Sprint faithful wait in the rain to be first with iPhone 4S

Sprint customers say better plans, wireless coverage keep them waiting for the iPhone with their carrier

RESTON, Va. -- Sprint made its iPhone debut today when it started selling the iPhone 4S, and some of the carrier's longtime customers waited in line in the pouring rain for the latest Apple smartphone using Sprint's unlimited data plans.

At a Sprint retail store in this Washington suburb, 12 customers holding umbrellas were lined up an hour before the store's 8 a.m. opening. A store manager came out to tell them that only the 16GB version of the iPhone 4S was being sold, but he said they could buy the 32GB or 64GB at Sprint's corporate store nearby.

Hearing that, several customers ran to their cars to buy the bigger models at the Sprint corporate outlet, also in Reston.

Of those who remained in line, the first three said they were longtime Sprint customers who wanted to buy the iPhone for themselves or relatives because Sprint had the best service plans and had great wireless reception for where they lived and worked.

Susan Otim-Neal of Herndon, Va., said she had been calling Sprint regularly to find out whether the carrier would start selling an iPhone. She also debated whether she should switch to AT&T or Verizon just so she could get an iPhone.

"Sprint has better service plans, I figured, and I had switched to Sprint a while ago from Verizon because some spots in Herndon weren't getting reception, but Sprint was." Otim-Neal said.

Since she was hoping to stay with Sprint, Otim-Neal said she had been calling a Sprint store once a month since June to threaten to leave Sprint for another carrier unless they would say when Sprint was getting the iPhone.

"I tried to get it out of them, but they weren't giving me anything," she said, laughing. "They would say 'keep watching.' I gave them until Oct. 15, and here we are."

Otim-Neal said she didn't need more storage capacity than 16GB. "Why do people need that? she asked, adding that she wasn't planning to download many movies.

She also planned to drop down from Sprint's Simply Everything $99.99-a-month plan to a $69.99-a-month option with fewer voice minutes.

Adding in the cost of a wireless USB modem for her laptop, Otim-Neal pays about $180 a month for wireless service, or more than $2,000 a year. "It's part of what we Americans do," she said. "It's what people everywhere do."

Second in line at the Sprint store, Alex Podgoretsky of Ashburn, Va., said he was waiting to buy an iPhone 4S for his wife, who would need to be switched from AT&T to Sprint, his carrier. "I think the Sprint [service] plans are best," he said.

Podgoretsky, who said he works in IT at the Fannie Mae office across the street, said he felt sure his wife would be happy with a 16GB iPhone 4S for $199.99, so he didn't think it was necessary to plunk down another $100 or $200 for a 32GB or 64GB model. He called himself a devotee of Apple products, saying he uses an iPad and a Macbook. "She'll be happy with it," he said.

Dusan Golac of Reston also agreed that Sprint has better plans than Verizon or AT&T. He said he was going to buy two 16GB models for two relatives.

Golac was first in line at the store and hadn't placed a pre-order for the devices. Still, he felt sure the Sprint manager would tell him not to bother waiting in the rain if the store didn't have at least two in stock.

Asked how many of the devices he had available, the manager stuck his head outside the store prior to opening and smiled broadly. "I have no idea!" he said.

At the Apple store in the nearby Town Center shopping mall in Reston, more than 100 people waited single file in a line two blocks long under umbrellas and window awnings to buy the iPhone 4S once the stored opened at 8 a.m.

Across the street, another 25 people waited in a line at the AT&T store. The AT&T customers didn't have the advantage of standing under window awnings, and many got pelted with pouring rain.

Apple iPhone 4S customers wait in the rain
People eager to buy Apple's iPhone 4S wait in the rain outside the Apple store at Reston Town Center in a suburb of Washington Friday morning. (Photo by Matt Hamblen)

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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