Verizon iPhone Goes On Sale

The 10 or so customers who were waiting in line to buy the Verizon iPhone 4 head into the store at 7 a.m. ET in New York City. CNET/Sarah Tew

The wait is finally over for the Verizon Wireless iPhone. Starting today, Verizon's version of the iPhone 4 will be available in retail stores.

Apple and Verizon Wireless stores, along with Best Buy and selected Wal-Mart stores, will start selling the Verizon iPhones at 7 a.m. local time. And even with a high of 28 degrees forecast for New York City, eager iPhone fans are expected to line up around the block at stores throughout the city.

It's unclear how many iPhones will be available today. Apple and Verizon quickly sold out of the initial batch of iPhones that were made available through a presale to Verizon customers last week. In fact, Verizon said that demand for the iPhone 4 surpassed any other previous smartphone launch on its network, including the hotly anticipated Motorola Droid and Droid X, as well as the HTC Incredible.

In an effort to move the sales process along more quickly, Apple has been taking online reservations for customers buying the phone in its retail stores. Customers with reservations can pick up their reserved iPhones after noon in Apple stores.

But some people, of course, just like the thrill of waiting in line. That's why CNET is sending out a crew of reporters and photographers to document the occasion. I'll be on location at the Apple cube on Fifth Avenue in New York City updating a blog with pictures and snippets from the crowd. I'll also be in front of the camera putting together a story for CNET TV.

My CNET colleague Daniel Terdiman will also be contributing to the blog from the West Coast, where he will provide commentary from the Apple scene in San Francisco. For the latest news and pictures from the Verizon iPhone launch, bookmark this page and be sure to check back early Thursday morning and throughout the day.

The Apple store on Fifth Ave. in New York City the morning of the Verizon iPhone 4 launch.
CNET/Sarah Tew

New York 6:50 a.m. ET: It's 18 degrees here in New York City, and there are now eight people in line at the Fifth Ave. Apple store. Queens resident Akira Sawada, 32, is first in line--he arrived at 5 a.m. There are more Apple employees inside the Apple store than there are outside.

Apple Store, Manhattan, early a.m.
Chilly scenes of winter at the Apple store in Manhattan, shortly before the doors open.
Wilson Tang/CNET

New York 7:07 a.m. ET: People are in the Apple store. The line of about 10 people was quickly ushered in at 7 a.m. We are now waiting to talk to people who are walking out of the store.

New York 7:30 a.m. ET: Apple is not letting press into the store. But I went in as a "shopper." It was filled with at least a hundred Apple employees in blue shirts, who were on hand to help customers buying and activating their new phones. Apple is not allowing any photography inside the Apple store.

Apple had more staff on hand than there were customers for the Verizon iPhone 4 on launch day.
CNET/Sarah Tew

New York 8:05 a.m. ET: The first Verizon iPhone customers started trickling out of the store about 20 minutes after the doors opened. I talked to Rominel Peguero of Manhattan. He was fourth in line and stood in line for about a half hour before the doors opened. He said he has never in stood in line for anything before. But he was afraid that Verizon and Apple would run out of phones, since they sold out during the pre-sale last week. He said he was going out of town tonight and wanted to make sure he got his new phone today.

The 10 or so customers who were waiting in line to buy the Verizon iPhone 4 head into the store at 7 a.m. ET in New York City.
CNET/Sarah Tew

New York 8:15 a.m. ET I apologize for not updating this blog more frequently. It's about 20 degrees in New York City. And my fingers have been so cold that I wasn't able to type for very long. Also, as I mentioned there were only a handful of people in line at the store, so there wasn't much to report. But I am now in a warm diner a few blocks from the Fifth Avenue store. My fingers are warm now, so I'm able to type once again. Apple clearly was expecting more of a crowd this morning. As I mentioned earlier, the Apple staff way out-numbered actual Verizon iPhone 4 customers. I guess we finally have the answer to the question: What will keep people from standing in line for a new iPhone on launch day? It looks like 20 degree temperatures.

CNET reporter Maggie Reardon was blogging about the Verizon iPhone 4 launch outside the Apple store in New York City on Fifth Avenue in freezing temperatures.
CNET/Sarah Tew

New York 9:00 a.m. ET: I'm officially warmed up and ready to brave the cold city streets again. I will be moving uptown to the Apple store on the Upper West Side. I'll also check out some Verizon stores here in New York City to see how the crowds are. My colleague Daniel Terdiman will also provide updates from San Francisco. So stay tuned. We'll see if the Verizon iPhone frenzy is bigger in a warmer climate.

