Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/11/11/iphone_uk_flop/

Tumbleweeds outnumber punters, as iPhone's First Night flops

Let me through - I'm a journalist

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Mobile, 11th November 2007 02:37 GMT

Journalists and PR minders outnumbered buyers on Friday night as interest in Apple's iPhone miserably failed to live up to the pre-launch hype in the UK.

The iPhone went on sale at stores operated by retail titan Carphone Warehouse, exclusive operator O2, and Apple's own retail chain. The days preceding the launch had been filled with pages of coverage from posh papers and broadsheets alike. O2 announced it was employing 1,400 extra staff to cope with the short-term demand. Even Carphone's PR staff were dispatched to far corners of the land, to provide expert advice to the masses clamouring for iPhones.

But now it looks as if a tight-knit group of media and PR people got caught in a feedback loop. The "event" they imagined simply failed to take place.

The first signs that reality was not following the script came at 7pm, from a Reg reader at Brent Cross. Perched by Wembley on the North Circular, Brent Cross is a shopping hub reaching into millions of affluent punters in Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, as well as the metropolis itself. He noted that the Carphone and O2 stores were empty of punters, with only "the usual" smattering of shoppers at the Apple Store, playing with iPods.

Reader Ian Ferguson fought his way to the front of a non-existent queue at Carphone Warehouse to get his iPhone, he reported in our comments on Friday night. He was outnumbered by extra staff trying to "upsell" him insurance and over-priced accessories.

Up in Manchester, it was safe to go to the pub at 5pm, an hour before "launch" then get soaked in the rain.

An hour later, bored staff outnumbered prospective purchasers as the stores stood empty.

"An average Wednesday afternoon", reported AximSite.

Dial-A-Phone's Nick has a gallery of the non-existent iPhone mania that was failing to break out, here.

The UK iPhone launch had generated acres of newsprint, with papers outdoing each to signify the importance of the "event". But rarely have the media elites shown that they don't have a clue what they're doing.

Nick also posits the subversive idea that the "queue" that formed outside Apple's flagship shop on London's Regent Street may be synthetic.

Ian in Southampton is delighted with his iPhone, offered this analysis in a post to Slashdot that's so spot-on it's worth reprinting the best bit.

"I have no doubt that the iPhone will be a success here, it's just Apple misjudged the launch a little," he writes.

As to why, I'm sure everyone knows, but here's a recap as to why it's not the saviour of the UK's mobile industry:

1. We're used to either paying for the phone, or the contract, but not both.

2. We're used to accessing mobile internet on 3G, which was rolled out wider and earlier here than across the USA.

3. There have been several competing devices launched recently, which appeal to a range of demographics; for example, techies will like the N95 while fashion victims will like the Prada wotsit.

4. It's quite chunky as phones go - which might sound pernickerty but the market here is very much geared towards fashionable, neat phones (for example, no manufacturer would dare launch a phone with an aerial here within the last few years as they look so dated, while I hear they're still available in the US).

Which is very fair.

Apple's plan to steamroller the networks, which worked in the fragmented US market, doesn't quite translate to a Europe market - which is far more competitive, and where a wide range of fashionable phones pop up annually at little or no cost to the consumer.

Apple needn't worry that its product line is out of kilter with the world's tastes, however. The wonderful user interface Apple has created for the iPhone translates even better to the iPod. British consumers - who like to boast about a bargain - may decide they can have the best of both worlds: keep the phone they have, and buy an iPod Touch.

Apple may also take some comfort from the fact that it was raining, and that with a recession looming, the British have switched to paying for their mortgages on credit cards - so there's not a lot of discretionary cash left over.

Especially not imaginary discretionary cash - to spend on an imaginary event.

The only people who should really be embarrassed are the newspapers and TV channels, who'd convinced themselves a world-shattering event was about to take place.

Come Friday, they were the only people in the stores. ®