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Apple’s New iPhones Show Signs of Demand; New Store Draws Crowds

Molly Schuetz and Kiley Roache

(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc.’s latest iPhone models hit the stores on Friday, in a test of whether better cameras and longer battery life will be enough to lure buyers ahead of a much bigger redesign next year.

The new line of hardware, including three new phones and an updated Apple Watch and iPads, was introduced on Sept. 10 and customers were able to place preorders last week to either be delivered or picked up in stores today. Long lines snaked around Apple’s flagship on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan as people waited to get in to the gleaming glass cube and descend to the underground space, which as been under renovation for two years and emerged Friday bigger and brighter. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook was on site for the opening and stood out on the store’s plaza across from Central Park taking selfies with fans.

Sam Sheffer had already picked up his green iPhone 11 Pro in Manhattan’s SoHo store Friday morning, waiting in line for less than five minutes. But he went uptown to see the new store and potentially get a glimpse of Cook.

“For me, a die-hard enthusiast, I wouldn’t be able to live knowing there was an iPhone I didn’t have,” Sheffer said.

Apple shares declined 1.5% to close at $217.73, valuing the company at almost $984 billion.

Apple’s latest iPhone faced some hurdles heading in to its annual revamp. Sales of the iconic smartphone have declined in the past three quarters, as prices crept above $1,000 and people hung on to their current models longer. A lack of revolutionary features on this year’s model could keep some fans holding out until 2020, when significantly faster 5G networks and a revamped design will open up new possibilities with the phone. At the same time, a trade war between the U.S. and China is also starting to take a toll.

But some early reports from analysts pointed to encouraging signs for Apple. “Demand looks strong out of the gates for Apple as the lines at its flagship NYC store were up about 70% today compared to what we saw last year,” Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities wrote in a note to investors. Having talked to customers in line, Ives said there was “strong demand for the base iPhone 11 as well as the 256GB iPhone 11 Pro in both the space grey and gold colors.” Ives said another positive sign for Cupertino, California-based Apple is that the lines were “unwavering into the afternoon.”

Apple set the base model price at $699 for the iPhone 11, down from the iPhone XR’s $749 price last year and below some analysts’ expectations. That might help attract some first-time buyers to its expanding entertainment and services ecosystem.

Rosenblatt Securities Inc. said it’s seeing “some new model production increases for September and October for the new iPhone models.” Jun Zhang, an analyst at Rosenblatt, wrote that the firm now sees volume increasing by 3 million to 5 million units more than earlier expectations, to 68 million to 70 million units.

It may come as a disappointment to those waiting on line on Fifth Avenue, but if they haven’t preordered their phone, they could face a two-to-three week wait, according to Zhang. That’s a longer wait time than the one-to-two weeks for last year’s iPhone XR, but, “there is a lot of inventory at other retailers,” Zhang said.

Longbow Research analyst Shawn Harrison said Apple could be seeing a “potential higher floor in iPhone demand,” and that “initial iPhone search trends are positively surprising.”

Lines outside Apple stores around the world were typically shorter or non-existent this year, but tourists and customers thronged the Fifth Avenue location. Daniel Akinsulire found himself stuck deep in line on 58th Street, waiting to pick up phones for his family. “I didn’t know it would be this packed,” he said. “I might be late for work.”

(Updates with analyst comment in seventh paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Molly Schuetz in New York at mschuetz9@bloomberg.net;Kiley Roache in New York at kroache@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net, Robin Ajello

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