Didn’t Preorder? How To Get An iPhone 5 A.S.A.P. [Buyer’s Guide]



The iPhone 5 pre-orders kicked off last Friday at 12:00 a.m. PST and it only took a few hours for delivery estimates to start to slip well into October. A little perspective – it took nearly a day (approximately 22 hours) for last year’s iPhone 4S pre-sale to begin to run out; the iPhone 5 did the same in about an hour.

Hopefully Apple will be able to keep up with the demand for the iPhone 5. But if not here are a few tips based on what we have learned from past iPhone releases that might help lessen headaches and improve your chances of getting your hands on an iPhone 5 this season.

Hurry up, order, and wait.

Shipping estimates have already been pushed back by several weeks for pre-orders, and it’s likely going to get a lot worse. We’ve been here before. Does anyone remember every other iPhone release to date? It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. Expect long lines, wait lists, uncertainty, and frustrated would-be buyers through the end of the year.

Let’s face it, our smartphones have become nearly as indispensable as water, sewer, and electricity. Planned obsolescence and the ubiquitous notion that we need to have the latest and greatest technology have contributed to a culture where upgrading our devices whenever a new model is released is widely viewed as an acceptable cost of living. Combine that with a mending economy that’s entering the 2012 Holiday season and there’s good reason to expect the iPhone 5 to be a hot commodity. If you think it’s difficult to get your hands on an iPhone 5 now, just wait until Black Friday.

My advice: if you are the sort of person that places any value on having the latest and greatest technology and are due for a new iPhone (i.e. you are eligible for a carrier subsidy), then order one as soon as possible. If you act fast you’ll probably get your iPhone 5 by the end of October. You can always return it within thirty days if you change your mind.

Line up on release day.

If you absolutely need an iPhone 5 and didn’t pre-order one, then your safest bet is to line up and buy one on release day (September 21st). As with past iPhone releases the Apple Store and other vendor locations will be selling the iPhone 5 on a first come first serve basis on the day of release. Lines will likely begin to form days before the release, but showing up a few hours before the store opens will probably be enough to secure yourself an iPhone 5.

Be sure to dress for the weather, bring a friend or two, a portable chair, and some snacks. If standing in line isn’t for you, then consider asking a friend or paying a proxy – someone who will stand in line for you. Proxy offers are springing up on sites such as TaskRabbit and Craigslist. You will still need to show up in time to trade places with your proxy once they reach the front of the line, but at least you will avoid most of the wait.

Don’t forget that Apple Stores are not going to be the only locations selling the iPhone 5 on release day. Carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint as well as retailers like Best Buy and Walmart may also have iPhone 5s in stock at certain locations. In the past buyers have reported being able to find shorter lines at alternative locations on release day.

Avoid bad or risky deals.

People are already offering pre-ordered iPhone 5s for sale on websites such as eBay and Craigslist. Buying through sites like these isn’t for everyone and I would urge most to avoid these at all cost. While there are many legitimate sellers on these sites there will also be plenty of price gougers and scammers. The best-case scenario is that you’ll overpay for an iPhone 5, but you may end up getting an empty box. You cannot be sure when the iPhone was actually purchased and, therefore, you may have difficulties getting it covered by AppleCare+. If you arrange to buy an iPhone 5 in person through a site like Craigslist you should agree to do the transaction during daylight hours in a public location – iPhone buyers have been robbed at gunpoint in the past. Buyers beware.

Reserve an iPhone 5 for pickup at an Apple Store.

If you missed the pre-order and don’t want to wait several weeks for delivery from Apple or another retailer then you can still try to reserve an iPhone 5 at a local Apple Store for next day pickup. The appeal, of course, is that you might be able to get your hands on an iPhone 5 very quickly. Provided Apple follows the same process as it has in the past it will go something like this:

After September 21st the only way for you to pick up an iPhone 5 directly from an Apple Store will be if you reserve it for next day pickup online. This can be an extremely frustrating process, but if you’re persistent you will likely see results. Last year we obtained an iPhone 4S using this strategy after about a week of trying. Here’s what we learned from the experience.

The reservation window for new stock begins every night at 9:00 PM local time. Be poised to try to reserve your iPhone 5 right at this time. Reservations are given at a first come first serve basis will likely run out within a matter of seconds. If the iPhone 5 of your choice is listed as unavailable then you will have to try again the next day at 9:00 PM.

Check multiple Apple Stores. Take the time to research Apple Stores in your area and check all of them every night at 9:00 PM. Because the 9:00 PM start time is the same for all stores in a given time zone it might be helpful to coordinate with friends or family to so that you can hit multiple locations right at 9:00 PM.

