Will wait for beer: iPhone spawns gray market

A cottage industry to help the desiring acquire the coveted Apple device is springing up prior to its Friday evening U.S. launch

How badly do you want an iPhone? Would you pay US$1,500 to buy one? How about US$300 for someone to wait on line for you?

A cottage industry to help the desiring acquire the coveted Apple Inc. device is springing up prior to its Friday evening U.S. launch. Posts on Craigslist offer a host of options for those unable or unwilling to wait in line themselves. Others are simply cutting to the chase and offering the device itself for as much as three times its retail price.

Online resale of popular electronics items at a premium, especially game consoles such as the XBox 360 or Playstation 3, is nothing new. However, such hysteria has never greeted the launch of a mobile handset before.

The iPhone's sale launch seems increasingly like the release of concert tickets than the debut of a consumer electronics product. However, unlike tickets to a live event, which is time-sensitive and has limited capacity, the iPhone sale period will be ongoing, and Apple expects to sell as many as 10 million [m] of them next year. Also, Apple has not announced per-person buying limits for iPhones on launch night.

Because of the nature of cell phone sales in the U.S., where most phones are "locked" to a particular number and service provider, Apple is unable to use what would otherwise likely be its most successful sales channel: its online store. Instead, consumers are forced to go to AT&T and Apple's physical stores to get the goods.

Neither its ultimate availability nor the US$499 price tag has stopped market forces from coming into play. Lazy buyers can choose line-waiters based on price and location. In California, one would-be waiter in Walnut Creek "will wait in line @ Apple Store in WC for 80 + Beer and a pack of Smokes."

That's a veritable bargain compared to "Vince" in the Danville/San Ramon area, who's asking US$300 to "wait in line for the release of the iPhone at the San Ramon AT&T Store on Bollinger starting Friday, June 29, 2007, at 8 a.m."

In New York City, US$250 seems to be the going rate for an all-day wait. "This service is for people who want an iphone on launch day, but have a day job and therefore cannot wait on line. I have at least 5 line-waiters who are up for the job," wrote this anonymous poster.

While Craigslist is awash with iPhone-related listings, eBay's site is devoid of any advance sales of the handset. In March, the auction company said in March that it would remove pre-sales for the phone. However, eBay policy only prohibits listing of items that cannot be shipped within 30 days of purchase. EBay representatives were not immediately available for comment.

Those with far more money than time can buy an iPhone outright, at least if anonymous online sellers can be believed. "Avail for pick up Friday after 6pm. US$1500 cash only," reads one ad. Caveat emptor.

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Steven Schwankert

IDG News Service
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