IPhone XS goes on sale, drawing smaller crowds but plenty of fans

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The crowds might have been smaller than at last year’s iPhone X launch, but if you thought 11 years of launches would lessen the die-hard Apple fandom, think again.

Apple’s newest iPhone models — the snappily-named iPhone XS (that’s ‘ten S’) and iPhone XS Max — are hitting stores around the world on Friday (officially knocking the iPhone X out of Apple’s lineup in the process), and Sydney was one of the first cities to get a bite.

Crowds queued outside the Apple Sydney store on George Street in the early hours on Friday, waiting to get their hands on the iPhone XS and larger XS Max — devices offering incremental upgrades on last year’s iPhone X, with virtually the same hardware appearing in the two different-sized handsets.

And the verdict? The smaller iPhone XS was the pick of the day for queuing shoppers, which included a raft of students, YouTubers and even a small phone cover company from London that spent £3,000 on flights (that’s three new iPhones’ worth) to get their hands on the new devices before everyone else in the UK. 

While last year’s iPhone X launch drew crowds looking to buy the first-of-its kind device (goodbye home button, hello Face ID), this year’s queue included plenty of people just out to buy a new phone.

Namrata Singh, 37, a pilot on holiday from India, said she came down in the morning to buy a new iPhone after dropping her last one. But while she said there’s an Apple store in New Delhi, India doesn’t do the big launch day crowds.

‘I haven’t seen people queue up for Apple in India at all,’ she said. ‘So I’m quite surprised to see these queues… it’s fairly fascinating. We walked by last night and there were people setting up tents, so I really thought we’d be at the other end of the block by the time we got here this morning!’

There were certainly fewer people waiting first thing on a Friday morning in Australia (there were 65 people in the walk-up line 30 minutes before the doors opened), but that may change when the lower-priced XR goes on sale next month on Oct. 26.

First out the doors a few minutes after the store opened at 8 a.m. were Teddy Lee, a 20-year-old South Korean student studying in Sydney, and Mazen Kourouche, 21, a launch day regular (four years and counting) who buys Apple’s new devices to film for his YouTube channel.

Lee, who’s making the switch from Android, opted for the XS, saying he was keen for the better screen (compared to the XR) and the gold body.

‘My first smartphone was iPhone 4,’ said Teddy Lee. ‘Currently I’m using Samsung but I’m going to switch to iPhone because iPhone is more [of a] fit for me.’

Kourouche bought an XS, XS Max and Apple Watch Series 4 to unbox for YouTube. While he also plans to buy an XR when it goes on sale, he was out on Friday for the gold iPhone XS, which he sees as ‘more on the premium end.’ And as for what he’ll do with all that new gear?

‘I do flip a lot of my tech,’ he said. ‘Sometimes I do give them to family members. People sometimes buy them and I get to review them before I give [the phone] to them… and if they don’t, I tend to buy it myself and then flip it because I’ve got to get my hands on it either way.’

If you’re not flipping, those products don’t come cheap.

In Australia, shoppers weren’t leaving before spending more than AU$1,500 for a new iPhone. The starting price for the 64GB iPhone XS in Australia is AU$1,629 (it’s $999 in the US and £999 in the UK). Upsize to the iPhone XS Max and the price moves up to an eye-popping AU$1,799 ($1,099, £1,049). More budget-conscious shoppers will still have to wait for the lower-priced iPhone XR (AU$1,229, $749, £749).

For that price (on both the XS and XS Max), you’ll get dual rear cameras, a front-facing camera with portrait mode, Apple’s new A12 Bionic chip (which promises to launch apps 30 percent faster than 2017 iPhones), Faster Face ID unlocking and dual-SIM card support. Read our full iPhone XS here and iPhone XS Max review here.

Singapore

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With the sunny island state being the nearest (and only) official Apple Store for many of the countries in Southeast Asia, it’s no wonder there was a sizeable line in front of the Orchard Road location, with many coming from places like Vietnam. Queues started as early as 7 a.m. on a Thursday morning in Singapore for walk-ins, while those who ordered online could come by on the launch day itself without having to camp outside.

Self-employed 25-year-old Phan Minh Tuan came to town with five of his friends on holiday from Vietnam to get a 256GB iPhone XS Max in gold. Phan, who also dropped by last year to queue for the iPhone 8 Plus and X, said he found the weather a lot better this time around. He had been queuing since 5 p.m. Thursday, ahead of the Friday launch. Last year, he bought both phones and has since sold his iPhone X back home. While he is still using the iPhone 8 Plus, he plans to switch the XS Max.

‘I couldn’t order online because I am not a Singaporean, and also I can get a tax refund as a tourist if I do a walk-in,’ he added.

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First in Singapore to get his hands on the iPhone XS Max is Singaporean Daniel Lim, a 23-year-old student who got lucky enough to be first on the preorder system. He only waited an hour for the Apple Store to open before collecting his loot. He got not one, but two 512GB iPhone XS Maxes in gold. They’re for his relatives working in Vietnam.

He added that he regretted buying the iPhone X before the announcement of the new phones, and said he would have just gotten the XS Max instead.

London

The iPhone fans at the Apple Store on London’s Regent Street on Friday morning were uncharacteristically media shy. In stark contrast to 2017, when the top spot in the queue was taken by a minor reality TV star, the first man in line this year was dressed in long dark coat with his hood drawn around his face. He was something of an enigma. I managed to discern that he’d been queuing since 1 p.m. on Thursday, but he declined to talk to anyone about the iPhone XS Max he later picked up inside.

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Lining up to be among the first in the country to get their hands on new phones this year were many native Londoners. Most of them, including Simon Farrar, 45, were in it for the iPhone XS Max for its bigger screen size.

But there were exceptions. Kelvin Hall was in line to pick up his preordered iPhone XS. He’d queued up before, two years ago, he told me and it was more convenient for him to come and pick his phone up from the Apple Store rather than opt for home delivery as he worked just down the street, he said. ‘And I like the party atmosphere.’

And the party began the moment the doors opened at 8 a.m. Apple employees whooped, clapped and high fived customers as they trickled into the store.

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One of the first to pick up their phones was a 19-year-old London student who didn’t wish to be named. He’d queued since 8.30 p.m. the previous night to get his iPhone XS Max in gold.

‘I can’t believe I did it,’ he said. ‘It’s completely sad that people do it every year.’ He got no sleep, he said – it was too cold and loud, and he’s not planning to do it again either. ‘I’m hoping to join the Apple Upgrade program instead,’ he said.

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