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 U.K.
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 clamoring 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.
Ouch. And that's not all. Just in case you think this is just the The Register being its usual, curmudgeonly self, check out this account from David Meyer at ZDNet:
Otherwise, my personal opinion is that the whole event was rather pathetic. I can understand the thrill of early adoption, but standing in the cold just to be the first in the U.K. to get a legit iPhone? I mean, if you want to be that bleeding edge, just get a dodgy import from the States (did I say that? Of course not). Even if you take the official route, any Carphone Warehouse or O2 store (or even other Apple stores) would have sufficed -- did it really have to be the flagship store? I mean, people actually willingly traveled to central London -- in the Christmas season -- to be there. To impress whom exactly?
As for the Apple employees who had to repeatedly run around the queue slapping people on the back and whooping loudly (I kid you not), I have only sympathy. At least, I did once I'd gotten over the urge to commit physical violence.
On top of all of this, we have yet to see any official sales numbers. Surely if the iPhone launch in the U.K. had gone gangbusters, we would have heard some sales or unit activation numbers by now, right?
Earlier this year, I warned that the iPhone's high price tag -- higher in the U.K. than in the U.S., especially if you add up the service costs -- and lack of 3G could kill the device in Europe. Let's be honest, customers in the U.K. were excited about the N95, a full 3G smartphone, when it launched. And while I will grant that the N95 isn't as slickly designed as the iPhone, it offers a lot of punch (including a 5 megapixel camera) for a comparable price. I suspect for consumers in a mature mobile market, like the U.K., the iPhone might come across as a nice looking gadget that doesn't offer enough features for the cost.
What do you think? Did the iPhone bomb in the U.K.? Does the iPhone have a future outside of the U.S.?