Oct. 26, 2012 at 12:11 PM ET
Apple stores are getting new shipments of iPhone 5s almost every day. And there's a way you can get one without waiting in line.
When the iPhone 5 first came out, I decided to skip it and stick with my perfectly useful iPhone 4S. But when a family crisis made putting my sister on my family plan, I decided to give her the 4S and upgrade to the 5. Just one problem: every store in town was sold out, and an iPhone 5 that I ordered online from Apple wouldn't ship for a projected three- to four weeks.
Because I wanted to have my iPhone 5 in hand before traveling home to Kansas City in early November to help my sister get her farm readied for winter, I couldn't wait that long. After calling nearly every Radio Shack, Best Buy, AT&T store, and Apple store in the NYC metro area for days, I stumbled on a way that let me buy online and waltz into an Apple store less than 24 hours later and walk out, iPhone 5 in hand.
High sales of the iPhone 5 (not to mention production problems have yet to catch up demand. It's still taking Apple about a month to produce and ship an iPhone from China directly to a customer in the United States.
But Apple is also shipping out iPhone 5 units to Apple stores almost every day, most of which are snapped up by people waiting in line or picking up online orders.
That's right: picking up online orders.
The problem, of course, is that if you go to Apple.com right now and put an iPhone 5 in your cart, then select "In-Store Pick up" — or "Personal Pickup," as Apple calls it you'll see all the stores in area showing "Out of Stock."
But Apple updates their in-stock information each evening at 10. And if you time it right — and you're lucky and a little flexible about how far you're willing to travel to pick up your phone — you can snap up that stock in just a couple of minutes, leaving you with an email by the morning saying your phone is ready to be picked up.
Here's what you do:
1. Before 10 p.m., go through the process at Apple's online store to add a new iPhone 5 to your account. Select your model, carrier, and plan, then make sure it's actually in your online shopping cart. (But don't check out yet.)
2. A few minutes before 10 p.m., open up your cart and switch the shipping toggle to "In-Store Pick-Up." A pop-up window will appear, allowing you to input your ZIP code. Go ahead and do that to see which Apple stores are in your area — and which ones you consider too far away for travel.
3. Right at 10 p.m., start hitting the "Update" button in the pop-up window next to the form field where you put in your ZIP code. It might not update as quickly as it did before 10 p.m. (You're not the only one trying to snag an iPhone 5.) Keep hitting update periodically to refresh the stock information. Be sure to page through all the stores listed each time to check all the local stores; it won't automatically push a store that has iPhones in stock to the top. Obviously, the more stores you have in your area, the more chances you have of snagging a phone.
4. Once — if — you've found a local store with the model you want in stock, select it and pay. Be patient. I started refreshing my search at 10 p.m., and had a unit show up around 10:07 p.m..
Congratulations. You should have an email from Apple in the morning telling you when your iPhone is ready for pickup.
A little flexibility in travel helps. (I rode my motorcycle 25 miles out of New York City to a New Jersey mall to get mine.) And there's no guarantee this will work, since you're competing with anyone else trying to do the same thing online. In fact, it took me two nights to figure out the best procedure. The first night Apple's website keep giving me errors, causing me to accidentally put more than one iPhone 5 in my shopping cart, which then caused *more* errors. I didn't realize my mistake until it was too late.
Even if you don't get one, you can always try again the next evening when new stock arrives. Even if it takes a day or three for luck to fall your way, it still beats waiting in line — or waiting three to four weeks.
Joel Johnson is a technology reporter in Brooklyn. He has decided he is okay with all mayonnaise, artisinal or otherwise.