Fanfare fades as Apple rolls out its new line of iPhones


Consumers looking for a way to measure how much excitement there is with the new iPhones that go on sale Friday may want to check out the TaskRabbit index.

In recent Apple launches, busy consumers have turned to the San Francisco micro-job site to hire people to wait in line for the latest iPhone or iPad. Last year, 350 people were hired just in San Francisco and New York alone for the “line skipping” jobs.

“This year, we’ve seen just over 250 people sign up to have a TaskRabbit wait in line for them in all of our 15


active markets combined,” said TaskRabbit spokesman Johnny Brackett.

The drop in the TaskRabbit index is just one indicator that the legendary enthusiasm among die-hard Apple fans is a bit damper this year for the new iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s. As of Thursday evening, lines at Apple stores were either noticeably shorter or nonexistent.

Wall Street analysts seem split on whether the new iPhones will set a record for first weekend sales, as each previous version has. And while Apple Inc.'s stock has recovered in recent weeks, nervousness among investors about the reception for the new phones has left the share price well below its close before the new models were unveiled last week.

After surpassing $500 a share the day before the new phones were announced, Apple shares slipped to as low as $450.12 before recovering to close up $7.62, or 1.6%, at $472.30 on Thursday.

Of course, consumers will have the final say this weekend. Unlike past years, Apple has not released how many pre-orders it received for the iPhone 5c, which has contributed to concerns about soft sales.

The iPhone 5c, which comes in a plastic case and five colors, starts at $99 with a two-year contract. Analysts and investors were disappointed that this was not the “cheap” iPhone they had expected to help Apple compete for customers in emerging markets and sent the stock tumbling last week.

In a rare interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said the company never had plans to make such a low-cost phone.

“There’s a segment of the market that really wants a product that does a lot for them, and I want to compete like crazy for those customers,” Cook said. “I’m not going to lose sleep over that other market, because it’s just not who we are. Fortunately, both of these markets are so big, and there’s so many people that care and want a great experience from their phone or their tablet, that Apple can have a really good business.”

The Apple online store Thursday said the iPhone 5c was available to ship in three to five business days. That could indicate strong demand, or it could signal problems in building enough iPhones.

The pricier iPhone 5s, which comes in a new gold color along with “space gray” and silver, starts at $199 and includes new features such as a fingerprint scanner, a faster processor and improved camera.

However, the iPhone 5s was not available for pre-order, leading some analysts to speculate that there may be a limited supply that could mean shipping delays.

That was the case last year when Apple sold a record 5 million iPhone 5 units during the first weekend they went on sale. But many customers had to wait several weeks to get their phones. And some analysts said Apple could have sold up to 10 million units had it been able to meet demand.

Several Wall Street analysts are projecting weekend iPhone sales of 5 million units.

The wild card is China. For the first time, the new iPhones will also be available in China during the same weekend they go on sale in the U.S. Last year, Apple sold 2 million iPhone 5 units when they went on sale in China nearly three months after it was launched in the U.S.

That means Apple would have to sell 7 million phones to top last year’s first-weekend sales.

Morgan Stanley analysts expect Apple to sell a total of 34.5 million iPhones in the quarter that ends in September, better than the forecast of 31 million phones. In a note to investors, the analysts called concerns over pre-orders “overblown.”

Despite uncertain expectations, some fans remain as loyal as ever.

On Thursday, Jason Slack, 36, of Cupertino, Calif., became the first person in line at the Apple store in Los Gatos. This is his third time camping out for a launch. He’s hoping to snag a gold iPhone 5s to replace his iPhone 4S. Although he knows he could order online or stop by the store the next day, he said he wouldn’t miss the thrill of launch day.

“I’ve been an Apple fan since 1992 when I got my first Apple product,” Slack said. “And I really like getting it on launch day. That excitement when they first open the doors and the cheers from the sales people. There’s nothing like it.”

Twitter: @obrien