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At Apple's Union Square flagship retail store in San Francisco, an early morning line of about 100 people formed down the block for new iPhone 8 and Apple Watch Series 3 buyers, split between users with pre-order reservations and people who just stopped by to pick up the new gear.
Long lines were long a fixture of initial iPhone launches, with some waiting for longer than 24 hours to be the first to get a new phone. All day launch lines incredibly continued for years, but as Apple got better at handling advanced preorders and direct shipments, the need to wait in line has greatly reduced. Despite lines around the block back in 2007, the company only sold about 1.4 million phones that entire year.
Last year, Apple sold 211 million iPhones, most of which were its newest iPhone 7. This year, demand will be spit between the revamped iPhone 8 and 8 Plus available now and the entirely new iPhone X slated to go on sale in November.
Not everyone in line this morning was waiting for iPhone 8. I talked to a woman visiting from Brazil waiting for the new Apple Watch Series 3, a device that won't go on sale there until later. The headline feature of the new model is its ability to work with LTE mobile networks, but that feature isn't yet supported by carriers in Brazil. Instead, she was buying the standard GPS version as an upgrade to the original, expressly to take advantage of the fact that it is designed so you can swim with it.
A couple of young men from Belgium were in line for iPhone 8. One reported that his last phone was an Android, and he didn't like it. He said it was a OnePlus (the higher-end brand of BKK, the Chinese manufacturing company that also produces mid and lower-end but high volume smartphone brands Oppo and vivo).
I asked if this would be his first iPhone. No, he said, he's always had iPhones but tried Android last year. Now he's back. How much cheaper is iPhone in the United States? A little but not all that much, he noted, stating he just happened to be here and wanted to pick one up while traveling.
It appeared that lots of people in line here in San Francisco were tourists or traveling, and came by early this morning to pick up new products as a convenience. There was a separate line for preorders, for those who'd reserved a specific block of time to pick up orders. Clearly the majority of iPhone buyers won't be waiting in lines at the store, but instead will be ordering online at their leisure or working to make sure they're in the virtual line forming for iPhone X when preorders for that phone begin on October 27.