Four people have already lined up to buy the next versions of the iPhone, which aren’t expected to go on sale for another 16 days. But they aren’t really there for iPhones: They are being paid by companies hoping to glom onto the expected frenzy.
Joseph Cruz and Brian Ceballo arrived in front of Apple’s glass cube on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Sunday, August 31. They brought tarps, chairs, sleeping bags, and lots of T-shirts for BuyBackWorld, an online electronics retailer. BuyBackWorld is picking up their food bill for the three-week urban campout. The company is also paying for the iPhone 6 of their choice, assuming that’s what Apple unveils at its event next week and begins selling, as expected, on Friday, Sept. 19.
Ceballo, 20, and Cruz, 21, know what to expect. The cousins, who are musicians by day, say they have been camping out for new Apple products for the past five or six years. This time will best their personal record of lining up 15 days before the iPhone 5S’s release.
Jason and Moon Ray arrived at the Apple store a day later. The married couple shipped their gear—including two patio lounge chairs, a tent, a tarp, sleeping bags, a blow-up mattress, and a solar charger—from their home outside of Jackson, Mississippi. Jason, 29, is a consultant for a startup called Video Medicine, which connects doctors and patients over their phones. Moon, a 25-year-old writer and model, came along for the ride.
Video Medicine wanted the Rays to be first in line, for better publicity. So they paid Cruz and Ceballo $2,500 to let them cut ahead.
“This year is the best so far in terms of making money,” Cruz told Quartz on a warm Wednesday morning, their fourth day in line. Even after selling their lead position, Cruz and Ceballo are still one spot ahead of where they have ever been before.
Queues outside Apple stores have become their own cultural phenomenon, amplified by gawking media attention and mocked by competitors like Samsung. In time, companies like BuyBackWorld and Video Medicine have seen an opportunity to market their products amid all of the attention.
Still, this is a long time to wait in line. At the moment, it’s just the four of them. Jason Ray says that he figures more people will arrive “probably in the next week, week and a half, unless someone is as crazy as us.”
Things seem comfortable. They use the bathroom at the Apple store, which is open 24 hours a day, and shower at nearby gyms. Cruz and Ceballo take videos of themselves pranking people “for YouTube.” The Rays take in the sights.
“Monday was our first day in New York, ever,” explains Jason Ray. “It’s very stimulating not just to be in New York but also be camped out in one of the busiest parts of New York.”
The mood may change on Saturday, Sept. 9, which is forecasted to be one of the hottest days of the year in New York—with a strong chance of thunderstorms.
All of them in line seem moderately excited about the iPhone 6, which is rumored to be coming in larger sizes, and optimistic that Apple will also unveil a new smartwatch. But they do not consider themselves Apple fanatics.
“I’m glad that the iPhone’s actually going to be bigger this time,” Jason Ray says. He owns both an iPhone and Android phone. “They both have pros and cons.”
Ceballo sees the days ahead as a simple calculus: “Who wouldn’t want a free phone for just being here for a few weeks and wearing some T-shirts?”