Focus your search on less frequented Apple Stores. All Apple Stores will be getting new iPhone 5s on a regular basis. You might have better luck if you choose try to reserve an iPhone 5 at a less popular Apple Store, but remember that you still have to pick it up in person. When we finally got our iPhone 4S successfully reserved last year it was at an Apple Store located outside of the city.

Reserve from your iOS device. During last year’s iPhone 4S reservation fiasco many buyers reported that they had better results when they tried to reserve their iPhone 4S using Apple’s Apple Store app on their iOS devices. Most shoppers will be trying to reserve through the Apple website, which will undoubtedly be inundated with web traffic on a nightly basis the instant 9:00 PM hits. The Apple Store app is free, so give it a try.

If you get a chance to reserve one, don’t hesitate. Know what iPhone 5 style (black or white) and capacity (16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB) in advance and decide which alternatives you are willing to consider. You may be gunning for a white 32 GB iPhone 5, but you’re only going to have a few seconds to decide whether you would be happy with a black 32 GB iPhone 5. If you step back to think about it you may lose your chance. We hesitated on our second attempt and ended up missing out; it took four more days before we had another chance to reserve one.

If you’re upgrading, know the primary account holder information. If your iPhone 5 is going to be for an existing mobile service account (AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon), make sure that you know all of your information in advance – you’re going to need it. You’ll need your wireless number, billing zip code, last four digits of the primary account holder’s social security number, and the billing account password (if applicable) in order to reserve your iPhone 5. If you’re on a family or other group plan and you are not the primary account holder you will need to make sure that you have the primary account holder’s information and, obviously, you will need to be authorized to buy the iPhone 5 for your line in the first place (being an authorized user will suffice). If you need to make any changes to the account then you should do this before you attempt to reserve an iPhone 5 for pickup.

Show up early. If you succeed in reserving an iPhone 5, be sure to show up to the Apple Store early. The Apple Store will be honoring reservation holders on a first come first serve basis. This doesn’t mean you might not get your iPhone 5, but if you show up late after reserving an iPhone 5 you may be waiting for a very long time.

Think about AppleCare+ before picking up your iPhone 5. Unlike traditional AppleCare, which Apple replaced with AppleCare+ for the iPhone and iPad last year, you must buy AppleCare+ either at the time you buy your iPhone 5 or within thirty days provided you bring your iPhone 5 in for an inspection at an Apple Store. Chances are, the Apple Store representative will try to sell you AppleCare+ so you should think about it before you go in to pick it up. Generally speaking I think AppleCare+ is a good idea for the iPhone, but it’s not for everyone.

Don’t forget about other retailers.

Other locations such as AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Walmart, and Best Buy will also be selling the iPhone 5. There are no disadvantages to buying an iPhone from a retailer other than Apple. There still seems to be a fairly prevalent misconception that if you buy an iPhone from a vendor like AT&T or Best Buy you will need to deal with that retailer for assistance with technical support issues and warranty repair throughout the life of the iPhone. That is simply not true. All iPhones are covered by the exact same One-Year Limited Warranty and may be taken directly to Apple (Apple Store Genius Bar or service by mail) or an Apple Authorized Service Provider for warranty service. Moreover, you still have thirty days to bring your iPhone 5 to an Apple Store to buy AppleCare+ if it’s not offered at the time of purchase. Therefore, there’s no reason to think that you need to buy directly from Apple.

These retailers will have their own procedures for reserving or purchasing iPhone 5s. It’s difficult to say whether one retailer is more likely than another to have iPhone 5s in stock at a given time and, therefore, you should check in with them regularly and stay apprised of the situation by reading Apple news websites like Cult of Mac in the coming weeks.

Do you have any other tips or stories to share with our readers? If so, please post in the comment section.

***Author’s Note: Apple’s iPhone 5 online reservation option is now live. The reservation window is slightly different from what it was for the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 5 reservation service is available online on a nightly basis from 10 PM to 4 AM local time (or until supplies are exhausted for a given Apple Store).*** Good luck!

  • Themetris

    Thanks but I think I’ll just wait for the iPhone 5S.

  • Sean Shamus McCabe

    Walmart is your best bet right now IMO. No one seems to realize you can go in there and reserve a phone being that it’s their first time doing it. I walked into a local Walmart on Sunday to pick up a pre order and the sales rep told me I was the first person to even buy one from them at that location so I’m first on the list.

  • C C

    After a very frustrating and unsuccessful attempt to pre-order between midnight and 2am and the next morning finding out that Apples allotment of pre order phones was sold out. I went to my local Verizon store and in less than 30 min I had placed an order for 2 iPhones, a back 32gb for me and a white 16gb for the missus. Will have them in hand on Monday the 24th. After this recent experience and the memory of difficulty ordering the iPhone 4, in the future I am going to skip trying to order from Apple all together and go directly through the carrier.

