FAQ: How to score an iPhone 5 on Friday

What you need to know to score Apple's hot smartphone before you go crazy

You're at your wit's end.

You were sleeping during the middle-of-the-night hour last Friday when Apple still had the iPhone 5 in stock for pre-orders. You have watched with dismay as shipping delays on Apple's e-store have mounted. And you've got a serious iPhone 5 itch that's driving you, well, nuttier than usual.

So how do you -- procrastinator that you are -- score a new iPhone on Friday? We're guessing by expending some serious time, money, or both.

Hey, no one said it was easy being an Apple addict.

Where do I get an iPhone 5? As usual, your best bet is an Apple retail store.

Apple doesn't disclose the quantity of inventory on hand, and what with the fast pre-order sellout and the ensuing delivery date pushback for online orders -- Apple now says new orders won't ship for three to four weeks -- the smartphone may be in short supply Friday.

Traditionally, Apple retains the bulk of its walk-in sales stock for its own stores, and to their dismay, shorts the carriers and others.

What about the mobile carriers? Also an option. In the U.S., AT&T, Sprint and Verizon will all be selling the iPhone 5 in their retail outlets tomorrow. Like Apple, however, the carriers don't reveal how many they will have on hand. And they've also exhausted their supplies for pre-ordering. AT&T, for example, now cites shipping delays of 14-21 days. Sprint and Verizon, meanwhile, note a delay of three weeks and delivery by Oct. 12, respectively.

There's no nearby Apple store, and I'm betting the carriers' outlets will be swamped. Any suggestions? Apple's retail partners, including Best Buy, Radio Shack and Wal-Mart, will also have some to sell. Those stores are opening at their regular hours. You can find the nearest using each retailer's store locator for address and hours of operation.

Don't expect any of these to have lots in stock, however. In the iPhone food chain, these retailers are near the bottom, below even carriers in their ability to get sufficient supply.

When does the iPhone 5 actually go on sale? Apple will open the doors of its stores Friday at 8 a.m. local time, an hour or two earlier than normal. In the U.S., both AT&T and Verizon have said they will also open at 8 a.m. local time. The third, Sprint, has not said the same, however, and did not reply to questions today.

Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Radio Shack will open at their regular hours, but remember that not all stores will have the devices and most of those that do will have a limited supply.

Will there be lines Friday? Does Tim Cook seem boring after Steve Jobs?

Lines have already formed at Apple stores, although in some instances, those sleeping and standing in the queue are using the platform to push a political agenda, publicize a blog or hype an app more than to purchase a new phone. At Apple's massive 5th Avenue store in New York, for instance, the line started forming last week.

I'm a 1%er.... Can I get someone from the 99% to wait in line for me Money may not buy happiness, but it can buy a spot. If you hustle, you may still be able to purchase a stand-in. On Craigslist, for example, people were selling their overnight spots today.

"I will stand in line for you at the Hillsdale Shopping Center Apple store tonight and be there until tomorrow morning so that you can come in and take my spot," read one offer posted today from the San Francisco area.

What countries get the iPhone 5 on Friday? Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S. -- nine altogether, two more than last year and four more than in 2010 when Apple launched the iPhone 4.

Customers in another 22 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain, will have to wait until Sept. 28.

It sounds like it will be crazy on Friday. I'll wait a few days. Anything I need to know? Yes. Apple will likely replicate the practice of reserving an iPhone that it used last year.

Here's how it will probably work: You'll need to check an Apple store's inventory after 9 p.m. local time at a page Apple will set up. Assuming the model you want is in stock, you'll place a reservation hold, then head to the store the next day to choose a carrier and pick up the phone.

My wallet is still thinner than a politician's excuse. Is there anything I can get on the cheap? For $99, you can get a 16GB version of last year's iPhone 4S. And unlike the iPhone 5, the older iPhone 4S is in stock and ready to ship immediately. Want something for free? Apple and its carrier partners will hand you a two-year-old 8GB iPhone 4 gratis.

To qualify for those prices, you must commit to a two-year contract, of course. After all, nothing is really free.

Money's no object. What are my options? Try eBay.

As of early Thursday, there were hundreds of iPhone 5 smartphones listed on the auction site, with one as high as $3,500 and a slew at the relatively-bargain-basement price of $2,500. (Hey, at least those prices are lower than the $15,000 top eBay deal in 2010 for an iPhone 4.) The lowest "Buy It Now" price we found was $700 for a 16GB Verizon iPhone 5.

I'm desperate...! I hit the snooze button on the alarm last week and my pre-order won't show up until Oct. 5, for Pete's sake. Can I cancel the online pre-order and go stand in line tomorrow? -- Signed, "Frustrated in Mass." You are desperate. And kind of sad, too.

But yes, you can.

Look at your order for the iPhone 5: To find it, go to the online Apple Store, click Account at the upper right, then "View Order History." Pull down the "All Items Action" list for the iPhone 5 order. If it says "Cancel Item," you're set.

You might want to wait to pull that trigger until you score one Friday by heading out into the real world. Once you have your iPhone, you can return to the online order and cancel.

Someone else will get that iPhone 5. And you'll have just added some karma to your account.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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