It’s become the marketing event that begets other marketing events.
Apple’s newest iPhone went on sale Friday, and the buzz alone that the tech giant has created around the device was enough to draw hordes of customers ahead of its release.
But it was the promise of a free iPhone 5 by another company that persuaded John Morrissey and his mother to spend two nights on the sidewalk outside the Apple Store on Boylston Street. By the time the store opened Friday morning, the line was halfway around the block on Newbury Street.
The Morrisseys had agreed to take part in a promotion by Boston company Gazelle, which gave each of them an iPhone 5 in exchange for being at the front of the line and wearing sweatshirts promoting Gazelle’s business. The company buys and resells Apple products and staged a second event at Faneuil Hall, putting up a tent and tables and giving away prizes to induce people to trade in their old iPhones.
“IPhone releases are kind of like Black Friday for our company,” Gazelle’s chief marketing officer Sarah Welch said, referring to the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers across the United States hold blockbuster events to kick off the holiday shopping season. “We use this opportunity to do something fun and build awareness as well.”
Lines such as the one on Boylston were replicated outside Apple stores and other iPhone dealers around the world Friday, prompting industry analysts to predict that the iPhone 5 will be the largest consumer-electronics debut in business history. Apple is projected to sell some 10 million of the devices in September alone, and many customers who had preordered the phones won’t receive devices until sometime next month.
Though in many respects the new device is only incrementally better than the iPhone 4S — the previous model — it apparently does have enough new features for many people to create a major fuss. The iPhone 5 is taller, slimmer, and lighter; with a larger screen, better cameras and battery life, and a faster processor. It can also connect to the 4G cellular network so users can download music and video at hyper-quick speeds.
Morrissey, 22, said he is an avowed iPhone fan and would have lined up anyway for the new release. But he said the promise of a free iPhone 5 was enough to motivate him to undergo the two-day ordeal. By the end, though, the event was a letdown: His carrier, AT&T, was not able to immediately activate Morrissey’s new phone.
“It just stunk because we waited there for two days and then the phone didn’t work,” said the Belmont resident and Bentley College graduate student, who headed home with a mix of triumph and resignation. “I’m just exhausted now, but I got the phone free.”
An event of such magnitude was bound to have hiccups.
Sharon Lowe said she had preordered the iPhone 5 and was assured by her carrier, AT&T, that she would receive it Friday, only to learn that it been put on back order. When she called AT&T, Lowe said, the customer service representative told her the company was being inundated with calls from other customers who also did not get their iPhones as promised.
“I could hear everyone in the background at that call center, and I could hear them saying, ‘Oh we’re so sorry,’ ” said Lowe.
In a statement, AT&T said, “We are committed to fulfilling as many orders as possible, as fast as we can. As always, a customer’s shipment date depends on when the customer preorders and on our available inventory.”
Meanwhile, at the Boylston Street Apple store, Pito Ortiz, 21, showed up at 3:30 a.m. Thursday because said he wanted to “experience” such an event. After being among the first allowed inside, Ortiz emerged from the Apple store holding the iPhone 5 aloft as if it was the Olympic Torch.
“It’s thin, it’s slick, it’s fire,” Ortiz said.