Why people don’t line up for iPhones as much anymore


This story is part Focal Point iPhone 2022CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice on Apple’s most popular product.

Back in 2007, David Barnard’s plans to buy his first iPhone were simple. He was going to go to the AT&T store over the weekend and buy one. That’s it.

But his brother Sam convinced him otherwise.

It took a simple phone call to persuade David to go to the Apple Store in San Antonio and stand in line, and be one of the very first to buy one.

That iPhone launch has always been a treasured memory for David, who was captured by a San Antonio Express-News photographer as he, his brother and sister-in-law stood in front of the line and as they entered in the store. David’s reaction shortly after getting his hands on the coveted device found its way into the newspaper.

iPhone launches took on added significance after Sam passed away from cancer in 2015.

“We fought like cats and dogs when we were kids, and then we started to bond with being Mac nerds,” says David.

Fifteen years later, David is still a self-proclaimed “hopeless fanboy,” but much of everything else has changed. As the iPhone has gone mainstream, Apple has gone from underdog to industry titan. Its sales jumped more than 15 times to $366 billion last year, from $24 billion for the full year of the iPhone’s launch in 2007.

See also: iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max review: welcome to Apple’s dynamic island

The technology industry has also grown alongside Apple. In 2007, billions of people were online and using computers, but today the scale is much greater. Facebook, now the world’s largest social network with more than 2.9 billion users logging in each month, had less than 100 million at the time. And the global smartphone market was less than 10% the size it is today.

Yet these iPhone lines aren’t what they used to be.

Industry watchers, historians and analysts agree that there are many reasons why the lines are no longer materializing as they once did. One of the reasons is e-commerce, which today allows people like Barnard to buy their iPhones online and have them conveniently shipped to their doorstep. Smartphones have also become so mainstream that there isn’t as much cachet to being the first on your block with the latest gadget.

We have more complex feelings about the tech industry than we did back then. In recent years, technology companies have been inundated with controversy regarding how they manage (or mismanage) our privacyhow they helped create vast government surveillance networksor how they allowed shocking amounts of hate and violence at spring from their products.

See also: iPhone 14 review: A good upgrade for most people

Today, we are only just beginning to consider the aftermath of putting internet-connected supercomputers in our pockets.

“The smartphone itself is a device loaded with positive and negative associations,” said Margaret O’Maraprofessor of history at the University of Washington and author of The Code: Silicon Valley and Remaking America.

Granted, Apple is only one company, even though it’s the most valuable in the world at around $2.45 trillion. Regulators and lawmakers around the world typically focus more on reining in peers such as Meta, parent of Facebook, Google and Alphabet, parent of YouTube, Amazon and Twitter, whose platforms and services have helped embolden people. seeking to tear down modern democracy itself.

Still, says O’Mara, even though there are fewer lines outside of Apple Stores, diehards were still there for the iPhone 14 launch on Friday. Others, meanwhile, have moved online, to social media and live-streaming platforms, where they share, debate, discuss and obsess.

“There are still very intense, passionate fandoms out there with a desire to be on the front lines, so to speak, or to be engaged,” she said.

A queue outside the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in September 2022

A line of excited iPhone 14 customers outside the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in New York City.

Joseph Kaminsky/CNET

be excited

Bob O’Donnell has never stood in line for an Apple device, but he’s gone to Harry Potter book launch parties with his kids. “It was an event,” he said.

Long-time industry analyst and now founder of Technalysis Research, O’Donnell said it’s just harder to generate those levels of excitement for a lot of things, let alone a tech gadget. “Literally everyone has a smartphone now, and so now it’s not that special or unique anymore,” he added.

Still, he says, Apple might be able to draw those lines again if it ever releases its long-rumored headset, especially because VR has struggled to live up to its hype.

John Maeda says Apple Glasses may not make crowds stand out, but the the even longer rumored Apple Car would be. The technologist and author, who worked at the MIT Media Lab and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, among others, said what has helped Apple stand out is its ability to create well-designed products with equally well-written software to power them. “Companies that can do both are rare,” he said.

An Apple iPhone 14 Pro

Apple’s latest iPhone comes out on Friday.


It’s also why people like David Barnard are still excited about iPhones 15 years after the first hit store shelves. Shortly after the launch of the iPhone, Barnard began to redirect his career towards application development, which eventually led to his current position as developer advocate on the RevenueCat application sales platform. Barnard eagerly pre-ordered the iPhone 14 Pro a week before its debut and said he was looking forward to trying the dynamic islanda new way to switch between apps at the top of the screen.

And if he hadn’t been able to get an iPhone delivered to his home, Barnard said you’d probably have found it online with a few friends outside an Apple Store.

“I could complain on Twitter, but I would,” he said. “And I would be happy and excited to do that, because it’s an experience.”


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