IPHONE EXPRESS

After nearly a decade, Apple has finally figured out how to efficiently sell iPhones on launch day

Standing outside Apple’s giant glass cube on Fifth Avenue in New York, it seemed at first like today’s iPhone launch event was going to be as hectic as they have been for the past nine years. Traditionally, eager customers camp out in tents outside stores for days before the official launch, trying to ensure they are amongst the first to walk out with Apple’s newest gadget, as Apple employees strain to keep throngs of customers in line.

Today, there were crowds, and security guards, and local news outlets with their cameras, outside the Apple store. But one thing was missing: the chaos.

Inside Apple’s flagship store in the Northeast, which is always busy, things hummed a long pretty much as they would on any other day. There were some additional lines, and more staff than usual, but really it was hard to tell that today was what one store employee told Quartz was “their Super Bowl.”

The line outside moved quickly—if you had a reservation. (Quartz/Mike Murphy)

The difference in recent years is that Apple has started accepting online reservations for appointments to pick up iPhones in-store on launch day. This means many people showing up to an Apple store should already know ahead of time that they have a phone waiting for them, cutting down on the number of speculative customers who just want to see if they can walk up and buy an iPhone. Gone are the masses of humanity that descend on Apple stores and cellphone providers’ stores in the hopes of getting something—in their stead, masses who have registered online, scan their phones with Apple employees, and are out as fast as they’re in.

There was still a pretty sizable crowd of people—probably a few hundred—penned in outside the Apple store Quartz visited this morning, because even though Apple said that it was going to be sold out of many iPhone models even before launch day, some people wanted to try their luck. There were still people camping in tents, setting up folding chairs, and people offering to pay others for their slots in line. Apple still gets the press covering the over-zealous people that just have to have their phones on the first day. But for most people, there’s no need to stand in line anymore.

The majority of people with reservations waiting early on iPhone 7 launch day at the Fifth Avenue Apple store. (Quartz/Dave Gershgorn)

Quartz reporter Dave Gershgorn and I waited in line for about 15 minutes at one of the busiest Apple Stores in the most densely populated city in the US, and Dave had his iPhone about 30 minutes after that. It took me slightly longer, mainly just because I forgot the passcode on my AT&T account. The Apple employee who served us told us that he had started late (we were his first iPhone customers of the day at about 10am), but he expected to process at least 70 people today. In all, waiting to be served and getting the two iPhones with our reservations took roughly 90 minutes. There was no hassle, no searching for stock, or lost reservations. The Apple employee knew where our phones were the second they scanned our reservations, and could follow the other employees getting the phones and bringing them out on their modified Apple-store iPhone. It was frictionless.

Scanning my reservation barcode from my old iPhone. (Quartz/Dave Gershgorn)

When I signed up for the iPhone Upgrade Program and purchased an iPhone 6S Plus last October—nearly a month after the phone went on sale—I had to wait for nearly 2 hours at an Apple store, only to have Apple’s system momentarily lose my reservation. A year later, Apple’s back-end systems appear to have caught up with the polished veneer of customers’ retail experience. It seems that the hiring of former Burberry retail chief Angela Ahrendts is starting to show its utility.

After a decade of perfecting the iPhone, Apple seems to have finally figured out how to get them into our hands as rapidly as possible. This can only have positive effects on the company’s stalling sales in recent quarters. Now, if only it could have made a phone that had actually been worth standing in line for.

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