The first iPhone to debut at the new Apple store in Dubai Mall drew dozens of customers early Saturday – a stark contrast to the hundreds who have turned out for past launches.
Crowd control barriers set up inside the mall to help manage the queues were hardly necessary as fewer than 75 fans showed up to find a place in line before the 8am store opening.
UAE residents took the first and second spots in the queue – their placements secured ahead of time through online reservations - but most of the people waiting in the stand-by queue were tourists, many from Russia and Uzbekistan.
The highly organised, subdued event at least made for a relatively easy shopping experience for those who attended. At 7.50am, customers who had reserved their phones in advance were moved to a second queue of less than 10 people in front of the brightly lit Apple store to wait another few minutes for the official opening.
Inside the large, minimalist store that overlooks the famous Dubai Fountain, Apple employees formed two lines at the entrance, clapping and cheering the first customers as they walked in two minutes before 8am smiling for the invited media and staff.
By 8.15am, Emirati Bakhit Al Sabousi, who had stood second in the reserved line, was holding a shiny box containing the new space gray iPhone 8 Plus. The model features a 5.5-inch screen and a glass back, which Apple says makes it more durable. His swift purchase attracted the media’s attention and photographers quickly surrounded the 25-year-old instructing him to look this way and that.
“You’re a big celebrity today,” the Apple saleswoman said to Mr Al Sabousi, as frenzied photographers snapped him posing with his new phone.
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The young man held his black box shoulder height as the smiled for the cameras.
“It was amazing to be one of the first to get the iPhone,” said Mr Al Sabousi, a Government employee who drove from his home in Abu Dhabi. “It is an amazing device. Since the first time they launched it, they keep improving the iPhone from both sides, software and hardware.”
Ibrahim Al Shamsi, a 37-year old Syrian who drove before dawn from Al Ain with his wife and two children, reserved his first-place spot in advance to ensure he would be among the early customers to get his hands on the new model.
“All of my electronics – my phone, my laptop, my tablet – all are from Apple,” said Mr Al Shamsi. “I wanted to be the first one to get the new iPhone.”
Mr Al Shamsi and his family left the store carrying 12 boxes of the iPhones 8 Plus and iPhones 8. He said they were gifts to his Lebanese wife Boshra Dabbouss, daughters, 3-year-old Helena and 4-year-old Angelina and other relatives.
But some customers weren’t as lucky as Mr Al Shamsi.
Dilshod Umirov, a 32-year-old from Uzbekistan, bought two space gray iPhones Plus to replace the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6s that he needs for his two mobile numbers.
“I wanted more, but they don’t want to give more,” said Mr Umirov, who visited the store with his cousin.
“In my family, there are more than 11 people. We love the iPhone and we need more than two, but they didn’t give. I called my cousin and my friends, and they helped me to buy so I can give it as a gift to my sister, my wife, father and mother. We all love the iPhones and using iPhones.”
Mr Umirov, who lives in Dubai, said there are no Apple stores in Uzbekistan.
Reports from other international launches have attributed the muted public response toward the iPhone 8 to Apple marketing fatigue.
Others have said the new iPhone doesn’t offer enough dramatically new features to motivate the masses to upgrade, especially considering the steep price. The iPhone 8 is priced at Dh2,849 for the 64GB version and Dh3,479 for the 256GB version. The iPhone 8 Plus is Dh3,249 for the 64GB version and Dh3,879 for 256GB. Still some say the public is holding out for iPhone X, due out in November 4 in the UAE, which retails for Dh4,099 for the 64GB model and Dh4,729 for the 256GB one.