The biggest tech queues of all time

On November 9th people actually queued up to buy a phone. We estimate there were about 300-400 of them outside the London Apple Store. And regardless of how good you think the iPhone is, that's pretty remarkable. For a phone.

But how does the iPhone launch rank in the all-time list of tech launch day queues?

Perhaps we can start by looking across the Atlantic at the iPhone's US launch in June, where the queuing in New York began a frankly ridiculous 100 hours ahead of the iPhone's launch. When the doors finally opened, there were 600 people queueing at each of Apple's two New York stores alone.

Of course, that was the iPhone's world premiere, so maybe some wild excitement can be forgiven.

Consider the iPod

And while the jury's still out on how successful the iPhone will be, Apple fans can take heart by looking no further than the iPod. Here's one of the defining icons of the 21st century, but its launch in 2001 was a fairly quiet affair, and didn't attract queues of any description at all.

In fact, an analyst said at the time that the iPod was too expensive and questioned Apple's "ability to sell into a tight consumer market right now at the iPod's current price". Doesn't that sound familiar?

Still, it was a better debut than when Microsoft's much-maligned Zune hit the US market in late 2006. The company urged shoppers to believe that brown was the new white. But the public just weren't buying it, or the Zune as it turned out.

A Best Buy store in central Manhattan could only shift 20 Zunes in the first three hours of trading.

Apple also claimed victory over Microsoft in the battle of operating system launches in 2007. Vista? We counted 30 people queuing outside PC World in London. Leopard? Our guess was that 1,500 Mac fanboys thronged outside the Apple store. No contest.

Console wars

And how about games consoles? Well, some 200 gamers braved the winter rain at Game's Oxford Street branch in December 2005 to get their hands on an Xbox 360 (the console sold out in stores and online). At the same venue a year later, several hundred people queued for up to two days to take posession of a Nintendo Wii. That amid stories of severe stock shortages - the US launch drew queues into the thousands.

The Sony PlayStation 3 launch, in comparison, sparked very little interest. Although if punters knew Sony was going to give each of them a £2,500 Bravia TV for their trouble, there would have been exponentially more than the 125 or so lining up for their console.

The Americans - as always - had to go one better, and one unfortunate gamer was shot while queuing up to buy his PS3. It didn't stop queues well into the hundreds from forming, while Tokyo saw numbers over 1,000 at the Japanese launch.

Go back a generation and things weren't much different. The Xbox and Gamecube both attracted perfectly respectable queues in the hundreds for their launches, but a combination of a delayed launch and strong pre-order interest robbed the PS2 of a chance to compete on launch day.

Big Windows

But for the ultimate in launch day queuing, big daddy Microsoft still holds the crown. We're not talking Vista, Windows Me (we're still laughing about that one), 2000 or even good 'ol XP.

You have to go back nearly 10 years to the launch of Windows 98 to see the last time anyone got remotely excited about the arrival of a new version of Microsoft's OS. A few hundred die-hards flocked to PC Worlds around the country for the midnight launch.

Beating that hands down, though, was the launch of Windows 95. More of a rock concert than a product launch, Bill Gates pulled out all the stops, with a massive event held at the company's Redmond HQ, a Windows 95 logo festooned on the Empire State Building, and fields here in the UK painted with the logo that could be seen from the air.

When Windows 95 hit the shops, the public responded at unprecedented levels - especially because it was such a leap forward from Windows 3.1.1. In terms of queues, there might not have been huge numbers at one venue, but Microsoft's publicity drive ensured huge levels of interest all over the world - levels that haven't been matched since.

Is Windows 95 the ultimate tech launch of all time? Without a doubt. And we didn't even have eBay vultures back then either...