But for some stores, that madness was short-lived. Within an hour after opening its doors, the sole Verizon Wireless store in Santa Maria had worked through its line of roughly 40 people. Although the line, which began forming before 2 a.m., was far longer than the store had seen for other smartphone launches over the years, it wasn't the overwhelming crush that was anticipated. Store managers had called issued an "all hands on deck" call to employees. But by 8 a.m., a number of sales representatives were standing around without customers.
Verizon's desire to be prepared for a crushing wave of customers was understandable. Prior to today, Verizon customers had been locked out of purchasing the popular smartphone for more than three years thanks to Apple's exclusive U.S. contract with AT&T (T).
But the lighter crowds in stores may not have been due to lower interest in the Verizon iPhone than expected. Instead, the relatively quiet morning may have been due, in part, to the ability of existing Verizon customers to pre-order their iPhones starting last week, when the allotted number for online sale sold out in roughly 17 hours.
Three Years of Patient Waiting
Additional pressure may have been taken off Thursday's launch thanks to the ability of new customers to ring up their orders in stores a day early. Though new Verizon customers could have purchased their iPhones Wednesday, they wouldn't have enjoyed the instant gratification of walking out of the store immediately with the devices. Those customers will have to wait for the mailman to deliver their phones.
"I could have ordered online last night, but then I'd have to wait for the mail to get here," says Copado. "I tried to pre-order last week, but I didn't expect them to sell out so fast."
Those who pre-ordered last week began receiving their phones in the mail ahead of Thursday's formal launch.
Copado has patiently waited to get an iPhone since they debuted in 2007 on AT&T, but was unwilling to switch to what he considered an inferior carrier with a shoddy reputation for customer service, he said. Copado he has a BlackBerry Tour that is no longer on a two-year contract.
Unlimited Data Plan Will Be a Big Draw
Ray Leon of Guadalupe, Calif., dumped AT&T three weeks ago. He had just come off a two-year contract with T-Mobile (DTEGY) and switched to AT&T to snag an iPhone, he said. But after three weeks, he was bumping up against his data plan's limits and knew he would have trouble staying within them on a monthly basis. Now, he's piggybacking on his dad's Verizon plan to get an iPhone 4 under the carrier's unlimited data plan.
Wall Street analysts have previously pointed to Verizon's unlimited data plan as a key weapon in its arsenal as it enters this stage of its competition with archrival AT&T.
Tayler Jacobsen, a Santa Ynez, Calif., resident is a serial cell phone jumper, the type who changes hardware every six months. She said has no qualms about adding new lines to her account to get the latest smartphone.
The young woman's past three phones were Motorola Mobility's (MMI) Droids, her last a Droid X which ended up with a smashed screen. But despite her history with Android OS devices, she was eager to get her hands on the iPhone, and said she plans to be an Apple customer going forward on the Verizon network.
Charles Signorelli of Lompoc, Calif., was buying his wife an iPhone 4 for Valentine's Day, since her old "non-smart" cell phone was broken. "I could have ordered online, but it wouldn't get here by Valentine's Day," Signorelli said.
Gentlemen, are you listening? The way to a woman's heart is now through the Verizon store.