What to Expect if You Want an iPhone 5s from an Apple Store this Weekend

Apple's launch event for the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c started today (Friday), and will continue through the weekend. The event was greeted with long lines throughout the U.S. and short supplies of silver (the new white) and gold models.

If you are considering making your own jaunt to the Apple Store on Saturday or Sunday, here's what to expect.

Waiting in Line at the Valley Fair Apple Store

Waiting in Line at the Valley Fair Apple Store

Firstly, Apple has historically had new inventory every day (even Sunday), and we expect that to be the case this year. It will continue to be tight, however, which means that if you want to get a new iPhone 5s this weekend, get there dark and early.

On Friday, Apple did a great job of notifying the back of the line the current status of available inventory. These updates were delivered by staff, who let us know which models they had for which carriers.

Right off the bat, we were told there were no gold models available, at least not to those of us who showed up at 7:00 AM. There were a handful of gold models available to the first few people in the line, but they were very quickly gone.

Next to go were the silver models, which sold out in the first hour and a half. After two and a half hours, the 64GB models for Verizon were gone, but all of the other space gray models were available.

This is the point which will be specific to your Apple Store—one specific model or another for one specific carrier or another will be more popular than the others, but it will vary from store to store.

Fortunately, Apple is prepared for this, too. The company is using cards that match each customer to the device on hand that they want. Those cards are handed out when you're still in line; when you get to the door, you will get what you are expecting.

We should note that at the Apple Store we were at, we were told we would get our cards while we were still outside. We ended up not getting cards until the sub-line just outside the store. This was mitigated by being kept abreast of what was sold out throughout the process.

The card process appears to be well managed, and we didn't see any evidence of mix-ups or other problems. Combined with the frequent updates on availability, it made for a smooth wait.

As with prior launch events, once you get to the entrance of the Apple Store, you don't go in until you are paired with an Apple Store employee. That prevents line jumping and maximizes customer-to-store-employee efficiency.

I estimated several hundred people in line (as many as a thousand) at the Valley Fair Apple Store, with a couple of hundred still waiting two and a half hours after the Apple Store opened. If you want a unit this weekend, get there early, and if you really want it, get there earlier still.

If you want gold, order online and wait. If you want silver, we're back to showing up early.