Gold rush: How I failed the iPhone 5s line

I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. Stumbling around in the dark, I threw on a jean jacket and hopped on the subway to the Apple flagship store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan — nearly an hour away from my Brooklyn residence. All to get my hands on a 16GB or 32GB gold iPhone 5s.

Well, my hands remain empty, and it seems like they’ll be staying that way for a while.

I have actually never been in a single line for an iPhone, but I decided this year to make an exception. My grandfathered AT&T unlimited data plan is a vestigial bundle offering alongside my parents’ home phone bill. I happily ordered my iPhone 4S online two years ago with my eligible upgrade, only to find out at checkout that AT&T would only send my phone to my parents’ California home — not my New York City apartment. Rather than repeating the hassle and extra cost of an unneeded cross-country shipping scheme, this time I just decided to go directly to the source.

But I didn’t expect the hustle and bustle surrounding Apple’s flagship store. By 6 a.m., the line wrapped around two city blocks and settled across the street for a third. By that point I had received news that all of the September shipping dates for the gold iPhone 5s had been tapped out, so I figured waiting in line was my only shot to see my beautiful, shiny gold phone before October.

Part of the 5th Avenue iPhone line

Part of the 5th Avenue iPhone line

At the corner of 58th Street and Park Avenue, where I had been standing for the hour leading up to the store opening, I began chatting with one of the blue-shirted Apple employees — who happened to be very stoked by this release. As the line stretched farther behind me and presumably extended into Central Park, line-goers were concerned that phones wouldn’t be available for folks this far back.

“No,” he assured us excitedly, fully trusting in his employer. “You’ll definitely get your hands on one.”

He was wrong.

Within the first three minutes of the store opening, word had filtered back that one of first people in line had excitedly asked for a 64 GB gold model, only to be told that they had absolutely none in stock (this story was confirmed by CNET). Twenty minutes in, a rep was running down the line to relay the bad news, “We’ve sold out of the gold model!” So, twenty-two minutes into the store opening, I left the line I had spent all morning waiting in and decided to take a gamble at the smaller and lower-profile Grand Central Apple store location.

Another subway ride and a 15-minute wait later, a Grand Central employee was telling a block and a half line — which also wound around the interior entrance of Grand Central Station — that only Space Gray phones were left. And, although I didn’t have the gall to attend a third line, a rep from the SoHo store admitted that by my 11AM call, they only had a few Space Gray models left for the frontmost members of a 4-block line.

It was like phone armageddon. Only the most rugged and devoted reaped the spoils of the phone of their choosing. I was dejected. My five-hour odyssey had left me without my gold phone.

iPhone line 2: Grand Central

iPhone line 2: Grand Central

Now, I will hazard to say that New York is a particularly intense environment to wait for anything, but the truth is that Apple has dropped the ball across the world. BBC News reported that shortages across the UK left carriers frustrated, and Apple Insider indicated that the 150-person line at the San Francisco Apple store expressed concern over whether everyone could get their own phone.

From what I can tell, Apple has made two grave mistakes. First, the lack of pre-order for the iPhone 5s was a direct factor in Friday’s booming turnout. Only the 5c was available for pre-order, so anyone who wanted an iPhone 5s needed to show up and wait. This created a true first-come, first-served situation that led into the company’s second mistake: under-delivering the stock needs for the iPhone 5s, especially for high memory and gold-finish models. Disappointment was inevitable — and has turned the happy-go-lucky iPhone wait into a serious gamble.

In contrast, my coworker Alex Colon woke up at 3 a.m. EST, ordered his Verizon Space Gray 32GB model in three minutes, and was confirmed for shipment in 1-3 days. I, however, will become very good friends with the phone attendants at my local store and hope my judicious calling will put a phone me in a prime spot for that gold phone. For me, the odyssey continues.