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How to get an iPhone 4 without the line

John D. Sutter
Some analysts and observers say it's no longer necessary to wait in a long line for a new Apple product.
Some analysts and observers say it's no longer necessary to wait in a long line for a new Apple product.
  • Apple's iPhone 4 goes on sale in stores on Thursday
  • Some people who pre-ordered the phone have received the devices
  • Analysts: Lines and excitement on Thursday may be deflated
  • But consumers should expect strong demand and competition for the new phone

(CNN) -- One week ago, on June 16, an unemployed man pitched a tent outside an Apple Store in Dallas, Texas, hoping to be among the first people to buy the iPhone 4, which doesn't go on sale in stores until Thursday.

Another man, this one with a sponsor, stepped into a one-man line Tuesday at Apple's flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City -- hoping for the same, along with a little cash, according to

With those two images in mind, many Apple loyalists might expect some crazy-long lines to circle the company's stores on Thursday when the iPhone 4 goes on sale. After all, the phone, which features video conferencing, a slimmer body and a higher-resolution screen, has been making headlines for months.

But some analysts aren't buying the hype.

These days, no one should have to wait in an iPhone line, they say, unless they're really in love with urban camping or they want some attention.

"How much better is your life going to be if you stay up all night -- maybe get mugged or defecated on by a bird, or whatever, by being outside -- than if you wait two weeks and walk into a deserted Radio Shack and buy it," said Mike Gikas, senior editor for electronics and technology at Consumer Reports.

Besides hygiene concerns, analysts and bloggers say the mammoth Apple lines that have characterized all of its product releases aren't necessary anymore because there are other options now.

In addition to the Apple Stores, which open at 7 a.m. and may still see some big lines, three other retailers -- Best Buy, Wal-Mart and RadioShack -- also will sell the iPhone 4 on Thursday.

AT&T, the wireless carrier that has exclusive rights to the iPhone, will have the iPhone 4 on sale in its retail locations on June 29 as well.

Paul Miller, senior associate editor of the technology blog Engadget, said Apple Stores will no doubt run out of the iPhone 4 for walk-in customers.

"I would suggest, if the line is crazy and you can't make it before 10 a.m. or something like that, definitely try Wal-Mart or Best Buy or RadioShack. ... Those sort of places don't get as much attention," he said.

Another reason the lines are unnecessary: Apple offers pre-orders.

Granted, customers who have pre-ordered the iPhone 4 have reported a number of problems, from dropped orders to delays. If you pre-order one of the phones through Apple's website this week, for example, you probably won't get one until August because demand, so far, has exceeded supply, Miller said.

Video: Man camps out a week early for iPhone 4

But the fact remains that people who really, really want to get their hands on a new iPhone as soon as possible don't have to do so by waiting in line.

Some reportedly have had the phones shipped to them by Apple, as an apparent nod to the company's loyal customers.

Ramon Llamas, a senior research analyst at the research firm IDC, said the fact that 600,000 people have pre-ordered the iPhone 4 means the lines at Apple Stores on Thursday won't be wrapping around buildings, like usual.

"I think it's going to take on a slightly different tone," he said of the launch day. "I'm so used to seeing the throngs of people outside and the Apple staff cheering them on as they come in one by one. Am I expecting something less than that? Probably a little."

Don't go to an Apple Store on Thursday if you haven't pre-ordered the phone, Llamas said.

"Save your breath. Save your time. Save your energy," he said. "Watch the news and see who says what [about the length of lines at various store]. You'll have your phone eventually."

iReport: Are you anticipating the iPhone release?

Jonathan S. Geller, editor-in-chief of a tech blog called Boy Genius Report, said he thinks the lines will be smaller because die-hard fans pre-ordered them.

"I'm not sure there will be extreme chaos in terms of lines and people breaking through the glass, so to speak," he said, "but I think it [the phone's debut] will be very successful."

Even without long lines, analysts still expect demand for the iPhone 4 to be huge, with some predicting Apple will sell 9.5 million of the new phones by the end of June. By contrast, when Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, it took the company about two and a half months to sell 1 million iPhones.

Such demand may make it tricky for people to find the phones on Thursday.

"I think people are going to be able to find the devices, they're just going to have to look for them a little bit," said Michael Gartenberg, a partner at Altimeter.

Gikas, from Consumer Reports, said the trouble Apple has had with people pre-ordering the phones makes him think Thursday's lines will be more miserable than usual. He predicts people will have trouble connecting with AT&T to activate their phones on Thursday, again giving support for his call for consumers to wait to buy the phone.

"I just wonder if they're really prepared to sell this phone," he said. "They seem to have fumbled on even the easy part, which is taking pre-orders."

He said people -- even die-hard Apple fans -- shouldn't feel ashamed about not being able to get the phone on Thursday.

"You can still be an early adopter two weeks from now," he sad. "No one's gonna know. There's not a date stamp on the iPhone the day you turned it on."


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