Shut out on iPhone 6 Plus, buyers settle for smaller version

Some customers lined up for hours to buy the larger 6 Plus, only to be disappointed that the stores didn't have any

apple fanboy with iphone6
Matt Hamblen/Computerworld

HARRISONBURG, Va. -- Apple fans who stood in line for hours in hopes of buying the 5.5-in. iPhone 6 Plus were disappointed -- even perturbed -- to find none in stock at both the AT&T and Verizon stories in this college town west of Washington, D.C.

Several prospective customers stormed off angrily from their separate lines at the stores when told they could buy only the iPhone 6. Others strategized about buying the 4.7-in. iPhone 6, then selling it quickly on eBay or elsewhere to be able to buy the Plus this fall.

These Apple fans had little recourse, because there's no Apple retail store in Harrisonburg and Best Buy was also selling only the iPhone 6. However, Apple stores around the nation, including one in downtown Boston, had both new versions in stock, according to reports.

"Why didn't you tell us earlier that you didn't have the Plus? That sucks! " one customer yelled to an AT&T store clerk when the clerk announced none were on sale as she opened the doors at 8 a.m. Eastern time. Many customers had been waiting several hours, and several raised their hands when asked if they wanted the Plus.

The clerk told the crowd of about 30 that Apple hadn't allowed AT&T to inform customers in line that it had no iPhone 6 Plus devices until 8 a.m. Eastern time.

Across the street at the Verizon store, Danny Sarco got in line at 2 p.m. Thursday to be first in line to buy the 6 Plus when the store opened Friday morning. He said he was too tired to get angry when he learned he couldn't buy the larger model. He ended up purchasing a gold-colored iPhone 6 and explained that he planned to buy a Plus in the fall when they're in stock and would sell the iPhone 6 on eBay.

Sarco said he tried to pre-order a Plus online but "the system wouldn't let me," and that's why he was determined to wait overnight, sleeping with a blanket on a folding chair. He had the first spot in line by himself from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. Thursday.

Over at the AT&T store's line, two other people both said they wanted the larger iPhone 6 Plus. They had waited in line for three hours. Despite their disappointment, they each decided to buy the smaller model in hopes of possibly returning them for two of the larger models later.

Sarco, a software programmer for 10 years, said the features he likes in the new iPhone 6 include the 8-megapixel rear camera and the support for near field communications (NFC) technology. "I'm an amateur photographer, and this new camera has image stabilization," he said. "A larger display will be nice, too, but a Plus would be better." With its 4.7-in. display, the iPhone 6, while smaller than the Plus, is larger than the iPhone 5S and earlier versions, which had 4-in. displays.

Sean Cochran, a student at nearby James Madison University, said he wanted to buy an iPhone 6 at AT&T mainly to sign up for an AT&T Next service plan, which would be less expensive than the plan he had on his iPhone 5S.

The larger screen size didn't matter to him. "The iPhone 6 and the Plus are too big," he said. "Four inches is the perfect size."

Spokespeople for T-Mobile and Sprint both said that customers could order the iPhone 6 Plus, with delivery in coming weeks. Sprint said it had an "extremely limited" inventory, while T-Mobile said it had none on retail shelves. Both have the iPhone 6 in stock.

Buyers seemed divided on the value of NFC, which makes it possible to use the new iPhones for quick in-store purchases. Cochran, an intelligence analysis major, said he worries about the security of mobile wallet payment models. "I don't trust the cloud, period," he said. "I'm not putting any personal information there."

One software engineer said he is "huge on NFC" in the iPhone. "I was upset that Apple didn't have it in the last version," he said. "I think Apple's NFC will be more secure than what we have now."

Sarco said he also isn't worried about the security of NFC and mobile payments with Apple, and added that he probably would use his phone for in-store and online purchases. "NFC and mobile wallet is important when Apple does it, and it's not important when Android does it," he said, referring to the Android-based Google Wallet system, which hasn't become nearly as popular as Google and analysts had expected.

Sarco admitted to being a huge Apple fan and claimed to have stood in line to buy a new iPhone each time a new version was offered. "I've been to Apple stores in other cities and all over," he said. He had been an AT&T customer until buying his new iPhone 6 at Verizon. He said he switched for "logistical reasons," not because of any problems with AT&T.

As a runner, he said he's eager to try out more fitness apps with the iPhone 6. "I run now with the iPhone 5S in my pocket, but I might have to find another way to carry it," he said, gesturing to indicate that he might use an armband.

Most of the customers in both lines said that they appreciated the fact that iPhones are now larger, in either version. Indeed, increased size seemed to drive most purchases. "I'm excited about the size of the Plus, and I'm tired of looking at a smaller screen," said Tess Layer, an English major at JMU who arrived at 8 a.m. in hopes of buying the larger version. "I'd prefer the larger one. I didn't know they didn't have it until I got here."

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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