San Francisco 6:40 a.m. PT: Well, here at the flagship Apple Store in San Francisco, you'd have to say it's not just cold weather that's keeping people from lining up to buy the Verizon iPhone. Upon arriving here about five minutes (before the 7 a.m. opening of the store), there were literally more Apple Store employees, police officers and reporters--each--than people in line to buy iPhones.

Few people were waiting in line for the Verizon iPhone in San Francisco on Thursday morning. And the weather cannot be blamed.
James Martin/CNET

Indeed, there were only two people in line when I arrived.

Justin Roi, a 27-year-old San Francisco resident was first in line, and he got here just 50 minutes before the store's opening. In fact, he assumed he'd be in line for quite a while--he brought a chair to sit in while the line would presumably work its way slowly into the store.

This, of course, is quite a turn of events from the usual Apple product launch, where there are usually tons of people lined up to be among the first to buy whatever Steve Jobs and Co. have to offer.

In Roi's case, this is his first iPhone--AT&T or Verizon. "I was [waiting for Verizon]," Roi said. "I've had a lot of crappy phones from Verizon. Now I'll be moving up to iPhone."

But Roi also said he was surprised at the lack of people in line--thus his chair. Actually, he said, as he rounded the corner near the Apple Store and saw very few people waiting, he thought that all the iPhones were already sold out.

But, that's not the case. As in New York, the lines were short, but Apple can't blame frigid weather here.

On the other hand, we've heard that the Verizon store nearby has a bit longer line--so I'm going to head over there right now and see if there's more of a scene. If not, or even if there is but it's significantly smaller than the usual Apple product launch line, I think we'll be able to say that the hype surrounding the Verizon iPhone may, for perhaps the first time in recent Apple launch memory, have been just that--hype.

San Francisco 7:11 a.m. PT: At 7 a.m. on the dot, the doors to the Apple Store opened up and there stood a phalanx of Apple Store employees, all of whom were cheering loudly. I've been to Apple product launches here before, and those times, the cheering employees felt right--their excitement matched that of the people in line.

This time, however, the wild cheering seemed deeply out of proportion to the number of people in line--I think there may have been four by the time the doors opened. I felt a little embarrassed for everyone involved.

Given that we heard that there were more people at the nearby Verizon store, I ran over there just after the Apple Store doors opened--like in New York, Apple wasn't letting any press inside--to see what was going on.

There, about 15 people were waiting patiently in line. At the front of the line--though a small number of folks had already been let inside--Cara Morgan waited with her Shetland Sheep dog Cooper. She said she'd only been in line for about 15 or 20 minutes.

As they let her inside (the dog had to wait outside) I talked to the person who had been behind her. His name was Stephen Howarter, from Concord, California. He said he'd never had an iPhone before, and that he was getting Verizon's iPhone "'cause I can actually make calls inside [San Francisco] on Verizon."

Like many Verizon users, Howarter expressed the common view that AT&T service in the city is dysfunctional at best. He said he has six family members with AT&T iPhones, and that all of them suffer through dropped calls all the time. "That's why I've not gotten an iPhone [before]," Howarter said. "I've been waiting for Verizon to get the iPhone. I would never switch to ATT. Not until they improve their service."

And was he surprised at the relative lack of people waiting to get the new phone from Verizon? Howarter said he was. Then again, he suggested that iPhone mania has been going on for quite a while longer than Verizon has offered the device. "I guess the people that had to have the iPhone were going to get it and not care about the coverage," he said. "The people who do care [were] going to hold out.

Since the Verizon store was also not letting press inside, I ran the half-block back to the Apple Store, where by 7:08, the entire line--all four people--had been let inside. After a couple of minutes, a customer emerged, to the cheering of the Apple employees. It was still kind of embarrassing.

Then again, I thought of the folks who had brought donuts along for the [expected large] line. I was told that even though there was a cart stacked high with donut boxes, there were 500 more of the sugary treats in the store's basement.

  • Marguerite Reardon On Twitter»

    Marguerite Reardon has been a CNET News reporter since 2004, covering cell phone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate, as well as the ongoing consolidation of the phone companies. E-mail Maggie.

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