The New Face of iPhone Hysteria

Foot Soldiers in San Francisco

There were initially only a few responses to a thread I started last week for forum members camping out for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. I think I’m starting to understand why. Apparently queues around the world were dominated by what Tech in Asia calls “foot soldiers” in the worldwide grey market for iPhones. They’ve linked to a six-and-a-half minute YouTube video by documentary filmmaker Casey Neistat.

Watching it made me sad.

Lest you think that this was some kind of anomaly specific to New York City, it wasn’t. Cult of Mac reported similar observations in San Francisco, Seattle—even Louisville, Kentucky. And let’s not forget that iPhone in Canada story about resellers recruiting line-sitters in BC’s lower mainland.

Hopefully you’ll agree with me that the line-sitters in the video were treated pretty poorly by the NYPD. I can only imagine that what led to that poor woman’s arrest was some kind of misunderstanding—she might have got agitated with police only because she thought she was losing her place in line. Had there been a single Mandarin-speaking officer on the scene she might not have ended up being hauled away.

As for the other so-called foot soldiers, I can appreciate an Apple fan’s frustration with them. I mean, who would want to spend 48 hours in line waiting for something, only to immediately flip it to a stranger waiting around the corner? According to iPhone in Canada (the same story cited earlier), those willing to wait were paid $100 (plus food) for each iPhone 6 Plus procured. Easy money or slave wages? Depends on your point of view—either way, I think they’re largely blameless.

Could Apple have done more to avoid this situation? It’s no secret that the Chinese market is a big deal for the company, as it should be. For all we know China was to be included in the initial launch, only to be stymied by regulatory bodies within the PRC. So really, isn’t this just the grey market stepping in to fill a void? It may not make for the type of release-day photo opp that Apple might have wanted, but hey—a sale’s a sale.

Ultimately I think this is just capitalism, simultaneously at its best and worst. I don’t really know what else to say about it except that, again, it makes me sad.