The hordes began lining up along Fifth Avenue eight days ago. Earlier this week, from inside their glass house, Apple store employees in familiar blue shirts (and the occasional derby cap) looked out towards the queue of customers eager to peel open the wrapping on their iPhone 5. But for employees at the flagship location, the yearly event is trading in its pomp for a more perfunctory feel.
Hushed by corporate mandates, Apple employees weren’t forthcoming about the launch. Betabeat approached several staffers the Fifth Avenue and Grand Central locations, but only one would speak to us on background. Sealed lips smiled calmly, despite the intensity of the reality distortion field outside the store.
There’s no bonus for working the overnight shift on launch night, given that the flagship store is open 24/7. But Keenen Thompson, 22, a former Apple store clerk–and the fourth person in line on Fifth Avenue–told us his old 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. shift did come with one bonus: “We do get to get the iPhone. We can’t buy it before it goes on sale, but we do get to go outside on our lunch break and buy the phone.”
Mr. Thompson said these days launches are treated as de rigueur. “Everyone looks forward to a new device but it’s nothing really different. It’s kind of like you’re ready for your next day at work and to sell some phones.” Mr. Thompson was sponsored by iPhone repurchasing company Gazelle to sit in line.
The ninth man lined up, programmer Roger Chinchilla of Queens, showed us his solar powered Apple battery charger and said, “I have two different Wifi connections in my bag if need be.”
Carriers AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are also selling the phone to the masses this morning. Dennis, a Sprint store employee who only offered a first name and asked that we not mention the location, was less calm about today’s launch, saying that all his fellow staffers were called in because, “We like to be fully prepared for the onslaught.” He added that managing the growing line outside is, “Something we do so there’s no chair flipping outside … over a phone.” To that end, Sprint keeps the line partially pacified with bottled water.
By Monday, AT&T had already released a statement saying that the new version had become “the fastest-selling iPhone the company has ever offered.” JPMorgan chief economist Michael Feroli also chimed in, noting that the iPhone launch could significantly boost GDP–in addition to the number of artisanal lunches being Instagrammed.
Marta Rosado, manager of the flagship AT&T store in Times Square who has seen launches since the 3GS, said of relatives often asking for hookups with the new model. “People ask, but it’s really first come, first serve. Even us as employees we will wait.”
One AT&T employee said she switched her hours to go get the device. “Lines are going to be horrible and the phones are going to be first come, first serve, it’s not going to be a privilege for employees or anything. I’m going to another store early in the morning … Even though I have friends in many AT&T stores, I’ll have to line up.”
Ms. Rosado said that despite the stress of the day, the store gets an influx of sales from buyers who have already flexed their consumer impulses. “They’ll spend the money on new cases, new chargers,” she said. “We do pretty good.”