend a few days sitting around, you might get a little bored — see how these iPhone 5 launch day queuers passed the time with a pack of cards.

Overall, my experience of the queue from the outside — I confess, without the excitement of getting a new iPhone 5 — seemed a little like self-imposed kettling that demanded a £529 (minimum) release fee. Clamping, but without the car.

All images by Ben Woods

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