IPhone 4 Draws Long Lines, Entrepreneurs and Expectations of 'Wow!'

Lines in front of the Apple store in the Ginza district of Tokyo
Lines in front of the Apple store in the Ginza district of Tokyo

Apple's (AAPL) iPhone 4 hits retail stores today, and the frenzy has already begun. Lines have been forming, entrepreneurs looking to make a buck as stand-ins are doing brisk business, and technology reviewers are doling out praise for Apple's latest smartphone.

Apple, along with its exclusive carrier AT&T (T) and big box retailers Best Buy (BBY), RadioShack (RSH) and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), are opening their doors at 7 a.m. Thursday to sell the iPhone 4. Demand is expected to outstrip that for Apple's previous iPhone versions, with pre-order sales selling out on the first day they were available.

Take a Number and Wait

In anticipation of limited supplies, folks began lining up in front of Apple stores, from the flagship Fifth Avenue New York store to the downtown San Francisco site to the store in Tokyo's tony Ginza district, as early as Monday. And then there's Justin Wagoner, who not only got first in line at Apple's Dallas store, but did it a week ahead of the launch. Here's what Wagoner had to say about his decision on a MacRumors.com forum post:

Some would say I am crazy, but I say I'm a very determined fan. In fact I just might be one the biggest Apple fans you will actually meet. I have been the first customer for this store since 2008 when the iPhone 3G was released.

Wagoner, along with others who are cooling their heels in line at various Apple stores, reported excellent care from Apple employees. Wagoner, for example, has access to a portable toilet around the back of the Dallas Apple store, while Chris Bank, who claimed the first two spots at Apple's San Francisco store Monday night, said he received unsolicited aid from an Apple employee when a policeman began to give him grief over his pitched tent.

iPhone 4 Entrepreneurs

Bank is part of an entrepreneurial eco-system that's developed around successive iPhone launches, where money is exchanged for standing in line on behalf of others who don't have the time or interest to camp out, yet want to ensure they'll get their shiny new phone the first day.

iPhone 4 customer Chris Bank looks to rent the No. 1 spot in line at an Apple store
iPhone 4 customer Chris Bank looks to rent the No. 1 spot in line at an Apple store

On eBay, for example, seller "mthud2" is offering to stand in line at a Birmingham, Ala., store, with the minimum bid set at $100. So far, however, there have been no takers since mthud2 posted the offer on Sunday. And then there's Emilio Madrid, who's teaming up with friends to embark on his first professional line-sitter gig around the iPhone launch in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Madrid said he was inspired after hearing from an AT&T salesman that someone offered $700 to reserve a space when the iPhone 3GS came out. He also has his own personal experience to draw on. When he was standing in line to buy an iPhone 3G several years ago, someone offered to buy his spot in line for $100. He was the third person in line and there were six 3G phones with 8 gigabytes left, but he wanted a 16 gigabyte phone, so he agreed to part with his spot and pocket the cash.

Why All the Fuss?

The iPhone 4 has largely received big-time kudos from reviewers, ranging from the closely followed Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal to Joshua Topolsky at Engadget, DailyFinance's sister site. Reviewers have touted the iPhone 4's pixel-packed Retina display, as well as its video capabilities and speedy custom A4 chip.

Apparently Apple's new phone offers enough allure to spike the iPhone trade-in rate at Gazelle.com, which takes in old electronics and resells or recycles them. In the nine days that followed Apple's iPhone 4 announcement, Gazelle said it has received more than 10,000 iPhone trade-ins, 58% of them the iPhone 3GS. Retailers RadioShack, Best Buy and Walmart also expect to be busy with their iPhone trade-ins, as owners leverage their old devices to pare down the cost of the new iPhone 4.

These big box retailers will provide Apple with additional distribution points for its iPhone 4, which gives the computer maker another tool to combat the rapid rise of Google's Android operating system for smartphones. Ironically, or maybe not, Verizon Communications (VZ) on Wednesday unveiled the Droid X smartphone, which combines Google's (GOOG) Android operating system and Motorola's (MOT) hardware, taking aim at Apple's iPhone franchise.

The Droid X is scheduled to go on sale at Verizon Wireless stores and on its website on July 15. It'll be interesting to see whether potential buyers will line up en masse outside Verizon stores, or crash its servers with their online orders, when snapping up a Droid X. Maybe Apple iPhone owners can offer some advice.

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