Today is iPhone day. And for the past decade that has incited a ritual of capitalism that became ingrained in our culture and served to demonstrate the cultish devotion Apple had inspired, and that no other company could match.
The iPhone lines were a near-religious, tribal gathering of believers who, yes, wanted first dibs on the latest version. But they also wanted to be surrounded by other believers. At times, Apple executives like CEO Tim Cook would come out to shake hands, high-five customers, and take selfies, adding to the frenzy.
But today, early reports are that lines are either subdued or non-existent across Europe and Asia. And from that, you should draw absolutely no conclusions about interest in the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, or the Apple Watch Series 3. The phenomenon of the iPhone line has simply run its course, drained of its necessity by consumer habits and Apple itself.
The iPhone lines were a media sensation that whipped up untold amounts of free publicity for a company that has mastered the form. But those fervent reports and interviews with the first buyers of new versions tended to overlook the reality that sitting in a line for sometimes a day was a miserable experience. Customers could spent nights huddled on a city sidewalk and then wait hours more after a store opened to get their gadget. In some cases, they would discover the model they wanted was already out of stock and would need to be ordered.
The lines made it difficult for Apple to distribute phones in a way that avoided such hang-ups. As Apple has improved its preorder system in recent years, it’s removed a lot of the guesswork. But at the same time, it’s sapped the motivation for waiting in line when you know you can just show up after lunch and your phone will be ready and waiting. Or you can just have it delivered to your doorstep.
Beyond that, Apple’s unusual move to delay the release date for the iPhone X until November means, no doubt, that the most ecstatic Apple followers are waiting until then to upgrade. There likely won’t be lines then, either. Indeed, with word that the iPhone X may be in short supply for months to come, a lot of folks will have to wait weeks after they preorder it.
Apple, of course, historically fueled the hype around this first day of sales by routinely issuing a press release the following Monday claiming a new record of first-weekend sales. It stopped that practice a couple of years ago. And while it could probably find a way to manufacture scenes of lines by tweaking the ordering system, it simply doesn’t need the hoopla to drive sales anymore.
To be sure, there are some folks out there who have waited in lines today. Reuters reported some lines in Sydney and Singapore. But rather than seeming cool and part of the zeitgeist, people waiting in line now seem, well, a bit odd or quirky. They are trying to recapture an experience, driven more by nostalgia for lines of past years.
In any case, line or no line, Apple will sell a ton of iPhones this weekend. And it will have its usual monster holiday quarter. And a ceremonial gathering of Apple geeks that defined one of the most remarkable eras any company has experienced in the history of capitalism will hardly be mourned or missed. Apple, as always, is looking ahead.
Still: RIP, iPhone lines. 2007-2017.