SAN FRANCISCO/SYDNEY/TOKYO (REUTERS) - Apple's launch of the iPhone 8 kicked off with less fanfare on Friday (Sept 22) than new models in previous years in the United States, Asia, Australia and Britain, as fans held out for the premium iPhone X, due out in early November.
In San Francisco's Union Square, 80km from Apple's Cupertino headquarters, just 80 people were lined up at the company's flagship store, a sharp contrast to years past when lines stretched for blocks when new products were released.
In Australia, hundreds of people usually gather at Apple's Sydney city store, with queues winding down George Street in the central business district. But there were fewer than 30 people lining up before the store opened on Friday, according to a Reuters witness.
Apple's flagship store in London's Regent Street also experienced a slim turnout, according to several British newspapers.
Shares of the company were down 1.3 per cent to US$151.39 in afternoon trading. The stock has lost 6.3 per cent since closing at US$161.50 on Sept 11, a day before its new products were announced.
While the number of people queuing up outside Apple stores has dropped over the past several years with many buyers choosing to shop online, the weak turnout for the latest iPhone has partly been due to poor reviews.
Mazen Kourouche, who was first in queue in Sydney after lining up 11 days outside the store so he could buy and review the product on YouTube, said there were modest refinements.
"(It) is pretty similar to the iPhone 7 but it shoots 4k 60 frames per second and it's got a new glass back instead of the metal which is apparently more durable," he told Reuters. "There aren't too many new features to this one."
In China, a loyal Apple customer said the improved camera was one of the reasons she had bought the new device.
"I waited until midnight to watch the launch event with my boyfriend to learn what's new with this iPhone. Its photograph function is pretty good. So I think I must change with no hesitation," said Ta Na, a 29-year-old consumer in Shanghai.
Mentions of iPhone 8 and iPhone X on the popular Chinese social media platform Weibo, an indicator of consumer interest, were less than seen for previous launches.
In San Francisco, customers waiting in line were evenly split between those interested in the iPhone 8 and those looking to buy the Apple Watch Series 3. The latest watch includes standalone cellular data connectivity for the first time, meaning it can be used to make phone calls without an iPhone nearby.
Chayce O'Neal, 27, said he had come to buy the new watch and wasn't discouraged by reviews that mentioned connectivity problems. But he was skipping the iPhone 8 and holding out for the iPhone X.
"I like being on top of the cutting edge of technology," he said.
Indifferent reviews of the iPhone 8, which comes 10 years after Apple released the first version of the revolutionary phone, drove down shares of the company to near two-month lows of US$152.75 on Thursday, as investors worried pre-orders for the device had come in well below previous launches.
The iPhone 8 will only cater to those who want a new version but do not want to pay a hefty US$999 (S$1,342) for the iPhone X, said iTWire.com's technology editor Alex Zaharov-Reutt, who did not line up for the launch.
That was the case for Damien Roberts, a customer in line at Apple's San Francisco store. Roberts owns a battered iPhone 6s and wanted an upgrade to the iPhone 8 Plus for phone calls, messages and playing his favourite video game Clash Of Clans.
He said he didn't need the extra features of the US$999 iPhone X.
"It's a lot of money to shell out for a phone," said Roberts, a Briton who was purchasing the phone while on vacation.
Speaking to CNBC, Apple chief executive Tim Cook said the Apple Watch with cellular data service is "sold out in so many places around the world" and iPhone 8 models were also sold out. He did not specify the locations he was referring to.
The iPhone X is a glass and stainless steel device with an edge-to-edge display that Cook has called "the biggest leap forward since the original iPhone".
"I think it'll be more lively with more people with the iPhone X," said Ray Yokoyama, after buying an iPhone 8 in Tokyo.