Apple stores see heavy traffic for iPhone 5 launch

Nick Wingfield / New York Times News Service /

The grumbling over a new Apple maps service didn’t deter customers from once again jamming stores to get the latest iPhone.

The phone went on sale at 8 a.m. Friday in Apple retail stores and those of its wireless carrier partners. Crowds were heavy, especially at flagship Apple stores like the one on Fifth Avenue in New York. Although Apple won’t say anything yet about sales of the iPhone 5, Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, did some educated guesswork by counting the number of people waiting in line outside stores in New York, Boston and Minneapolis before the doors opened.

Piper Jaffray counted 775 people in line at the Fifth Avenue store, for instance, 68 percent more than the number queued up at the same store when the iPhone 4S went on sale last year, Munster wrote in a research note. Munster said the heavier store traffic gave him confidence in his estimate that Apple could sell 8 million iPhone 5s through this weekend. On Friday afternoon in New York, Eric Jue, Apple’s senior product manager for iPhone, said in an interview that as many as 1,300 people were lining up outside the Fifth Avenue store in the morning.

Apple also said that other locations, including a store on the Upper West Side, were crowded with throngs of people hoping to buy the latest version of the iPhone.

Apple said Monday that it sold 2 million iPhone 5s over the Internet the first day people were allowed to submit orders for the product. That figure was double the 1 million early orders it took for its previous record-holder for 24-hour sales, the iPhone 4S.

Apple doesn’t provide many clues as to whether the iPhone 5 is still in stock in specific stores. Apple’s website says people who order the iPhone 5 now will receive it in three to four weeks.

The strong demand for Apple’s phone shows that, in the near term at least, the company’s sales haven’t been hurt by the reaction to Apple maps, a new service that comes on the iPhone 5 and older iPhones and iPads that users upgrade with the latest Apple operating system. The new service has been blasted by early users for inaccurate directions, misplaced landmarks and a lack of street-level imagery, especially in comparison with the more polished Google Maps service it replaced.

Apple’s Jue said that the new Maps app was just a start, and that he believed that its new features, like turn-by-turn navigation, would make up for the areas where it is sometimes lacking, including inaccurate readings or missing locations. He explained that the company would improve the software over time, because the mapping database relies on “crowdsourcing” customer data — in other words, collecting location data from its millions of iPhone customers. For example, when iPhone owners report problems with the maps service, like a broken address, Apple can go in and fix them, he said.