By Tom Westbrook and Pei Li
SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – Long, snaking lines formed outside Apple Inc stores in Asia early on Friday as fans flocked to buy the new iPhone X, a turnout that contrasts with the more lacklustre launches for the past two iterations of the premium smartphone.
Strong initial demand underscores Apple’s upbeat sales forecast for the year-end holiday shopping season, provided just hours before iPhone X sales began.
In Australia, around 400 people queued outside Apple’s flagship store in central Sydney to pay A$1,579 ($1,218) for the 10th-anniversary model, a glass-and-stainless-steel device that Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook billed as “the biggest leap forward since the original iPhone.”
Just 30 people turned up for the September release of the iPhone 8, an incremental update of the iPhone 7.
“It’s beautiful bro, what a feeling, I’m excited,” builder Bishoy Behman, 18, told Reuters after picking up two iPhone X as the first in line. He said he camped outside the store for a week before paying to improve his place in the queue overnight.
The iPhone X comes a decade after the original iPhone, the product that powered Apple’s rise to become the world’s biggest technology company with a market capitalisation of $868 billion.
The firm opened pre-orders on Oct. 27 and has said demand was “off the charts.” The handset features an edge-to-edge display designed for deeper colour rendition and an innovative camera for face-recognition identification.
Analysts have expressed concern that supply issues might stop Apple satisfying early demand. The camera, for instance, has never before been manufactured in the volume Apple demands.
Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri told Reuters on Thursday that Apple was “quite happy” with how manufacturing of the iPhone X was progressing.
“Production is growing every week, and that’s very, very important during a ramp period,” he said.
In Apple’s Omotesando store in Tokyo, some 550 people were waiting in a line stretching to around 600 metres.
“I’m going home, and after having a rest, I’d like to have fun (with the phone),” said first-in-line Yamaura, a 21-year-old college student who spent six days in the queue.
In Singapore, two tourists from Thailand – which is not an initial launch market – were the first to receive pre-ordered phones at a flagship store in the Orchard shopping district.
Arbitrage traders were also in line in an attempt to take advantage of the strong demand. In Hong Kong, some buyers quickly resold iPhone X handsets for a profit, but the resale premium eased as waiting times fell and supply concerns eased.
Newly purchased iPhone X were reselling for HK$11,800 ($1,512) soon after sales began, but the price quickly fell to HK$10,300, a trader told Reuters. In mainland China – where Hong Kong traders often sell newly purchased goods – the anniversary model’s starting price is 8,388 yuan ($1,267).
In Beijing, Zhou Ying, an iPhone trader since 2010, bought two iPhone X from re-sellers at a premium of 300 yuan, hoping to make several hundred yuan in profit.
But China iPhone sales have sagged in recent years as consumers switch to cheaper phones, while China becoming a launch market has hit demand for Hong Kong handsets.
“It is getting harder and harder for us to scalp iPhones. It is not the same as before,” said Ms Zhou.
Lines also started to form outside Apple’s New York City stores on Thursday evening, with a salesperson at one shop in the Upper West Side telling Reuters about 20 people had queued up so far.
The most immediately noticeable change to the iPhone X from previous models is the removal of the physical home button and fingerprint sensor formerly used for unlocking. Instead, the iPhone X is unlocked with a so-called Face ID system, in which the user looks into a depth-sensing camera.
“I thought not having a home button would be an adjustment, but the new gestures are easy to learn and very natural,” IT worker Greg Johnson told Reuters after testing his new phone in Sydney.
($1 = 1.2960 Australian dollars)
($1 = 7.8022 Hong Kong dollars)
($1 = 6.6183 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Pei Li in BEIJING; Additional reporting by Angela Moon, Teppei Kasai, Will Ziebell and Bobby Yip; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Stephen Coates and Christopher Cushing)