  • Woscoe_

    The best way is going to a retail. I have gone to the apple store in the past for the i4, it was a great experience but if you dont have time and dont feel like busting an overnighter then go to your retail store early in the morning. I went last year to an AT&T store an hour before they opened, was 8th in line and got in within 40 minutes. Also go to a small retail store where not a lot of people know about or go.

  • SamuelGrantS

    I’m getting it from Walmart, it’s a lot easier and shorter!

  • patdodd

    Walked into Best Buy Friday afternoon and pre-ordered no problem. Would have tried Walmart but it looked like they are only offering the 16GB version. Incidentally, I tried to pre-buy AppleCare + from Apple and they said to wait until I had the iPhone and they would do it over the phone, no traveling to the Apple Store for inspection (which I did last year). The closest Apple store is 3 hours away, so maybe they are making an exception.

  • technochick

    There are no pickup reservations for the iPhone 5 at this time. And no confirmation of when there might be. Typically it is at least a few days after launch before they do those.

  • Matthew Gauer

    You only get 14 days to return a post paid (contract) phone not 30. Unless you live in CA then it is 30 days. (I work in wireless sales)

  • ddevito

    go sleep in the streets and wait in line for hours to buy a gadget. Yeah that sounds logical


  • ScotHibb

    I was lucky to get in on the pre-order (by staying up till 3:30AM EST and drinking Adderall-coffee at work a few hours later). However my wife couldn’t decide if she wanted to switch from white to black, so her phone is on the delayed list. Tip – spring for the 64GB, as of yesterday, Sprint had a 2-4 week wait on pre-ordered for the 16GB and 32GB, but only a “week or less” delay on the 64GB. I also think that Black might be the new White. When we picked up our iPhone 4S’s White was becoming more in demand than Black (it was the opposite with the 3GS/4). Also, I had to settle for a Black 3rd-Gen iPad as they were out of the 64GB Whites, and I’m not much for waiting. You can always bring it back in, return it, and get the color/GB you wanted (if supply is up by the 30-day return period).

    Last thought – go to a WalMart in a “bad town/neighborhood”, economically bad-off areas won’t have huge lines (especially with the liklihood folks aren’t eligible for a re-up…my pre-order, with NJ sales tax, was ~$930 for the 64GB).

  • FriarNurgle

    How about if you did preorder (an hour after release) and have an Oct delivery data? Kinda crappy that I could order from Apple.com so close after release and get bumped two weeks and yet a buddy at work leisurely orders from AT&T last Friday morning here at work and his two iPhones are being delivered tomorrow.

  • shade/ohio

    my iphone 4 still will last me another 2 years easy so wait is better no need for this line up crazy stuff

  • Christopher Columbus

    This is just ridiculous. Apple knows their device is going to sell well and I think they purposefully limit supplies just to watch all the pathetic kool-aid drinkers fiend for their next regurgitated product. Stretch the screen a little and people think it’s the next big thing. Lining up like it’s the cure for cancer. Even worse is thinking about how many seedy nerd scum are on that line just to siphon a few phones from the supply, so they can turn them around for a quick profit, and take advantage of those same losers begging for the thing. Instead of maybe getting a real job where you wouldn’t have time to “urban camp” for days on end for a stupid phone.

    I think a lot of you are going to be disappointed when you actually hold the new phone in your hand. The press photos made this phone look a LOT cooler than it does in real life. Honestly the iPhone 4S is way more elegant & expensive looking with the full glass back and silver bumper frame. They should have just kept the exact iPhone 4S design and made it longer and added all the same spec upgrades. Kept the same thickness and just added a bigger battery using the extra length.

    When I first saw the photos I thought it looked like an amazingly crafted & solid looking device. Unfortunately it’s made with cheap aluminum and then there’s just anodized black paint powder coated onto it. Which scratches off like CHALK and people were even receiving them scratched right out of the box. It feels like plastic and it’s so light that it feels empty. It feels like a dumby phone or a toy whereas the old iPhone 4S felt like a well crafted industrial gadget in your hand.

    All this touting of “lighter” and “thinner” is funny to me because after a certain point it becomes a bad thing. Stop worrying about the weight and the screen length and start worrying about the actual specifications and making the phone work well. The amount of complaints for all different WiFi issues, antennagate issues, Apple Maps glitches, screen issues, and scratching issues is just ridiculous. Especially for a device they brag is “built with the precision you’d expect from a fine watch” while those same workers are starting riots and committing suicide because they’re only paid $200 a month.

    Keep your iPhone 4S and you’ll thank me. Just wait for next year for the next regurgitated non-innovative phone or you’ll be able to get the iPhone 5 for nearly half the price by just walking into the store, as easily as buying coffee.

    /end rant