Shopping at carrier stores help iPhone buyers avoid Apple circus

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Lines at operator outlets dwarfed by 500 massing outside Apple’s flagship New York store. As Apple Inc.’s flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York attracted its usual cult-like carnival of devotees, a group of savvy iPhone 5 seekers in midtown Manhattan found it easier to visit retail stores of the major U.S. wireless carriers.

AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. are all supporting the new iPhone, which is the first Apple smartphone to run on faster wireless networks. Carriers are seen benefiting from the iPhone 5 because the next-generation wireless technology they are still building out is more profitable and expected to drive lucrative increases in data usage.

The phone’s arrival Friday produced a familiar scene at Apple’s main store in New York City. It was a media circus, with customers lining the street, attracting intense marketing efforts from those targeting a captive group. A police officer on the scene Friday morning estimated that 500 people were in line.

In contrast, lines were shorter at the stores of wireless carriers in midtown Manhattan, and no one had waited there for days. Customers still came early, but they were purposely avoiding the well-publicized crowds at the various Apple stores in the city. Even with the smaller crowds, there were concerns about the number of new iPhones available at the carrier stores.

Before 8 a.m., about 15 people were outside the AT&T store in Midtown, with a stronger showing at nearby Sprint and Verizon Wireless stores, where about 25 people waited. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group Plc. Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile USA doesn’t sell the iPhone.

Many people in line at the carrier stores on Friday morning had never waited out for an Apple product in the past. “This goes against most things that I do,” said Eric Magidson, who works in finance in Manhattan and joined the line at a midtown AT&T store on his way to work.