Tech

The lines for new iPhones at the Apple Store are getting shorter every year

Key Points
  • Many people took to social media on Friday with photos of just a handful of people lined up outside local Apple Stores.
  • The lines have been getting progressively shorter for years.
  • That doesn't necessarily mean fewer people are planning to buy new iPhones.
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Apple update: Consumers finally able to get their hands on new iPhone 8

If you have memories of Apple loyalists camped outside stores for days for new products, Friday's iPhone 8 launch might seem a bit muted.

Indeed, many people took to social media on Friday with photos of just a handful of people lined up outside local Apple Stores. But analysts say the reaction shouldn't be surprising: The lines have been getting progressively shorter for years.

According to Gene Munster, an investor at Loup Ventures and former Apple analyst, "the line at the 5th Avenue New York store declined from 1,880 people in 2014, to 650 in 2015, and 400 last year." While the numbers are still being tallied for this year, Munster said the early estimate is around 250.

That doesn't necessarily mean fewer people are planning to buy new iPhones, according to Munster's surveys. In fact, Munster said he predicts more growth for the coming upgrade cycle.

Customers interviewed by CNBC's Josh Lipton said they were getting the iPhone 8 for a variety of reasons: the lower price, a smaller, easier-to-hold size, to replace a broken phone that might not last until November, or just to have the "latest thing."

The shorter lines reflect two trends, according to Munster. First, more people are likely shopping and pre-ordering phones online, especially since harder-to-find phones, like the iPhone 7 Plus in jet black, tend to run out before they are released in stores. Plus, this year, Apple is not releasing all its new iPhones at the same time. The iPhone X — the new flagship model —won't be available in stores until Nov. 3.

And as far as stores affected by the rise of online shopping, Apple Stores actually aren't doing badly: Apple is the No. 1 retailer in terms of sales per square foot, selling $5,546 per square foot, according to eMarketer and CoStar.

Nonetheless, Apple Store watching has continued to be a sport in the gadget community. CNBC's Jon Fortt reported from New York's World Trade Center:

Tweet: The line at the World Trade Center Apple Store at 9:45 a.m. About a dozen people.

Analyst Walt Piecyk of BTIG did some scouting in New York City before talking to CNBC:

Tweet: Grand Central Apple store at 7:35am $AAPL

Tweet: 5th ave $AAPL store line ends before reaching Madison at 7:55am

Rich DeMuro, a tech reporter at KTLA Morning News, reported from Los Angeles:

Tweet: This is odd. In 10 years of covering iPhone launches, I've never seen a release day with not a single person in line at an Apple store.

Martyn Landi, a technology correspondent at the Press Association, reported from the U.K.:

Tweet: The doors open on Regent Street and the first customers head in #iPhone8

Long-time Apple watcher John Gruber was in Philadelphia:

Tweet: Those of you who recall the tally I used to track during Apple events should be amused by the Apple Store's new neighbor here in Philly:

Winston Sih, a Breakfast Television Toronto TV host, reported from Eaton Centre:

Tweet: Lines forming at the Apple Store Eaton Centre where tech enthusiasts are lining up for the iPhone 8 on sale at 8am today. More @BTtoronto.

Tang See Kit, a journalist at ChannelNewsAsia.com, in Singapore:

Tweet: Less than 10 minutes to go now for the #iPhone8launch at Singapore's Apple Store http://cna.asia/2ygd8Xu